Why Responsive Matters: A Look At Paid Search

Responsive web design refers to the practice of designing websites that can adapt to the size of the browser, regardless of device.  While it has been technically possible to design for the web responsively since before Y2K was a looming threat, there has not been a crucial need until the mass adoption of mobile devices over the last few years.  It may be challenging to plan for, design, and incorporate mobile into your web strategy, but mobile and tablet traffic should not be ignored.   As even more devices gain browser access, such as smart TVs, cars, and the coming wave of connected hardware, responsive design will become even more necessary.

The percentages of mobile traffic Internet-wide in 2015 vary heavily depending on your source, but comScore shared in May 2014 that mobile devices account for 60% of all time spent online.  It is a bit harder to find figures on the percent of the web that is mobile-friendly, but it would be safe to assume nowhere near 60% of sites are designed with a smaller screen in mind.

At some point, in addition to ensuring current users have a positive experience, you may also want to evaluate the impact of device on customer acquisition efforts, in which case having a responsive site can also prove advantageous.  For the purpose of demonstration, below are a few realistic scenarios seen in Google AdWords pay per click (PPC) paid search marketing:

Company A:

38% of ad clicks are on mobile and 13% occur on tablets.  For those clicks on mobile, the cost per click is 30% less than clicks on desktop.

Company B:

45% of ad clicks are on mobile and 12% occur on tablets.  For those clicks on mobile, the cost per click is 68% less than on desktop and the cost per lead is 74% less than desktop.

Since so many websites are not mobile friendly, often AdWords advertisers will set bid adjustments to decrease bids or eliminate mobile searchers from seeing their ads altogether.  This is what leads to the 30 and 68% lower CPC above on mobile devices.  If the website is responsive and well designed, this savings will translate into a lower cost per customer acquisition, as it does for company B.  If the website is not mobile friendly, the CPA efficiency could plummet, despite the lower CPC.

This may not be the case for every company, so data needs to be evaluated individually before assumptions are made, but these scenarios are more likely for most than the situation where desktop would be more cost efficient.

One alternative to responsive design is to design a separate mobile site in addition to the current outdated desktop version.  Unfortunately, this does not improve the user experience for those on tablets, phablets, small laptops, and screen sizes that may be smaller than your average computer.  It should also be noted that Google does not let you decrease bids for tablets as they do for mobile, so if you run PPC, searchers on tablets will inevitably click on your ads.

With Twitter’s free release of the Bootstrap framework – making the development of responsive much quicker and easier, cost to design responsively should not be a major consideration in the web design process.  For examples of what responsive looks like in action with Bootstrap, here are a variety of great examples.

– Ben Gartman

Jan, 16, 2015