Responsive design is supposed to make everyone’s life easier: build once and publish across platforms and devices. Google likes and recommends it because the company only needs to crawl once for responsive sites (Google also supports other approaches). But Google also values fast-loading mobile sites and will begin to punish slower mobile sites.
The slide below appeared in The Search Agency’s report today evaluating the mobile sites of multichannel retailers. It shows how much slower responsive sites load vs. dedicated mobile sites (even PC sites). Update: see second postscript below.
It was suggested to me that responsive design could be done in better ways to address this problem. That may be true. But if the slide below accurately reflects the load-time gap between responsive and dedicated sites there’s a major problem.
Not only will mobile site rankings suffer but so will brand perception. Google and others have produced survey data that reflect consumers have little tolerance for slow-loading mobile web sites. There are also well documented brand perception and purchase-intent consequences if sites perform too slowly. (However no one has yet shown that with behavioral data.)
A 2012 study sponsored by Google found the following attitudes and potential business impacts from slow-load times for mobile sites:
- 72 percent of users said that mobile-friendly sites were important to them
- 74 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to revisit mobile-friendly sites
- A majority of users (67 percent) are more likely to buy or convert after a visit to a mobile-friendly site, while the opposite is also true of a non-mobile-friendly site: 61 percent say they’ll “move on”
- 55 percent said a frustrating experience on a (mobile) website would hurt the perception of the brand
I’m not technically knowledgeable enough to comment on what might be done to speed up responsive design. But it seems to me that it needs to or it may be abandoned when marketers experience the double-penalty of lower rankings and negative consumer response.
Postscript: A number of people have strongly objected and disagreed with this article. I’m not trying to argue from a technical perspective that responsive design is in fact fatally flawed. I don’t have that knowledge, nor a vested interest in the outcome of this discussion.
I was extremely surprised by this slide and wanted to stimulate discussion. However if these results are representative more broadly of how responsive design performs it is in trouble. Let’s be clear, the issue is speed and page-load time.
There is plenty of room for discussion and debate about whether responsive design is being implemented correctly, needs to be modified or replaced by some alternative. I welcome those comments below. Search Engine Land and Marketing Land may do more articles in the future on this topic from a more technical perspective.
Postscript 2: I went back and reviewed the report again. The Search Agency actually recommends responsive design as a best practice. I had been so stunned by this slide that I neglected to see it in the larger context of other slides in the report.
The chart above doesn’t reflect that only 1 percent of the sites examined were using responsive design vs. dedicated mobile sites (or just PC sites). So the sample is definitely too small to be generalized more broadly.