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Responsive Design: Are You Ready to Rebuild or Transform?

2013 has proven to be a pivotal year for Responsive Web Design, which has become the new baseline for the enterprise web presence. Commerce is now conducted in real-time across all devices. New powerful analytics tools allow us to track and connect conversion funnels throughout all steps of the decision process - well before your customers even reach you. Consumers are increasingly switching between devices as they browse the web continuously from home, on the go, or at the office. As Forrester Research says, RWD is a natural evolution of web, and it’s here to stay (Nov 18th, 2013).

With all this hype around Responsive Web Design, you may be wondering whether you should be rebuilding your website entirely, or if it could somehow be upgraded without re-engineering it from the ground up.  Let’s take a look at reasons why businesses are considering RWD and review the two options available to you: Rebuild or Transform.

Here are a few reasons why people are considering making their website responsive:

  • Traffic has increased on mobile & tablet, and it’s gone down on PCs
  • Conversion of non-optimized sites are very low on mobile devices
  • The discontinuity between users searching on their phones and being directed to the PC sites has caused an increase in drop-offs
  • Email marketing campaigns are often reaching users while they are on their mobile phones.  These emails then direct the customers to the website, but if the experience is not adapted for mobile use, the customers decide to stop browsing. 
  • Their website looks outdated and the new version is in progress. This is the right time to integrate a mobile strategy as it becomes much harder once the new site is built!

You have two options if you want to make your website responsive: rebuild from scratch or upgrade what you already have.

The Brave: Rebuild

Rebuilding your website to make it responsive means you will reinvent the experience for all devices. Responsive Design is a client-side technology mainly driven by CSS3 Media Queries, so you do not need to alter your back-end code. A new front-end is all you need. This is much easier if you have followed best practices of separation of concerns: keep front-end and back-end decoupled so you can upgrade them independently.

When is it a good idea to rebuild a website to make it responsive? Here are a few situations where it makes sense:

  • Redesign: your website needs a new look? This is the opportunity to make it responsive.
  • Adding new features: if you are planning on working heavily on your website features, it might be the right time to redesign it to support mobile and tablet
  • Moving to a new platform: if you are moving your website to a new platform or CMS, take advantage of this time to make your website responsive.
  • If your website is modern and the layouts can easily be changed, you have no reason not to have a responsive website. So go ahead and rebuild your UI!

The Efficient: Transform

As indicated above, RWD mainly requires CSS3 Media Queries. Transforming your website to be responsive can be achieved by defining how your web page containers should behave across break points. This can be tricky for certain websites, but it can also save you valuable time by using your existing desktop website as a base. It can also provide a gradual path to continuously improve your website.

Here are a few situations where it makes more sense to upgrade your website over rebuilding it from scratch:

  • You have invested a lot in the desktop experience, it is optimized and it’s doing well. Completely rebuilding that experience could decrease conversion.
  • Time and budgets are limited. Going for the upgrade is a safe and efficient approach.
  • Your website’s front-end and back-end are too tightly coupled. Rebuilding the UI risks having an impact on the back-end.
  • Looking for a gradual/incremental transition and you want to target specific sections of the website

Whether you are leaning toward one option or the other, this is not a decision to take lightly. Responsive Web Design is a disruptive concept and involves all departments of your company. If you have questions, I’m happy to discuss further, please reach out.


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