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Mobile devices and responsive design are trends with staying power

Internet connected devices such as phones, tablets and e-readers now outnumber people in the United States, according to data released by The NPD Group. Americans have 425 million web-enabled gadgets in homes across the country, while the latest Census report puts the human population at only 311.5 million.

Laptop and desktop machines are still the primary method people use when accessing the Internet from their homes, but the rapid increase of connected mobile devices is changing people’s relationship with the online world. Tablets and phones are convenient, and Americans are increasingly using these devices to perform searches or browse the Web even when there is a laptop or desktop available.

The trick, in terms of website design and search marketing, is that everyone uses their devices in different ways. Some may not ever actually open a browser and perform a search, preferring instead to use apps like Yelp, Foursquare or even Facebook to find information, reviews and recommendations about service providers. Additionally, the same person will use different gadgets for different purposes. Smartphones are more likely to be used to perform quick searches on the go, and smartphone users are typically looking for a specific piece of information, like a phone number or location. Smartphone users also convert better. People who land on a site after performing a search via phone are more likely to call or contact the business within 24 hours.

Although the percentage of people who access your website from a mobile device may still be relatively small, it looks as though their numbers will continue to grow. The more comfortable people become accessing the Internet with an array of mobile technologies, the more they will come to expect an easy to navigate, consistent experience from gadget to gadget.

Mobile websites are becoming more valuable in an environment in which the sheer number of devices makes it nearly impossible to create a site specific to all screen resolutions and operating systems. You would need an iPad version, a Kindle version, a Nook version, an Android version, a Blackberry version and so on ad nauseum. Creating a site for every device is both expensive and impractical.

Because of this reality, responsive design appears to be a trend that is here to stay into the foreseeable future. Responsive web design is the practice of building websites that sense and adjust to the user’s operating system, browser and screen resolution. Sites that are planned and developed in line with responsive design principles can eschew special templates for separate devices. Rather, the site is programmed with flexibility and intelligent code. Smart use of CSS and media queries result in a site that actually responds to the user’s needs.

Responsive design requires a new way of approaching a website project. Layouts must be fluid so that they can adjust to a one, two or even three column layout depending on the device. Images must be flexible and resize automatically to fit within various screen sizes. Websites that contain a lot of information may need to hide some elements on smaller devices like smartphones. Touch screen browsers do not show hover information, so all links must be clearly defined without relying on a rollover affect to grab the user’s attention. All of this should be mapped out from the beginning of the project, not added as an afterthought. As website design moves into the new year, this is one trend deserving of notice.

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