Responsive Website Design

Make Sure Your Website is Responsive and Adaptive


Remember that little screen that shows up right before a movie plays? It says “This film has been modified from its original version…” Why is that important? Well, formatting makes the difference between a super stretched-out image on your TV and a nice, square fit where you can actually see what’s going on.

It’s what makes the aliens in Independence Day look just as scary on your TV at home as they did in the theater.

Your websites are the same way (or, at least, they should be). They need to be formatted for mobile platforms, large-scale displays (like TVs and giant monitors), tablets, desktops, etc. Otherwise, your customers will get lost in the transition…or lack thereof. But there are some potholes along the way that some companies get themselves stuck in if their website provider isn’t using RESS methods correctly.

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The Responsive Experience: What Car Buyers Really Want

Much of what has been published over the last couple of years about responsive website design has surrounded its effect on search rankings. Google has made it very clear that they want, at a minimum, a uniform URL structure that presents the same basic information to people regardless of device. That is at the low end of what they deem as acceptable, and it’s in place to prevent rankings from dropping based upon inconsistencies between devices.

On the high end, Google wants websites that are built on responsive technology that present nearly the exact same page and information, formatted appropriately to the size of the screen and functionality of the device. Many in the SEO world believe that responsive website design will someday aid in improved organic rankings. Some believe that it’s already happening today.

One reason that Google recommends Responsive Design vs. Adaptive Design is the customer experience. Adaptive design websites rely on “user agent detection”. Adaptive websites use this user agent detection code to read which kind of device (phone, tablet, phablet, desktop, laptop, wearable) is visiting the site and then serve a version of the site for that device type. Google has expressly stated that it has found that user agent detection is error-prone and can result in adaptive sites serving the desktop version of the site to mobile devices and vice versa.

What has been lost in the mix is the experience itself. Google and other technology companies don’t just look at whether or not images resize or if text is big enough to read on the small screen. They’re pushing for responsive because, when done right, it can offer a unified experience. There is no other industry where this can be more important than the automotive industry.

The reason is based upon the depth of research. It’s not like buying something off of Amazon. Car buying is normally an extended set of steps that begins with different degrees of research and ends when the decision has been made to seek out an individual car or vehicle type. As a result, car buyers will often visit the same sites or pages over and over again during the process. In North America, it is common for these multiple visits to happen on different devices.

The uniform nature of responsive website design (RWD) makes it ideal for enhancing the car shopping experience online. With RWD, the images, buttons, videos, and text on a page are mostly the same from device to device but presented in a way that makes the most sense. For example, a vehicle details page may have the contact form on the right sidebar when viewed on a desktop, but that contact form can fall in line with the images and information about the vehicle when seen on a mobile device, all aligned within the same column.

With proper RWD, the individual pages can be enhanced for each device and screen size. A perfect example of this would be the addition of a Click-to-Call button that appears on the inventory when the screen is small. Since the small screen usually indicates a smartphone, having that Click-to-Call button makes sense to be available on mobile while it doesn’t make sense to have it present when the page is viewed on a 17” monitor.

Shoppers will often allow gaps between the different phases of their research. By presenting them a responsive experience on your website, you’ll allow for the triggers to remain in place that made them interested in a particular vehicle in the first place. This seamless type of experience enables car buyers to pick up where they left off rather than having to figure out how they got to a particular place on the website the last time they visited.

As you explore your website options and consider the different types of mobile websites available, look deeper into the numbers behind the equation. At the end of the day, a website should encourage lead forms, phone calls, and showroom visits. Adaptive or mobile-only websites might seem to offer a similar experience to the preferred responsive experience, but they do not. Even within the realm of RWD itself, there are good variations and bad variations. As with nearly all things, quality matters. Just because a company slaps an RWD badge on a website does not mean that it’s optimized to bring the proper shopper experience that your customers desire.

Look closely. Let the numbers guide you. Test how each website option operates on multiple devices. Your customers are not limited in the devices that they can use to explore your website. Make sure that you are aware of what they’re seeing and that it puts your dealership’s internet technology in a positive light.

Clearing Up the Responsive vs. Adaptive Debate

Everyone is telling you that your dealership website NEEDS to be responsive…but what does that really mean?

Responsive web design means that the same URL and HTML are passed to each website visitor, regardless of what device they are using to view that website.  This is different from adaptive web design which first detects which device is accessing the website, then serves a potentially different site to the website visitor.  Most car dealership websites today are built on an adaptive platform.

Okay, so now you know what people mean when they say responsive…but how does having a responsive website benefit your dealership?

Google recommends responsive website design for three reasons:

  • A single URL makes it easier to share/link your content
  • Sites load faster since there is no need to redirect users in order for them to get an optimized view
  • Google site crawlers only have to crawl your pages once, on one device, thus increasing efficiency

Another thing to consider – the average dealer website gets traffic from literally hundreds of unique screen sizes each month.  Without a responsive website design, you’d have to design for every single unique screen size, or risk missing the opportunity to serve each user the best experience.  And next year, when new phones and tablets hit the market? You’ll have to add those design sizes to your portfolio as well.

MobileDevicesResponsive sites lend themselves to better SEO results as well.  Aside from being Google’s recommendation, having a single URL for each page of content, with faster load times, is a huge benefit to your site’s search engine rankings.  Also, there is less of a chance for user error – building just one version of your website means users will have a unified experience and you don’t have to worry about errors trying to communicate to Google which pages on the mobile site correspond to desktop pages.

Granted, your dealership may not be in a position to switch to a fully responsive website platform. It can take a lot of work, time and resources.  Don’t worry, you’re not destined for failure, but there are things that your website provider absolutely needs to do in order for an adaptive website platform to work effectively.

Most likely, your site is currently using a mobile sub-domain.  This would be the /mobi or m. you’ll see in the URL when on a mobile device. If your dealership website is built this way, you MUST implement switchboard tags properly – this helps Google understand the connection between your mobile and desktop pages, and tells Google which pages on your desktop platform correspond to the same page on your mobile platform.  When set up properly, switchboard tags help clear up any potential indexing and link equity issues with Google.  When correctly placed on your website, this can be a great way to see a lot of the benefits having a responsive website would give you without having to switch platforms.

Unfortunately, most of the website providers in the automotive space aren’t placing switchboard tags properly. Make sure you ask your website partner how they’re helping your adaptive website keep up in a responsive world.