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David Addison
by David Addison
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Responsive Website Design or Adaptive Responsive Design: Does RWD Generate Less Leads?

01/14/2014
Responsive Website Design or Adaptive Responsive Design: Does RWD Generate Less Leads?

We are a learning organization and always curious about what others write about on the topics of Adaptive Website Design (AWD), Responsive Website Design (RWD), users' experiences, and where the buck stops: lead generation. We're all about generating original and relevant content that is uniquely differentiated.  This is why we're leading the auto industry into mobile website solutions. We've ventured far off shore.  No other web solution from any vendor—not one of them—has gone as far with RWD/AWD as Dirigo-CBC. 

In the automotive sector, lead gen originates from lots of channels (e.g. web, TV, direct mail, email, radio, social, video, print, etc.). It's our responsibility to drive traffic and to capture as many qualified leads as possible. It's the sales team at the dealership that is responsible for converting those high quality leads.

There’s a good case to be made for how RWD saves cost versus building mobile sites or apps. It’s a future-proof solution that works for whatever browser sizes may emerge. We find that different screen resolutions respond to your content in different ways. We prioritize content and calls-to-action differently based on the browser dimensions, then customize those experiences for varying visitor scenarios.

We read J.D. Rucker's (an auto SEO consultant formerly with TK Carsites) blog post with interest back in November. This is our belated follow-up to his post.  We waited several months to post our response because we wanted to collect more conversion data so that there was no question about the direction of the performance metrics.

Google (and the other search engines) wants, expects, and rewards websites that render pages well on any device. Moreover, the engines reward websites that optimize their "crawl budget." Rucker's post seems to say that it's either RWD or AWD.  Either one or the other. Peruse his post: Understanding the Differences Between Adaptive and Responsive Website Design . And the follow-up post: Build Websites for Mobile First . The post begins by advocating for both RWD and AWD and then becomes very one-sided in favor of AWD.

Jumping to the end. Rucker's second post resonates with us: "Work from the small screen up and the website will do better regardless of the device." Yep, it's called mobile first website development. We generally build for the smallest screen first; it's easier.

A quick recap of Rucker's posts. The first post weighs the pros and cons of the responsive versus adaptive approach in the automotive sector. Rucker argues that RWD is a client-side solution that adapts a view to a devices resolution and AWD is a server-side solution that detects a user’s device and alters content before sending it to the device. To quote: "On adaptive websites, the changes are server side, meaning that the data being sent is determined from the server before being sent to the device. With responsive design, the changes are client side, meaning that the whole web page is sent through and then the device is told how to piece it all together." Next we're presented with an infographic that is slanted toward AWD. From the Dirigo vantage point RWD and AWD are not mutually exclusive.

Now we'll add our own perspective. We have a retail automotive platform in partnership with CBC Advertising , called Overdrive Automotive Solutions. Rucker, who we like, took a tour of our platform in December. The platform is an off-shoot or branch of the DirigoEdge open-source ASP.NET content management system. It was built with the best of both worlds: RWD gives us fluid grids that allow us to show content that looks great on any device and AWD allows us to deliver images that aren’t larger than the screen resolution of the user's device. The experience of the user, features and functionality, and the sales funnel (e.g. lead gen on the vehicle description page or VDP) was super important to us.  Thus, we created an RWD that is also AWD.  Two for the price of one.  We don't think that we're the only development group doing both at once.

Website Leads. Did they drop? Did RWD perform worse than the non-mobile equivalent? The answer is NO. Why? because our websites, the functionality, and content are so different from the average retail automotive website. In the beginning we saw higher time on site numbers—likely a mix of curiosity and navigating around a new playground. Now we are seeing that sites on the Overdrive Platform holding their own and even out-performing traditional desktop only websites. We're getting more leads!

Feature detection and device detection. We use feature detection (as opposed to device detection) to determine which JavaScript or CSS to load, saving on bandwidth and optimizing the user’s experience. So if a user has a touch device, they can swipe an image carousel. If they are using a precision pointing device (a mouse), we can show arrows for them to click-on to move through a gallery, as an example. We’re not yet utilizing device detection in Overdrive because at the time we launched the platform, device detection was still experimental. While in beta, device detection worked fairly fluidly with Apple products but we know the world is full of non-Apple devices.

The primary downside of AWD is that it relies on device detection, and as we all know, different devices come out every day and there are no signs of this slowing down. Maintaining a database with all of those user agents and resolutions up-to-date is a daunting task that no one has a handle on yet.

What we want to do is use a grid system that has no associated weight (the file size of our grid is practically zilch) and then use device detection for images and other features. If the database for device detection lags behind, the worse that could happen is a user downloads images that are larger than they need, as opposed to delivering an entire desktop-experience to their phone or tablet.

Punch line: we’ve built a hybrid approach. So far, we've been able to make responsive Web design work well for our automotive clients. It has not been easy. Our aim is to always sends the same (well, almost the same) HTML code to all devices and to then use CSS to alter the rendering of the page on the device using media queries. "One Web" means making, if possible, the same information and services available to users respective of the device they are using. While most development firms are still wrestling with the basics of responsive, we're hard at work confronting more sophisticated flavors of responsive and adaptive.

We'll continue to push the boundaries and to test everything. The numbers will guide our way.

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