Responsive web design: Restaurants' No. 1 competitive advantage

By Billy Fischer,director of business development at Dynamit

Last year was one of transformation Internet usage sparked by many new computing devices and consumer behavior changes. The prevailing theme: mobile. With PC sales projected to decline for the first time in 11 years, gone are the days when most people are accessing your website from their desktop computer. Today’s users have become far more comfortable and interested in mobile computing platforms like smartphones and tablets; 56 percent of Americans now own a smartphone and tablet shipments are projected to top 240 million worldwide.

When we look at all the mobile Internet usage data, we discover that restaurants fair very well. According to eMarketer, 24 percent of mobile searches in 2012, were for restaurants, the largest share of any category. Of those searches, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) purchased their meal within an hour of their search. Overall, 85 percent of smartphone users eventually converted.

These impressive mobile utilization statistics prove that there’s a steady stream of eyeballs looking at your restaurant on a mobile device. Therein lies the challenge: How do you provide a consistent and friendly user experience that promotes interest and conversion when the mobile marketplace is so fragmented with different hardware devices and software apps?

The answer: Responsive web design.

Responsive web design enables a website to adapt to the device on which it is being viewed. The website conforms naturally and seamlessly to the size and resolution of the screen, regardless of the device or browser type. Layouts automatically morph into the most attractive form. Images immediately scale themselves to fit perfectly. Navigation elements and website content flex to promote the best reading experience. With a responsive web design, all of this is possible from one implementation, meaning you don’t need to undertake the costs and overhead of building multiple versions of your website for desktops, smartphones, and tablets. Such flexibility of design and efficiency of resources presents three key advantages:

1. Customer expectations, pleasantly satisfied
In 2012, Google released a study titled What Users Want Most From Mobile Sites Today. The report’s overarching theme was simple and blunt: Visitors want more from your mobile website. More than 50 percent of those surveyed said they feel annoyed when they visit a website that is not mobile optimized. The same survey base said they want more than just the basic information; they want to be empowered to “take an action.” Applied to restaurants such as yours, customers want to build a meal, place an order, get directions to the nearest location and more.

Responsive web design meets these usability expectations head-on. Instead of stripping down information and utility to the bare minimum, or worse--assaulting them with an incomprehensible website designed for a much larger display, responsive web design allows your website to render the features and information your customers need in a fashion that is user friendly and conducive to their interests.

2. Reduced costs and streamlined management
Before responsive web design, many brands created multiple variations of their website. Each instance was a significant investment of capital with ongoing maintenance costs. Those costs compounded over time as technologies changed and staff struggled to keep all instances of the website consistent with one another.

Now that responsive web design is a proven and best-in-class option, such inefficient use of dollars and time is no longer unavoidable. With responsive web design, development costs can be minimized thanks to efficiencies of scale across computing platforms. And a single code base for your website streamlines the tools and talent needed to ensure its optimal performance. The resource savings gained from such a website strategy can then be reinvested into your business in other areas, perhaps into expanded dimensions of your digital presence such as loyalty campaigns and social media.

3. Improved SEO
Google is the most powerful and trusted search provider on the planet. When it comes to mobile, Google has endorsed responsive web design by confirming that it ranks sites optimized for mobile higher in mobile search results. Considering how highly searched restaurants are (as a category) on mobile devices, choosing not to pursue a responsive web design strategy is hard to justify to your customers, investors and business leaders.

We have to get a bit technical to understand why Google favors responsive web design. First, a single instance of a website drastically minimizes duplicate content, which Google loathes. Second, the concentration of content into one website increases inbound links, which Google loves. Finally, thanks to improved visitor satisfaction, your responsive website is likely to retain more user traffic as well as promote social sharing, which helps fuel more positive Google juice.

The bottom line on responsive web design
The user satisfaction provided by responsive web solutions cannot be overstated. When your customers enjoy using your mobile-friendly website to peruse your menu and place orders, not only are you elevating your top line this quarter, you’re growing that user’s customer lifetime value manyfold. Seen for what it truly is, responsive web design is a strategic asset.

If you find yourself on the fence, consider again those impressive mobile search statistics from 2012. Your customers are hungry and they’re using their mobile phones to search your website for a cure to their cravings. What will you serve them?

Billy Fischer is director of business development at Dynamit, a progressive digital agency solving complex business challenges with strategy, design, content, and technology. Dynamit specializes in integrated web, mobile, and social media solutions that empower brands to engage the right audience at the right time.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Colin Jones
    38122507
    I think this is a very well put together post, and thank you very much. Even though responsive can be a great option for certain companies, it may not be the option for everyone. Also, Google has endorsed responsive because it decreases their bandwidth costs, which for a company that uses potentially the most bandwidth out of anyone, is a significant savings. Nowhere does Google say that you will be ranked higher using responsive than you would with a mobile site that is indexed correctly. Google's bots are also recognize which sites have mobile thus aligning the content so there is no duplicate information. Other than that thank you very much! Would love to hear any information I may be missing as well.
  • Billy Fischer
    38051177
    Thank you for the feedback Colin! I'm not really sure about the bandwidth side of things, but based on their statements here, https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/details, it does appear RWD is the future for Google's ranking factors. I think I misspoke just a bit when I said "confirming that it ranks sites optimized for mobile higher in mobile search results." If only Google was that specific in their ranking factors! :) I definitely agree with you that RWD might not be for everyone. But, as we evaluate those options for our clients, the cons list is significantly becoming smaller. This is even more true for our Restaurant clients, which typically are targeting a smartphone savvy audience. Thanks again for the comment! Billy
  • Mike Bailey
    38050519
    How do you get round the delay while the site processes loads of content that it's not going to even show on the mobile versions, ie graphics, pictures, videos that will be used on the PC version but not on the mobile versions stil lget 'downloaded' by the mobile versions so slowing down the load times of the sites/ pages
  • Billy Fischer
    38049458
    Mike The idea is to not load those assets for mobile, and instead start by loading lower res assets first. It's the small to big principle. A combination of backend detection to figure out what resolution is to start with, and front-end coding to progressively enhance the experience. There are certainly "wrong" ways to implement RWD. This is where it's very important to find a development agency or technology consultant that has implemented responsive sites before. Thanks for the question!
  • Holly Machanic
    23441815
    Lots of great information here, Billy. We work exclusively with restaurants, offering responsive website solutions and even though our target audience isn't aware of the term "responsive," (yet) they love the simplicity and convenience. It's a no-brainer for restaurateurs...
  • Holly Machanic
    23441136
    Lots of great information here, Billy. We work exclusively with restaurants, offering responsive website solutions and even though our target audience isn't aware of the term "responsive," (yet) they love the simplicity and convenience. It's a no-brainer for restaurateurs...
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