Marketers favor adaptive Web for branding, responsive for commerce
September 10, 2013
USA Today's new mobile site
As Web design takes on a mobile-first mentality, navigating the growing number of options available from adaptive delivery, responsive Web and adaptive design is making it more difficult than ever for marketers to know where to place their bets. Therefore, understanding even the smallest differences in responsive Web design technologies is critical.
Responsive Web design has created quite a bit of controversy in the mobile space because the technology does not necessarily factor in mobile-specific use cases to create a differentiated experience from desktop. Although both adaptive design and adaptive delivery have their own challenges as well, marketers more focused on driving commerce will be well-suited with a responsive design while adaptive sites and delivery should be used more by marketers building brand awareness.
Responsive design works for brands who are simply trying to build a mobile Web site that can be viewed across a set number of smartphones and tablets, said Daniel Weisbeck, chief marketing officer and chief operating officer at Netbiscuits, London.
Adaptive design is the best solution for ecommerce and consumer brand sites that want to provide an interactive mobile browsing experience that supports functions like mobile store fronts, payment solutions and rich media integration, he said.
Upgrading mobile strategies
The main difference between responsive Web design and adaptive Web design is around how content is delivered to consumers.
Nars uses responsive design
Responsive uses flexible and fluid grids, and adaptive delivery depends on predefined screen sizes. Responsive design essentially uses one content and code base to deliver content across multiple screen sizes and is used to accommodate many different types of devices.
Adaptive Web design takes place on the server side and detects attributes of the device before loading a version of the site. Therefore, one of the side effects of using this technique could be slow page designs.
Responsive design also alleviates some of the analytics and reporting for marketers since all data comes from one source, according to Lindy Roux, principal content strategist at Siteworx, Reston, VA.
Responsive design does not automatically cover every instance of how users engage with a site on every device, she said. However with responsive design, marketers are able to place content, rather than viewing device, at the center of Web design, providing a consistent user experience on any device a consumer chooses to use.
Based on some of the initial backlash that responsive Web has generated from marketers and brands as uneffective because it is a one-size-fits all approach, adaptive delivery is another area that is starting to catch on more with some brands.
Compared to responsive design, adaptive delivery does not require marketers to rebuild a Web site from the ground up. This type of mobile design can be particularly helpful for brands with legacy Web sites that cannot be easily rebuilt.
Adaptive delivery also has significant opportunities with publishers in improving SEO and discoverability with a design that is still specific to smartphones and tablets.
For example, USA Today recently tapped the technology to roll out a new Web revamp. USA Today claims that it is the first of Gannets more than 100 mobile products to be designed with a CMS that delivers unique mobile and desktop content from a single URL (see story).
According to USA Today, the company chose adaptive design because the technology allows the brand to detect the specific device by taking operating system and screen size into account to serve up a tailored experience.
Adaptive design is more suited towards creating an experience that is the same across multiple devices, but gives a richer experience than responsive can provide.
For example, whisky brand Makers Mark recently revamped its site with an adaptive approach after seeing mobile make up 42 percent of traffic (see story).
Maker Mark's new adaptive site
Marrying both practices
Since both adaptive and responsive have different use cases, brands looking to get the most out of their mobile Web efforts may consider using both techniques in tandem to create wide-reaching sites that are also tailored for specific devices.
Both philosophies embraced a system of progressive enhancement to a Web page to ensure that the page works nicely on any size screen, from small mobile devices to large televisions, said Patrick Collins, CEO of 5th Finger, San Francisco.
Practically speaking adaptive Web design and responsive Web design strive to achieve the same thing for the end-user and even in Web design circles, the differences between the two approaches are confusing, he said.
These days, most Web developers are entwining the techniques used from both adaptive Web delivery and responsive Web design together.
However, there are still significant challenges to both types of Web design, most notably price and time.
For customers with an existing site, both responsive Web design and adaptive Web design require the implementation of an architectural pattern, said Thom Robbins, chief evangelist at Kentico Software, Nashua, NH.
This may require a lot of re-work or re-design based on their current architecture implementation, he said. This may also, be in addition to a staffing learning curve.
"We often see customers just starting on a re-brand or re-design review their existing data and strategy objectives and make hard decisions on their requirements before they start. Both adaptive design and responsive Web design may require additional planning and delivery requirements that should be included as part of the project plan.
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter at Mobile Marketer, New York
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