How responsive is your web site on a mobile device? (First published in Internet Newsletters for Lawyers March 13)

How many types of device might you view a website on during the course of your week? We are becoming used to accessing the internet anytime and anywhere on whatever device we have to hand.  Our choice of device at any time depends on personal preferences, availability and the ability to use the device in various situations.

This has serious implications for any business with a website.  Whatever device someone is using, you need to ensure that visitors find your site quick to load, easy to navigate and can access the information that they are looking for quickly and efficiently. 

Our attention span is getting shorter.  How often have you quickly abandoned a web site which was slow to load or difficult to read? 

Unless a web site has been designed to look good and work well on a mobile device, the user will have an impoverished experience with tiny screens, slow connectivity, the need to zoom or pinch the screen to read smaller text, problems typing (with inability to double-click or hover) and pointing with “fat” fingers.

There are five main screen sizes which you need to consider when planning a new web site.  This requires five separate layouts, for phone, tablet portrait, tablet horizontal, small computer screen and large computer screen with typical dimensions as follows:

Device screen height



iPhone portrait (480 px)

310 px

352 px

iPad portrait (1024 px)

750 px

920 px

iPad landscape (768 px)

1010 px

660 px

Screen : 768 px

989 px

548 px

Screen : 1200 px

1885 px

980 px


Mobile device usage in the workplace

The use of smartphones and tablets in the workplace is growing phenomenally. Research collated by Google shows ‘Smartphone penetration has risen to 51% of the population compared to 30% in 2011, with 59% accessing the internet every day’.  72% of people who own smartphones use them at work.

A recent readership survey by Computing Magazine in August 2012 revealed that the vast majority of employees with smartphones or tablets also use them at work.

Whilst Computing readers are likely to have a higher propensity than average to adopt new gadgets, the trend is clear. Around 84 per cent of their respondents with a smartphone use their device for business, while almost 70 per cent of those who use tablet computers also use them for work related activities.

Where employees are not provided with a company smartphone or tablet, many choose to use their own - six per cent of respondents use their own smartphone (with a similar figure for tablets), as opposed to 39 per cent who use a smartphone provided by their company. One in ten respondents said they use both.

Known as ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD), this policy is growing in popularity amongst employers who balance IT cost savings with increased security measures, whilst fuelling the demand for mobile-friendly web sites.

Monitoring usage

If you already have a Google analytics report set up for your web site, then you can easily incorporate information about which devices your site is viewed on. 
The Overview report provides a breakdown of visitors by whether or not they visit using mobile devices.  The Mobile Devices report lets you see visitor statistics by mobile device, brand and service provider.

By way of example here are the statistics for January 2013 for a four partner firm, offering services to private and business clients, indicating that 20% of views occurred on a mobile device:

Total visits/average pages per visit



Mobile device


Pages per visit

Apple iPhone



Apple iPad



Samsung Galaxy






Understanding mobile traffic to your site can give you an indication of whether you need to design your site to accommodate both mobile and computer traffic, or whether the traffic justifies a separate mobile site, with different functionality.

The issue of a responsive web site versus a separate mobile site is a hotly debated topic in the world of web design, and the answer depends upon your particular objectives.

Understanding the needs of mobile users

If you are planning a new web site, then part of the process is considering the needs of your clients and other visitors to your website such as prospects, intermediaries, potential recruits or the media. You will be considering how you can improve the way that your services are showcased and how you can make it easier for potential clients to get in touch.

In addition, you now need to consider how to cater for the needs of mobile users who have different expectations regarding their experience on a mobile device. 

Eye tracking analysis reveals that users scroll down on their devices more instinctively than on a desk top where there may be a reluctance to go ‘below the fold’.

Mobile users also tend to be busy, often doing something else at the same time.  How often have you sneaked a look at your smartphone beneath (or even above) the table in a meeting? 

The statistics above clearly show that the smaller the screen size, the fewer pages are viewed.

This leads to a need for simple usability, ease and speed.  A web page that takes a long time to load because of large images and data will lose the visitor’s interest very quickly.

Navigation, online transactions and forms need to be much simpler to avoid “fat finger” problems and ensure the interaction with website visitors that you are seeking.

Responsive web design

Unless your law firm business has a clear case for a dedicated mobile web site, then you will need a new web site which responds well to the user on any device on which it is viewed.

“Responsive web design” is the term used by web designers to describe a web site which has been designed and built to look good on all screen sizes, compared to a traditional web site which has been designed for your desktop or laptop screen only.

At present, there are two main types of solution known as “responsive” and “adaptive” design.

With adaptive web design, each page template is created in five separate layout formats, and the appropriate format is detected and loaded to the appropriate mobile device.  In technical terms, the server where the site is hosted detects the attributes of the device, and loads a version of the site that is optimized for its dimensions and native features.  With each smaller format, the original large design will be adapted and simplified, for example images will be reduced or removed, menus will be restructured.

“Responsive design” is harder to explain without seeing it on a screen.  Technically the whole web page is delivered to the device and the browser then changes how the page appears in relation to the dimensions of the browser window.  Essentially the web site design appears to be squeezed or stretched (in a controlled way) and the design responds and restructures as it gets narrower or wider. 

There are pros and cons when comparing the responsive and adaptive designs, and it is likely that your web agency will work in one way, rather than both. Make sure you ask to see examples of other sites they have created.
The main difference is where the resizing is actually done.  With responsive design the resizing is completed by the actual device.  With adaptive design the choice of size template is performed by the server and delivers the page already optimised.

Cost implications

Clearly there will be implications for the cost of a new web site which has up to five different formats.  Once you have agreed the main desktop design template extra time will then be required by the designer to develop the four smaller complimentary formats, or the reducing formats.

Similarly there will be additional time required in programming to direct content from the content management system into the appropriate formats.

On a practical level, your marketing team will need regular access to a range of devices to test and monitor that the site is working across all formats. 

These costs will need to be balanced against the option of having a separate mobile web site (and domain) in addition to your main site.  Either way, the mobile user is not someone that you can afford to ignore.

Article by Sue Bramall and Chloe Dennis of Berners Marketing Ltd, a specialist consultancy which provides outsourced marketing support and to the legal profession.

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