Why Your Municipal Website Should be Responsive?

When a visitor comes to your municipal website using a smartphone or tablet, how does it look? Is it easy to navigate and find essential information like meeting minutes and election forms? Unfortunately, some websites look good on a big PC screen but look like an incoherent jumble on small devices. The growth of mobile-friendly websites means that municipal websites can’t afford to remain unresponsive. In this post, we will emphasize how important is a responsive website design to a municipality.

A website can provide all kinds of benefits to a municipality, from providing vital information to accepting online payments. However, there is no point in having a website if it isn’t easily accessible and interactive. These days, your residents want information on the go and since mobile web access is rapidly becoming the norm for all websites, they also expect it from their municipality. In short, it’s never been more important for a website to be accessed by any kind of device. The good news is that designing mobile-friendly websites is easier than ever and you should make sure your town benefits from these advances in mobile technology.

Responsive municipal website design

Statistics That Show the Importance of Mobile Websites

According to mobile marketing specialist company Branch, the average user spends 4–5 hours on their mobile and has 30 apps installed. Around 72% of Americans claim to own a smartphone. The amount of time spent on mobile phones looks set to increase since Android smartphone prices continue to decline with the average Android selling price reduced by 50% since 2008.

Using some of TownWeb’s own statistics from Google Analytics, we’ve discovered that mobile usage is huge with town residents too.  As you can see from the picture taken from the City of Minonk’s (WI) Analytics, around 43% of traffic comes from mobile & tablet devices, and the majority of new sessions also comes from cell phone use.

This is a big change from the days before iPhones and Android phones were prevalent. The next screenshot also highlights the huge increase in mobile usage on the example of Town of Delavan. In five years, the site’s desktop-only traffic decreased by less than 1%, because more people switched to mobile and traffic grew by almost 1300%! That pretty much explains the importance of having responsive municipal website.

Google Prefers Mobile-Friendly Websites

We’re not the only people who’ve noticed the big surge in mobile usage. The search engine giant Google has been experimenting with ranking search results based on whether sites are optimized for mobile for a long time. In May 2016, Google implemented an update that makes mobile-friendly websites rank even higher. This rewards mobile-friendly and responsive municipal websites by making it easier for users to find them. Google says web pages are eligible for the “mobile-friendly” classification if they meet the following criteria:

  • Use text that is readable without zooming
  • Avoid software that is not common on mobile devices eg. Flash
  • Size content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Place links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped with a finger

These four requirements are detected by Googlebot (software that discovers new and updated pages to be added to the Google index). If you want to see whether your site is considered mobile-friendly, you can check your pages with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test by pasting your URL to be analyzed. Even if your site doesn’t rely on mobile search traffic from Google, improving your mobile site’s performance can’t hurt –  your residents will definitely appreciate it.

Village of Kronenwetter, WI,
Designed by TownWeb

Is it enough to be mobile-friendly?

The short answer is – no. Although mobile-friendly websites are much better than old websites, they just don’t cut it in this day and age when responsive websites are becoming the norm. Beyond any other goal, a mobile web experience must be lightning fast and navigable. Delivering a fast, usable and compatible experience to all mobile devices has always been a challenge, and it’s no different when you are implementing a responsive technique. Did you know that 33% of internet users expect a mobile site to load as fast or faster than their desktop? First impressions are vital and if your website loads quickly, you’ve instantly made a good impression. Unfortunately, a slow website makes us think it’s unsafe, insecure, and untrustworthy – a negative first impression that’s difficult to change.

“53% of visits to mobile sites are abandoned when taking longer than 3 seconds to load”

In September 2016, Google published a new report called ‘The Need for Mobile Speed’ that showcased just how much mobile speed matters. The statistics were based on 10,000+ mobile web domains and most were found to be sorely lacking with the average load time for mobile sites taking 19 seconds over 3G connections. It also found that 53% of visits to mobile sites are abandoned when taking longer than 3 seconds to load. Conversely, sites that loaded within 5 seconds boasted 70% longer viewing rates and 35% lower bounce rates. People on the move are clearly even more impatient to get the answers they seek!

“Sites that loaded within 5 seconds boasted 70% longer viewing rates and 35% lower bounce rates”

More pages are viewed on mobile than on desktop, which means that if you’re not making your mobile visitors happy, you’re disappointing the majority of people who come to your site. User experience should be your top priority. As soon as your visitors are confused or frustrated, you may lack credibility in their eyes, particularly if they’ve visited other more responsive municipal websites in the past.

Mobile-friendly Vs Mobile Responsive Vs Adaptive

Mobile-friendly sites are versions of sites that work across different devices but aren’t  necessarily designed for a mobile device. They are mobile-optimized, but mobile-responsive sites take it a step further and put the mobile devices first. Mobile-responsive sites are reliant on mobile operating systems and have dynamic content that changes depending on where it’s viewed. A mobile-friendly website will just make the content fit the screen without having to scroll, whereas a responsive site will choose a new layout that better responds to the mobile format. This process is automatic; the site checks for the available space and then presents itself in the ideal arrangement. For example, it will change the layout of a website to one column with distinctly spaced out tabs and different visuals if necessary.

“Mobile-responsive sites take it a step further and put the mobile devices first”

We have written about responsive web design before and shared details about how you can test to see if your own website is responsive. Read our previous blog about responsive municipal website design and how to test a website’s responsiveness. Every responsive site is mobile-friendly, but not every mobile site is responsive.

Adaptive websites are similar to responsive websites in all but one important respect. While responsive sites adjust to any layout, adaptive sites only adapt at select points where it will fit into place flawlessly. Responsive designs respond to changes in browser width by adjusting the placement of design elements to fit in the available space. An adaptive website has several different layouts, which can be deployed based on the size of the browser – usually comprising six designs for the most common screen widths between 320 and 1600 pixels. First of all, the site detects the available space, and then it selects the most suitable layout for the screen. Resizing the browser has no impact on the design. Companies that have embraced adaptive design include Amazon, USA Today and Apple.

An Example of a Municipal Website That Hasn’t Been Mobile-Optimized

Most of the old municipal websites we see are not mobile friendly, as this example of one of our client’s website shows. The Lake Altoona District, WI, is currently having their website optimized for mobiles, but their old website didn’t pass Google’s Mobile-friendly Test.

As you can see, the clickable elements are not well space making touch screen interaction frustrating. The viewport is not set which means its default is set to fit a desktop screen and this is just scaled down to mobile size – no wonder the clickable elements are too close together and the text is too small to read! Setting a viewport gives control over the page’s width and scaling on different devices and in this case the lack of viewport means the content is too wide for the narrow mobile screen.

TownWeb’s Responsive Design

TownWeb prefers responsive municipal website design over all others because it is straightforward and fluid, so that users can access websites on any size and type of browser. This is a much better option than designing multiple versions of your website for different devices. It’s also the best solution for the long-term because the site will render correctly no matter how browser sizes change with different hardware devices in the future. It is also better in terms of user experience – mobile users should be able to do and see everything that desktop viewers can. Additionally, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) benefits from mobile responsive design because any links that are shared will be displayed correctly no matter what device they are viewed on.

The main features of responsive design include:

  • Dynamic content that changes
  • Condensed navigation
  • Optimized images that quickly scale to fit all screen sizes
  • Correct padding and spacing so that nothing feels too crowded or misaligned
  • Reliant on mobile operating systems to function

TownWeb’s websites are always adaptable and friendly with any device (desktop, mobile, tablet, etc). If you are striving to improve and increase the usage of your municipal website for mobile users, we can help! Request a free quote now.