What to Consider When Creating Responsive Design-Friendly Content You might want to present content differently for the different types of devices customers are using to access your site. Here are five things to keep in mind.

By Amy Gahran

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Many small-business websites were created to look gorgeous on a full-size computer monitor. But with more people accessing the web over mobile devices, it's no longer one-size-fits-all.

One of the more efficient and effective ways to serve all your users well is to build -- or redesign -- your site using responsive web design. This includes creating content that supports user actions regardless of the type of device they have.

Responsive web design means your site will automatically reconfigure itself, or "respond," to suit the size and type of device a visitor happens to be using. It's all about enhancing the user experience, particularly to enable people to easily do or find what they want over mobile. That means pages need to load quickly, and site design should minimize the need for resizing, typing, scrolling and panning.

What do you need to know when developing content for your mobile-friendly websites? Keep these five critical elements in mind:

Related: How to Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly With 'Responsive Design'

1. Consider smartphone users first.
To create a compelling and responsive website, it helps to focus first on smartphone users. Start your design for small touchscreens and scale up from there. This can help ensure that your site satisfies users on any device and loads quickly on any type of internet connection.

2. Think in terms of supporting actions.
Ask yourself what information users most want to find and what they most hope to do on your site:

  • To see whether you offer the products or services they desire? Which means you should offer a prominent product search box or a link to a list of services.
  • To find your location? Make sure to include your address and a map.
  • To make an appointment or reservation? To sign up for email or text alerts of your special offers? Widgets or links can connect people to these services.
  • To call you? These are phones, after all.

Yes, you can still include attractive images and colors on the smallest version of your site design--as long as they load quickly, appear legible on a small screen, and most important, don't interfere with users taking action.

3. Scale up to tablets.
Once you've designed an attractive, efficient and useful site that meets the needs of smartphone users, you can start deciding which content to add or swap for tablet users.

You probably won't need to change your content or layout much to accommodate users of smaller tablets such as the iPad Mini or Kindle Fire. But for larger tablets such as the full-size iPad, you might want to use larger images or add more content to your home page, such as customer testimonials or announcements of events or specials. You might also consider offering video content -- just make sure it uses HTML5 because Adobe Flash video doesn't work on many mobile operating systems.

Related: 5 Tips for Hiring a Great Web Developer

4. Scale up to computers.
For laptop or desktop users, you can offer still richer content -- perhaps more photos, a brief history of your business or an explanation of the value and advantages of your products or services. This information would also be available for smartphones users, but tucked behind an "About us" menu item rather than displayed on the home page.

5. Plan for analytics and updates.
It's one thing to guess how visitors will use your site, and quite another to actually see what they do there. Make sure to use web analytics tools such as Google Analytics on your site. Pay close attention to how mobile traffic differs from computer traffic, and adapt which content you include and where accordingly. For instance, if you see that many mobile visitors are using your search box to find a certain kind of content on your site, consider adding a corresponding item for that to your main menu. This satisfies a need while reducing the need for touchscreen typing.

Ideally over time, you'll see the mobile portion of your web traffic grow. And by staying focused on user actions rather than page views, you'll be able to more accurately track how your website helps build your business.

There are many more ways you can fine-tune your responsive website design and content. Most of them are addressed in detail in Content Strategy for Mobile (A Book Apart, 2012) by web user experience expert Karen McGrane. But if you simply follow the tips above and work with a designer who has a track record for developing responsive websites, you should soon be giving your users what they really want -- on any device.

Related: 5 Things That Belong on the Front Page of Your Website

Wavy Line

Amy Gahran is an independent writer and mobile technology enthusiast based in Boulder, Colo. Her work has appeared at CNN.com. Gahran blogs at Contentious.com.

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