How to Convince Your Web Development Clients to Go With a Responsive Site When They Just Don’t ‘Get It’

arguments for a responsive website
A while back, ManageWP posted an article on 5 Reasons Why Responsive Design Is Not Worth It. You will see from my comment on that post (long before I ever dreamed or expected to be a writer on the ManageWP blog) that I was super charged someone wrote about it at the time. Responsive design was new(er) 11 months ago and to me, it was just a pain. I shared the post and sent it around to my network as if to say, “see, I told you so, we don’t need this new responsive thing.”  I think a lot of other people felt that we were a long way off from being a mobile-first society. And as the article pointed out, it’s not like we couldn’t view sites at all on mobile screens, it was just that we had to zoom in or turn our devices sideways to do so effectively.

What never ceases to amaze me is how fast our Internet-focused society can change the way we even think about technology. And sure enough, I have had a conversion sista.

The web is a different planet today than it was 11 months ago, and I’m sure that sometime in the next 11 months I’ll be able to say the same thing I’m saying about our reality today (I might even shudder when I re-read this post 11 months from now!). Recently I was told that today, developing a non-responsive is like not delivering a site to your client at all.  I have to say; those words changed my perspective on things a lot.

The hard part about these future-facing trends is that it’s sometimes impossible to get your clients to jump on board with you; after all, they’re paying our tab, so if they say “no” to a responsive site, we’ve often got little ammo to fight with. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make our case strongly (muh ha ha ha).

I have multiple occasions where a client asks me to ‘turn off’ their responsive design. They don’t want it, even though I’ve spent the time, money and mental effort to put in that work for them. I know what you’re thinking: ‘some people are just old fashioned.’ I actually find, in my case, that it’s younger folks who are against the trend to go mobile with their sites. My conclusion is that it is going to take a while to get clients used to the idea of displaying their site for the benefit users rather than for aesthetics, or for the way they want to use their own site (a common problem with our clients, yes?).

Here are the facts that I present to clients to convince them to go responsive, based on their reasons for not wanting to go responsive. I hope this proves to be useful to a clan of developers out there who see the need for our industry to be up to date, while also being able to please the people who pay for our bread and butter:

1. “Where Is the Option to ‘View Full Site’ Mrs. Web Developer?”

When you say you’re going to make your clients’ sites “mobile compatible” they are probably still thinking that you’re going to build them a separate mobile site (or use a WordPress mobile plugin — not everyone’s cup of tea). They may not realize they are not getting that anymore. So this is how you explain it:

The “view full site” option you’ve seen on other sites is a very old way of setting up mobile sites. About 3 or 4 years ago people were still doing this but in Internet years that’s like a millennia. To draw a parallel, it would be like walking into Best Buy and saying to the attendant “I don’t see the VHS video tapes anywhere in your movie section.”

These old ways of setting up mobile sites were more expensive and were in reality, setting up two different sites. The ‘view full site” was actually a link to another site. So double the work basically, and not much ROI because the old way of doing mobile sites is really not user friendly at all, and not adaptable to the non-standardized set of mobile devices nowadays.

Responsive sites are not about building a separate mobile site. They are about setting allowable ‘values’ so that your site will be easy to use for most devices. It’s not even about screen size so much anymore as it is about the idea that devices can view websites, and how the user will interact with that site based on the proper design we set up for it. It’s a “fundamental shift” of how we look at website design.

2. “I Don’t Believe That More People Use Mobile Devices Than Desktop Computers to View Websites.”

I don’t know why many people don’t believe this, despite the stats that are published. It is likely because they don’t use the web on their mobile devices, so we often think that the way we use the web is the way other people use the web too. I have personally been surprised more than once by conversion stats and metrics, which show me I am wrong all the time about my hypotheses. So this is how to explain things:

The only way we can know if this is true or not for YOUR customers is by having a look at your Google Analytics stats (or whatever analytics program you use). What we can say is that in general, the web is being used more and more on different devices today. We are not just talking about smartphones anymore. Consider those small notebook computers, iPads and other tablets, video game devices, and future ways we are going to be able to view the web soon.

While you may not think this is applicable to you now, for the long term, you are really going to want to consider a mobile responsive site as a way to ‘future proof’ your new website investment. Here are some reasons why:

Right now 50% of searches are mobile and it’s growing. This is a well-known statistic in the industry, and if you are a product-based or location-based business, there are more stats you should check out from Microsoft published research which were shared in the SEOmoz February, 2013 newsletter issue. Also in that newsletter was a link to an article stating that even using the name of a location or city in a mobile ad can increase the likelihood of that ad being clicked on by 200%.

According to a Morgan Stanley Research graph projecting mobile versus desktop Internet usage (as shared by Jesse Friedman at WP Summit 2013 via an infographic on responsive design trends), sometime in 2013 (that’s in the next 6 months at the time of writing this post), we are going to see mobile surpass desktop viewing of sites. That’s right, we’re not waiting for our jetpacks or flying cars for this to happen. Mobile viewers (not just searchers) are going to be your Christmas present this year. Get ready for it all you e-commerce site owners!

3. “My Site Looks Fine on Mobile Devices Without Responsive Design.”

Ahhh! It’s not about the way it looks. Remember that famous quote by Steve Jobs, “Design is how it works”? Well that applies to a website as much as it applies to a MacBook or iPhone. My question here is, why make it any harder than necessary for your customers to get to your content ASAP? Here is what to explain:

I don’t know about you, but there are some things I just won’t do on my phone. If it’s too hard to read, the pages won’t load properly or the site requires the use of my mouse, I will just not bother on a mobile device. I will wait until I can be at my desktop. So based on our statistics above, if most people are like me and don’t like wasting their time, that would be 50% of people leaving your site – imagine the bounce rate that will result in, the effect on your SEO and the potential loss of sales leads. This is just a reality in today’s tablet, Xbox, iPhone, Android market.

You will notice that Gmail, Facebook, Skype, Yelp and many other sites we traditionally would only use on our desktops have all now made their sites easy for us to use on smaller screens. Thanks to their realization that our fingers are too fat for non-responsive sites, we can now do things that used to be simple, but hard on smaller devices (like uploading photos or videos). The usage of these new easy-to-use-on-mobile sites has a lot to do with the way the design fits well in our palms, and allows us to use our fingers and not have to zoom in to do any task.

4. “Not Many Other Businesses I Know Are Using Responsive Design.”

Responsive design is an up and coming trend being used by forward-thinking companies. If your client does it now, you can tell them they are going to make all their friends jealous. Why? Because it’s already a web standard and pretty soon, all sites are going to be made responsive – so they’ll only be ahead of the game by doing it now. I mean, even Google recommends doing it, that should say enough! Many people want to be ‘up and coming’ and know what it’s like to be left behind the times – not cool. So here are some great examples of big name brands that are going responsive, showing that it’s the way the rest of the business world will soon follow:

First off, this amazing scrolldeck by John Polacek gives a very easy-to-understand explanation of what responsive design is, some big brands that are doing it, and links to more info about it, to help someone get their feet wet with the idea that this ain’t no fad, it’s a here-to-stay way of making websites. After viewing the scrolldeck, also check out for some recognizable brands using responsive design, and the visual beauty that results from organizing content for specific screen sizes.

Though it’s a Canadian resource (what can I say, I’m being true to my roots), you’ll also want to check out for data and info on what’s happening in the industry. As they put it, “Forward-thinking organizations & businesses use Responsive Web Design.” In particular read this post about four mobile trends business can’t afford to ignore.

If you scroll to the bottom of the Mobify home page and watch the video there, the Marketing Director of Beyond the Rack makes it clear that whether or not to go mobile is not an option anymore. His investment in a mobile platform paid him back in 16 days AND increased his revenues by 90% on mobile devices.

Finally, since we’ve heard a lot about mobile usage, we can’t forget to talk about the fact that responsive design is very much a part of our tablet experience. Adobe’s research reveals that tablet web viewing has already outgrown mobile phone web viewing, especially for e-commerce and shopping. Important to note is Adobe’s mention that “Google has just announced that it will lump tablet searches in with desk­top searches” – so we can’t assume that tablets are out of the picture just because they appear to be desktop users. As Adobe puts it, “Think about it. Why do you choose to use your tablet instead of your phone if you have both?… Now apply that to your customer’s experience.”

From the above resources you will notice that all the big companies are switching over to responsive design. Target, Starbucks, The Boston Globe, Obama, and Global News in BC (Canada, again) all have responsive sites.

(I just have to say, if Obama is doing something in Internet marketing, we all should be doing it too – he’s darn good at it! It’s how he won his first election!)

5. “Responsive Design Is Too Expensive.”

Hear, hear mate: it’s cheaper for you long term!

As web developers, we need to charge a lot more than usual to be able to make our client sites responsive – it’s a lot of work we didn’t use to have to do. But if you’re a web developer who has jumped on the bandwagon of today’s web reality, then your price at the start of your quote needs to incorporate this cost. I was originally charging it as a separate line for people who just wanted to be extra savvy, but now it’s just intertwined; client wants a website = client gets a responsive website.

If we are building with responsive in mind at the start of our web projects, we can avoid a lot of the cost that makes responsive development take so darn long (though the ‘how’ of that is another article for another day). So part of this pricing structure is on you as a developer; your client may very well be right that the cost is too prohibitive for them.  BUT – either way your client will need to know this:

If you chose not to invest in the responsive work on your site now, it will cost more money and time to set it up later. The way you plan your site’s content architecture and the way you use images, or form page layouts will all affect the way the site will translate into a responsive design. Case in point: I had a client who loved arrows. I get it – they make for great conversion tactics. But if all your arrows are pointing to the right, and happen to end at a place where a breakpoint occurs, then on mobile devices your arrow is going to be pointing at nothing. This is a simple example, and yes it’s avoidable, but the point is that you have to pre-plan for all these responsive ‘what ifs’ when you start building a site. How is this site going to grow with the company it is being made for? You need to think about this as part of the initial investment.

It is nonsense to say “well if I want a responsive site later I’ll just pay for a new site at that point.” This is not necessary. There are so many other moneymaking and ROI-generating ways to spend your funds – why waste it re-doing something that could have been done right, with the future in mind, in the first place?

It would be less money, less work, and way less mental space and effort for a developer to not produce a responsive site for a client. In some cases, I know I would have had a higher ROI on a project and also would not have spent so much time on it if I gave in to the idea that the site didn’t need to be responsive. But fortunately I have a sense of pride and integrity in the work I do 🙂 It was that important to just do what it takes to make responsiveness happen.

In short, it is not worth asking for a non-responsive site. Your site will be outdated in less than a year. I try to make all my client sites last more than a few years if I can, since I know it’s a big investment for a business.

What Have We Learned From All This?

I know this was a long article, so let me summarize our main points as a conclusion. We have learned that:

  1. Responsive websites are not ‘mobile websites.’ They’re just one website built to be able to adapt to a device size. It’s way better this way.
  2. If you think people aren’t going to view your site often on a mobile phone, tablet or some other futuristic device, you’re kidding yourself; the stats have spoken.
  3. Responsive websites are easier to use. It’s not about lookin’ fine honey. It’s about giving me what I want, when I want it, without making it hard on me.
  4. Having a responsive site will make you look like the bomb in front of your friends who don’t have a responsive site.
  5. Responsive design is not expensive – it’s just the price of having a website. Nowadays ‘website’ equals ‘responsive website.’

Go at it folks! Let me know if these reasons work on convincing your clients to go responsive when they say weird to you things like, “please turn off the responsive design of my website.”

Joyce Grace

A Vancouver Internet marketer and freelance writer who loves making WordPress websites, writes with pencil, owns a paper agenda (still), gets ignited by anything Dutch, and is probably the only person on the planet who doesn't like cheesecake. Follow Joyce on: Instagram: @thoughtsofjoyce YouTube: /thoughtsofjoyce Twitter: @thoughtsofjoyce Google Plus: +JoyceGraceontheweb


  1. Mathew Porter

    All of our clients seem to want a responsive site, however the other side to the argument is that many of them have buying traffic that use legacy browsers so can either loose that traffic and revenue building for the future or wait / use another solution.

  2. ncode.seo


    Thanks for sharing good information about responsive web design. Nowadays visitors come from tablets, mobile etc… so responsive design is must.

  3. bopdesign

    I strongly disagree with number 1. Your example parallel is way off. “The “view full site” option you’ve seen on other sites is a very old way of setting up mobile sites.” Sorry but this is total BS.

    When I browse the web on my iPhone, I ALWAYS go to the full site and ditch the mobile version of the website. I find that mobile websites and responsive website are not up to par with the full website as far as website content goes. Some content that I want to view is always missing or not viewable on the mobile or responsive versions.

    “They are about setting allowable ‘values’ so that your site will be easy to use for most devices.” I have a problem with this because you are limiting your users to what content they can and should be able to access.

    In the case of responsive design, what is the best way to allow users to view the full site anyway? Switch CSS files? Just don’t give them that option and say too bad because responsive is the shit?

    1. Joyce Grace


      Hi Bopdesign,

      I’m not confident that you and I are speaking of the exact same thing here. The whole point of responsive design is to avoid showing content that is different from the “full” version of a site. But we’re not even talking about a “full” version and a “condensed” or “mobile” version. We’re talking about device widths, and screen sizes with responsive design. So responsive design solves the problem of limiting the access to content by sizing it with a design that will make it easier for people to read that content. It has nothing to do with preventing people from reaching content. If you are visiting a site and you have to click to view the “full” version of it, that is not a responsive site – responsive sites don’t have that option at all. One CSS file controls (or can control) the entire site, regardless of screen size by using media queries. If you are clicking on anything that says “view full site,” that is a mobile site built separately that is ‘detecting’ a screen size. But it’s still separate. That was made pretty clear in this article, but perhaps not enough. This article wasn’t meant to explain the ‘how’ of responsive design, just the reasons and data and facts behind doing it, with some opinion intertwined of course.

  4. Guy Cook

    And yes, some of us were not agreeing 11 months ago when people said, “We really aren’t needing this site to be responsive” but now I”m glad as heck that I stuck to that position, and here’s the reasons why I was right. AND here’s more about mobile… USA Passes Japan in Wireless Broadband Among G7 – Finland Tops in Wireless Broadband Penetration Worldwide – July 2013 Bandwidth Report

    1. Joyce Grace

      Thanks Guy! Glad some of you were keeners out there making this a standard in web development today!

  5. michaeltieso

    Well written! I’ve come across this way too often.

    1. Joyce Grace

      Thanks michaeltieso! I really hope it’s useful to you for when you need to convince some of your own clients!

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