The Future Arrives: Why I'm (Finally) Joining the Responsive Web Design Bandwagon

In October, 2013, I posted a controversial article about the differences between responsive and adaptive websites and came to the conclusion that, at that time, properly coded adaptive websites were performing better than responsive websites in the automotive arena. I stand by that assertion as long as the timestamp is attached. In other words, adaptive was better in the automotive industry than responsive in October, 2013.

Today, I am happily reversing my opinion. The industry has caught up. There are a handful of companies in our space that have not only improved on the earlier iterations that I did not like but who have taken their responsive sites beyond the adaptive sites that were performing phenomenally well. It's not that adaptive sites are bad or that they've fallen off at all. Today, the responsive sites (and the numbers attached to their results for dealers) have surpassed their adaptive counterparts.

The real difference in the platforms that I have seen launched in recent months compared to the original batch of automotive responsive website designers is that they seem to have followed (coincidentally, I'm sure) a different assertion I made a week after the original post that dealers and their vendors should build websites for mobile first. Mobile is today. It's getting bigger tomorrow.

Responsive websites that are built to accommodate the demands and limitations of mobile devices do not lose out on desktop functionality. If anything, today's savvy buyer has grown accustomed to a more mobile experience on their desktops and appreciate the simplicity that such design brings to the table.

I am dying to name some of the companies that I have looked at over the last few months that have impressed me with their designs and website management tools, but now is not the time. There are five strong responsive design firms that have impressed the heck out of me lately. Two are well known. Two are less known. One is pretty much unknown in the industry. I won't name them because I have yet to do a comprehensive review of everyone's platform. Considering that there are about 50 players in the automotive website arena, it's likely that I will never make it through them all.

In lieu of recommendations or direct endorsements, I'll keep it simple and show you what you should be considering...

  • Speed and User Experience: While I have never been big on "quality test" sites that spit out a score about how good your website is, Google has a pretty good one out there with their PageSpeed Insights. The desktop component isn't a huge deal but look at both numbers in mobile - Speed and User Experience. Shoot for a speed over 50 as a bare minimum and the UX should be high, preferably over 90.
  • Mobile-Only Functionality: One of the arguments that adaptive website providers make is that you can't put mobile functionality such as "Click to Call" or GPS-enabled navigation on responsive sites. This isn't true, though most of the responsive sites that I have seen do not take advantage of this. You can have that sort of unique functionality appear on your responsive sites when they are on a mobile screen and have them not available on a desktop. If you're considering responsive, ask your vendor if this is the case for their sites.
  • Morphing Buttons: Many of the buttons on desktop websites are square. This doesn't lend to an effective mobile translation most of the times because they are too big to see on a single mobile screen. When a responsive website is rendered on a small screen, those large buttons should "morph" into mobile-friendlier buttons, preferably long rectangles that are still big enough for those of us with fat fingers.
  • Intelligent Navigation Bars: Just like with the buttons, the navigation bars at the top that are so easy to use on desktop often become a challenge on mobile devices. Most responsive websites stack the navigation options when viewed on a small screen. This is a mistake. Instead, there should be a transition to a drop-down menu for the mobile experience. It should be at the top right and be easy to push for us fat-fingered-folks.
  • Remove of "Extras": Even though we'd like to think that everything on our website is of vital importance to our visitors, there are always "fillers" that make sense on desktops but not on mobile. For example, that scrolling display of all of your vehicle types (you know, the one that gets somewhere south of 20 clicks per month) should not be taking up space on mobile. It' fine for desktops but make for a bad mobile experience. Remember, mobile is about getting to the point.

There are plenty of other things that I could go into regarding what to look for in a responsive website design, but I'll leave it off where it is and add a single closing thought: a great adaptive website is still better than a good (or bad) responsive website. Let the numbers guide you in your decision. It's about getting leads and driving more people to your inventory both online and offline. Make sure that the experience they're receiving in their mobile exploration of your website is better than any of your competitors. It makes a difference.

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Comment by Brian Pasch on May 11, 2014 at 8:52pm


The evolution of responsive/adaptive website technology for car dealers is still in its infancy. With that said, the 2014 Automotive Website Awards ( recognized the best platforms that were available for PCG to review in the Fall of 2013. Two of the best utilized adaptive website technology.

Since that time, new responsive platforms from Haystak Digital Marketing and DealerOn have been released to the general public. The first looks were shown at NADA but PCG has not yet completed a full review of either platform; we are waiting for each company to tell us they are ready for a thorough review.

This year the AWA awards recognized a new company with an impressive responsive design:  We liked the company's commitment to open standards and APIs and since their AWA award recognition, the company has been on fire.

With that said, the importance of having a responsive/adaptive website technology if taken as a stand alone conversation would be a disservice to car dealers.  Dealers need to have a strong mobile strategy but they also need a device independent advertising strategy, inventory management strategy, and merchandising strategy. 

Dealers need to see how all the pieces of the puzzle are being integrated and it is surprising that a few major players have yet to reveal their mobile strategy.  The window is closing on automotive website providers to compete with newer technology.

We will see more automotive website companies have their businesses phased out (i.e. NextSteppe, DealerHD, and ClickMotive).  I look forward to hearing about the companies you can recommend to dealers. 

PCG will be accepting applications for the 2015 Automotive Website Awards in July 2014. 


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