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Responsive what?! 90% of visitors to my site use screens larger than 1024x768px…

This is an open question to the WordPress community:

have WordPress developers gone doolally over responsive web design?

Ok admittedly that’s a very blunt question, so let me explain. I was going over my site stats this morning while simultaneously checking email, reading the news, drinking coffee and patting the dog – as you do – and in true geek fashion the screen resolution stats for wpliving tickled my fancy!

After a little more scrutiny and a bit of simple math, I came to the conclusion that around 90% of the visitors to my site have screen sizes larger than 1024x768px, which is the standard iPad landscape resolution. Here, go ahead and see for yourself:

18% — 1920 × 1080
17% — 1280 × 800
11% — 1440 × 900
11% — 1366 × 768
8% — 1680 × 1050
8% — 1920 × 1200
7% — 2560 × 1440
7% — 1280 × 1024
4% — 1600 × 900
4% — 1024 × 768
3% — 800 × 600
2% — 320 × 480

What does this mean? It means that less than 10% of my visitors access the site on portable devices. This raises a number of questions:

  • Is the massive marketing emphasis placed on “responsive WordPress themes” (google those terms and witness the sheer quantity of results) justified?
  • Are customers (including myself) not being effectively coerced by developers and marketplaces into thinking that anything that isn’t responsive is Bad with a capital B?
  • Am I not doing enough to attract mobile/portable device users to my site? If not, what should I be doing to improve these stats?

Now, I realize that one tiny data set such as the one I’ve pasted above is by no means representative of a general trend, so if you’re reading this post and you happen to be a developer or a website owner with experience in basic web analytics, I’d be very interested to hear whether you’re seeing a similar pattern on your site or not.

Finally, this whole topic has got me thinking about what I can do to attract more mobile users to my site. For example, is there an optimum content type and/or content layout that would work well across all platforms? What are some of the things we should avoid as content producers when thinking about making our sites more mobile friendly? It would be very cool to hear about other people’s experiences with responsive design.

Masthead photo courtesy of Chasing Daisy.

Written by Will Ellington

Originally from the UK, I currently live in Osaka, Japan, where I work in higher education. I’ve been a WordPress user since 2004 and have developed numerous projects with it over the years. Wpliving is a place to share things i've learnt along the way, and to explore innovations in WordPress too.

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8 Comments

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  1. Interesting topic. I run several sites, one of which has *fairly* high volume traffic, around 500k unique visits per month. None of my sites are “responsive” yet, but I’m actually in the early stages of a redesign for the 500k one. Anyway, what prompted me to go down this route was a combination of things. One the one hand I’ve had a steady rise in iPhone, Android and tablet users over the past 6 months to a year. I’ve also received quite a bit of visitor feedback asking me to make the site mobile friendly. Overall though, for me it comes down to business. I can’t afford to loose the potential sales I could make by opening the site up to a range of users.

  2. Will, I would guess that the stats for you site might be skewed by the fact that you are talking about design issues, so your readers are wordpress designers/developers, sitting at their desks with their worn out old laptops (me) or big macintosh screens (for the lucky ones). A site aimed at consumers would probably get more mobile viewings. Personally I’m not that bothered about mobile viewings and none of my customers are yet. My sites are normally 1000 pixels wide, and maybe/probably the resolution on mobile phone screens will catch up with that quickly enough for it not to be an issue for very long.
    Should people using a low res mobile phone screen expect a good web experience anyway, from anything but the big websites such as google apps, wikipedia, or the bbc who can afford to develop specifc versions for small screen devices? I’m a bit of a dinosaur of course and don’t really like mobile phones even for talking on. I do appreciate being able to check train times on the go via a mobile phone though… so for me, as long as wikipedia and train companies have sites adapted to small screens, that’s enough.

    • Hi Peter, really appreciate your take on this one and love what you’re doing over at Ethical Internet. Interesting to get some input from a web designer. So I take it that you would agree that responsive designs is a bit of an overhyped concept, more of a sales technique than a prerequisite for web design in 2012? I suppose it’s like anything, people want the latest stuff. Who’s going to settle for a simple DVD when Blu-Ray is on offer etc. etc…

  3. Will, the responsive question is a good one to ask. Just checked my stats on my latest site which gets around 3,000 visitors a month. Less than 7% were mobile users. My site is all about WP themes so maybe it falls into the same category as yours in that mostly developers and designers would view it? If we could take a look at the stats of some local news sites or even a few small businesses, I’d wonder if we’d see a noticeable difference.

    I do prefer the push towards responsiveness over mobile apps though. I, for one, would rather just visit a website than download dozens of different apps for my favorite sites. In this regard, I’m all for responsiveness.

  4. Interesting stats! I’ve been busy writing an article this past week reporting my findings on responsive frameworks and digging deeper into responsive design in general. One of the things that jumps out to me is that a lot of the responsive designs that are out there actually don’t take a great deal of advantage of big screen sizes. Mobile devices get a ton of attention but responsive design doesn’t stop there.

    Your stats show a whopping amount of users are browsing at really spacious resolutions (1400+px wide). That’s well over a third of your visitors that are utilizing a size that most designers don’t really optimize for. The Smashing Magazine website is a great example of how gorgeous a theme can be when it really makes use of all the space.

    So I’d say I’m in the camp that says that the responsive design hype is warranted, but many responsively designed theme actually under-utilize the bigger screen sizes. It will be amazing to see more designs really capitalizing on big screen real-estate.

  5. Agreed that your stats probably aren’t statistically relevant because your audience has a disproportionate use of big screens because their work is focused on the computer.

    At the end of the day I believe content to be 80% and responsive to be an important part of making that last 20% of a 100% effective beautiful website.

    I believe the hype is warranted. We’re still in the “early adopters” phase of the product life cycle here for responsive design.

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