The rapid growth of mobile Internet usage across North America hasn’t really caught the business world by surprise, but that hasn’t made the shift feel any less sudden. Just because we all knew that smartphones and tablets would eventually become mainstream doesn’t mean we were ready for it to happen so quickly.

This is evident in the way various organizations have approached mobile Web design and marketing. Some launched mobile-compatible versions of their sites almost immediately, only to watch new platforms and design preferences be released, causing them to make ongoing edits and revisions, not to mention deal with the burden of keeping multiple websites up to date.

Other businesses have sat back and waited, in the hopes that mobile Web marketing will become more standardized, and more affordable, in the near future. In the meantime, though, they could be losing ground to their competitors who are attracting mobile customers every day.

Which answer is the right one? It’s hard to say, but it might not matter anymore. That’s because responsive Web design is changing the rules of the game very quickly.

Why Responsive Web Design is Such a Big Deal

If you aren’t completely familiar with the concept, responsive Web design is actually relatively simple. It just means coding your site in such a way that it shows itself differently to each visitor, depending on the equipment and software they’re using to display it. So, while someone on a traditional laptop computer may see the version of your site you’re used to, a customer with an iPhone could get a slightly different version that displays and acts differently. In other words, because it “responds,” you can have one site that’s perfect for every type of customer.

For businesses, that functionality brings a few important advantages:

1. It makes it easier to keep your business website current. This might not seem like a huge advantage, but most of us know how easy it is to overlook an important detail on a site, miss a typo, or even forget to change things like product names, prices, and availability. When you have two (or more) websites to look after, the odds of forgetting something important rise in tandem, as do the costs associated with keeping them maintained.

2. It lowers the cost of mobile Web design and marketing. Speaking of costs, would you rather pay for one website or two? For some companies, the discussion on responsive Web design ends there. That’s true even though most mobile sites aren’t incredibly expensive, because one fully featured, responsive site does a better job than one “real” site and a scaled-down version for smartphone and tablet users.

3. It means fewer changes to your business website in the future. One of the most aggravating things in our industry is the rate of change. It doesn’t just mean that business Web designers have to keep on top of new tactics and ideas, but also that a business website can start to be “old” or “outdated” in just a couple of years. That’s been especially true since mobile computing came in vogue. With a responsive website, you don’t have to worry that your site will go “out of style” so quickly.

Added together, these benefits mean more bottom-line value, lower costs, and less time and energy spent on Internet marketing. So, switching to a responsive business website is an easy decision for a lot of business owners and executives to make – especially if they are considering upgrading their site anyway.

So, You Need a Responsive Website… Right?

Although a responsive business website might seem like the obvious answer at this point, it’s still best to talk things through with your Web design and online marketing team. That’s because, for one thing, responsive websites aren’t always as fully featured as mobile versions are, for those customers coming to you through mobile devices. In other words, if half or more of your visitors come through mobile websites, you might still be better off with a mobile website.

Additionally, re-coding or converting a website to make it responsive isn’t a quick or easy process. So, if you have recently paid a lot of money for your mobile site, you might not want to restart on a new one, and make another big investment, when you could get a mobile site more expensively in the short term.

Still, most companies can get a lot more from responsive business Web design for little more than they would’ve paid for a new website anyway. So, if it’s time to update or replace your existing Web presence, be sure you’re exploring responsive designs and getting the best possible value.