Adaptive vs. Responsive Web Design for B2Bs

Most of the time, responsive is best for B2B. But sometimes adaptive wins.
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There are two main strategies for making a website mobile-ready: adaptive design and responsive design. In most cases, a responsive website will the best fit for B2B businesses. But for those who want to create mobile experiences that are significantly different than those provided by standard desktop websites, or for those who have a client base that needs a fast mobile load time, adaptive websites are definitely worth considering.

The following explanation of the differences between adaptive and responsive web design should help those who are still weighing their options understand which approach will best suit their needs.

Technical Differences between Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

Let’s start with a basic technical explanation of the differences between adaptive and responsive web design.

An adaptive site is not really a site at all — it’s more of a collection of versions of a site. This suite typically includes preordained layouts for standard desktop, smartphone, and tablet screen sizes. Essentially, an adaptive site is a collection of different, device-specific versions of a website. When a user navigates to an adaptive site’s URL, the site’s server detects which type of device the visitor is using and deploys the version of the site that is most appropriate for that device.

In contrast, a responsive site is a single site composed of various modules. It is built using flexible grids of content and graphics — pulled from a database — that the device used to access the website organizes into a layout suitable for its display. With a responsive website, there aren’t any preordained layouts or versions of the site hosted on a server. Rather, there is just one site that can manifest in a variety of different ways depending on who (or, more accurately, what) is looking at it.

Why Responsive Web Design Works for the Industrial Buying Process

The first questions to ask when determining if you need an adaptive or responsive website are:

  • Who is your website for?
  • What user actions does it need to facilitate?

In the industrial business world, most websites are used to promote a company’s products and services to potential customers, including engineers, facility managers, and procurement managers. The common goal is to convert these users into leads and, subsequently, into actual customers.

Typically, this process takes a long time. The industrial buying cycle can take nine months or more and frequently involves multiple stakeholders. During the needs awareness, research, consideration and comparison, and procurement phases, representatives from a company will likely visit a vendor’s website multiple times. Increasingly, they will use multiple devices — smartphones, tablets, and desktop and laptop computers — to do so.

Considering the way the industrial buying cycle works, it’s no stretch to assert that it participates in what Google has dubbed our “multi-screen world.” According to the search engine’s “The New Multi-screen World” study of cross-platform consumer behavior, 90 percent of consumers start a task on one device and finish it on another.

The study goes on to demonstrate that while users may switch devices, their expectations remain constant. They anticipate that a website URL will deliver the same content no matter which device is used to access it. In other words, if a customer looks at a website on their smartphone, then returns to the site later on their desktop, they’re hoping to encounter the same website and the same content. Similarly, if a customer emails themselves a link from a laptop computer and then later clicks through on their tablet, they probably want to end up on the same webpage.

In the industrial buying process, consistently delivering content may be even more important since there are likely several stakeholders trading links across devices. Moreover, important information is often detailed and technical. When an engineer looks at your company and then sends a link to a purchasing agent for qualification, you want to make sure that all the relevant information is available and easy to find — no matter which devices they use.

This “One Web” experience of continuity across devices seems crucial for most industrial business interactions and is facilitated by responsive web design. With a responsive website, there are no surprise variant mobile sites with abbreviated content. There is just one site that features all content and which is versioned for each device.

(If you’d like to learn more about the advantages of a responsive website for B2B businesses, please check out our primer on the subject).

When Adaptive Web Design Will Work for Industrials

Adaptive design provides several advantages over responsive design, but they are almost entirely situational. Benefiting from them requires a clear idea of your audiences and their needs. The three main circumstances that might prompt a business to consider an adaptive website are:

1. Mobile users need specific information

If mobile visitors only need a few key pieces of information, an adaptive site can serve that important content up directly without the “noise” of the rest of the website experience. Meanwhile, a desktop version of the website could present a more comprehensive picture of a company.

This ability of adaptive design to deliver information selectively could prove useful for an industrial company that provides emergency services, for instance. If a field services technician were on site with just their smartphone and needed to check the availability of a part with a supplier, they could look up a distributor online, find the phone number immediately on the distributor’s mobile website, place an order, and be on their way to resolving the situation.

2. Mobile users browse on certain devices

There are a lot of mobile devices out there with a diverse array of screen sizes. If you know your audience primarily uses certain mobile devices, such as iPhone 5s or Nexus 7 tablets, it may be worth it to have adaptive versions of your website that are optimized for just those screens.

For instance, say an industrial sales company makes Nexus 7 tablets standard issue for its sales representatives and trains them to use the tablets to showcase products and take orders during meetings with customers. This process could benefit from an adaptive site with a version designed specifically for Nexus 7 tablets.

3. Users would benefit from fast load times

With an adaptive site, the site’s server does the computational work of selecting the pre-made version of the site that corresponds to a user’s device, delivering readymade webpages. This means that an adaptive site loads much more quickly than a responsive site, which a user’s device has to arrange and render to suit its screen size.

Having an adaptive site with a faster load time could be beneficial for an industrial company if its customers have limited bandwidth. For instance, say a business’s trade show plan involves driving customers to the company’s website while they are on the floor at the show. Since Internet access is often slow at these venues where everyone is trying to get online at once, a site that loads quickly would support this strategy. A fast load time could also help a company reach customers who have dial-up Internet access or limited cell reception.

Practical Considerations

There are, of course, a number of other practical considerations to take into account when choosing between an adaptive or responsive approach to mobile-ready web design.

1. Budget

Responsive websites cost considerably less than adaptive sites. When budgeting for a responsive website, you’re still developing just one website and only need to factor in the cost of adding a few extra steps to a traditional desktop web development process. In contrast, adaptive web design implies creating several separate but related websites, each adding more time and more money to the overall budget.

2. Content Management

With a responsive website, content management is streamlined. Because there is only one site to maintain, you only need to do one content update at a time. With an adaptive site, you either need to update each version separately or develop some sort of automated workaround.

3. Search Engine Optimization

With a responsive site, all visitors get routed to the same URL, as opposed to separate desktop, mobile, and tablet instances. Having all visitors converge on one site increases the perceived relevance and quality of the site with Google and other search engines, boosting overall search rankings.

These practical considerations are just a few of the reasons why a responsive websites is the best approach for an industrial business looking to develop a mobile-ready website.

If you’d like to learn more about adaptive or responsive web design, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help determine which approach suits your business.

Responsive Website Guide
Industrial Marketing Budget Guide

About the Author

Jake Gerli


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