Site Speed vs Responsive Design: Which is More Important?

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Site Speed vs Responsive Design: Which is More Important?

Some of you may recall the early days of the Internet. It was an amazing experience to have all of this information at your fingertips and be able to chat with people from all over the world.

But, it was also a very dark time.

For those who didn’t experience the days of AOL, everyone had to use their phone-line to connect to the Internet instead of an Ethernet cable. This meant two things:

  1. You couldn’t use the phone and if someone called, you could get kicked off. That was pretty frustrating when you were playing a game or downloading a song.
  2. The connection was slow. Really slow. Like, molasses slow.

Thankfully, over the years, Internet speed rapidly increased. Instead of waiting hours for one file to download, it only took minutes and now merely seconds. It’s great progress for those of us who recall those olden days of dial-up internet.

Today, we expect a website to load in a matter of seconds. Otherwise, we get impatient and just go to another site. And, in a way, that’s similar to rise of mobile-friendly websites.

Over the last couple of years, more and more people have been using their smartphones or tablets to search online. Maybe it’s to find a nearby gas station or look up a number for a restaurant to make reservations or place an order. It’s just become a way of life. And if a website isn’t playing nice with our smart phone or tablet, we’ll just move on to a site that’s more friendly.

As we reflected on the improvements that internet connectivity has made over the years, we were wondering what’s more important? How quickly a website loads, or if it has responsive design theme?

The Importance of Site Speed


Image Source: Shutterstock

Everyone who surfs online is aware of how important site speed is to their online experience. You could be visiting one of the most amazing sites ever, but if it takes too long to load, what are you probably going to do? We bet you’d have no hesitation in leaving and going elsewhere.

To further illustrate this point, Kissmetrics found a number of useful stats that prove how loading time affects the so-called bottom line. Here were some of the key takeaways:

  • 73% of mobile internet users say they’ve encountered a website that was too slow to load.
  • 51% of mobile internet users say they’ve encountered a website that crashed, froze, or received an error.
  • 38% of mobile internet users say they’ve encountered a website that wasn’t available.
  • 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less.
  • 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.
  • A one second delay in page response can result in a seven percent reduction in conversions.
  • If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a one second page delay could potentially cost $2.5 million in lost sales every year.

Besides the above stats and giving users a great experience, the speed of your site also affects your search ranking. Of course, this isn’t breaking news. Google announced site speed became a part of the ranking factor in Google’s algorithm in 2010.

For marketers, the speed of your site can also impact your AdWords Quality Score. Again, this comes back to Google. The Big G believes load time of a landing page is part of the experience. So, the better your page performs, the higher Quality Score you’ll receive. Also, your Quality Score has implications for cost-per-click (CPC). A higher score, the lower your CPC.

The Importance of Responsive Design


Image Source: Serge Kij/Flickr

Before we get into the importance of responsive design, what’s the difference between responsive and mobile?

Responsive design means you only have to have one website and it is designed to adjust to fit any screen size. This means it can be used on both desktops and mobile devices. Mobile, however, is separate. This means you would have one website for desktop users and another for mobile users. If you’re on a budget, then it’s probably the best investment to use a responsive design for your website.

Regardless of which design you use, it’s easy to see how important a mobile friendly website is. Simply walk down the street and take notice of all the people using their smartphones.

But, let’s have some stats to back that claim up. According to Smart Insights, mobile is getting big. Really big. Here are some of the incredible numbers:

  • More than 20% of Google searches are being performed on a mobile device.
  • In 2012, over half of local searches were performed on a mobile device.
  • In the United States, 25% of internet users only access the internet through a mobile device.
  • 61% of people form a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience.
  • 25.85% of all emails are opened on mobile phones, with another 10.16% being opened on tablets.

Perhaps most importantly, a mobile ready website also improves user’s experience. In fact, if a visitor doesn’t like what’s going on, they’ll bounce to a competing website 61% of the time.

But, what if you’re torn between a mobile and responsive website? It appears that responsive has a slight edge. Google’s Pierre Farr stated at SMX in 2012 that responsive web design was preferred over mobile templates since it’s easier to crawl just one website. In short, responsive design is the industry practice. And, it’s also easy to manage since you’re only handling one website.

When Worlds Collide: Site Speed Meets Responsive Design

It shouldn’t be surprising that site speed and responsive design have a couple of things in common.

For starters, both can impact a site’s ranking. Since Google controls 67.6 percent market share of search engines, that’s a serious consideration in designing your website. If your site is too slow, your Google ranking could drop. Additionally, if you’re practicing poor mobile practices, your site can get penalized.

Another common occurrence is the issue of speed itself. Just as with a desktop site, a mobile site also has to load quickly. Google recommends all of the content appearing above the fold on a mobile device loads in under one second. The entire page should load in under two seconds.

So What’s More Important? Site Speed or Responsive Design?

Make no mistake about it. Mobile is the future. It’s expected that by 2018 there will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices. And, while it currently fulfills a need, responsive design may not be enough to capture the mobile market.

Responsive design is a great idea if you don’t have the time to manage multiple sites. It’s great for SEO. And it makes your life easier since you don’t have to worry about your site not properly loading because it’s not mobile-friendly. In other words, it’s better safe than sorry to make use out of responsive design.

On the flipside, responsive design may not come in handy if you’ve established certain goals that can be achieved on a smart phone or tablet. Take Dominos Pizza, for example. The company realized they needed a separate mobile site since they understood most mobile users were using their smartphones to order a pizza. In that case, Dominos had to have a separate mobile site to capitalize on this audience.

Regardless if responsive design remains popular or disappears from the online landscape, there is one fact we’re certain of: speed will always be important. And that should be a concern for sites using responsive design. If you’re site is bloated with CSS files, for example, it’s going to take longer to download. If you have a well-developed responsive site, than there should be no worries.

What we’re getting at is that it doesn’t matter if you’re using a desktop, smart phone or tablet, speed is a deciding factor in if customer’s will stick around. It also will determine if they come back again, which can improve sales. And, the speed of your site also matters to Google.

You can have a really awesome responsive design, but if it’s not loading fast enough, forget about it. Your site won’t keep visitors and it won’t get ranked by Google.

How to Check Site Speed

Want to know how quickly your site is loading? Some clever Google Developers have created a handy little tool for such a task. All you have to do is head over to PageSpeed Insights and enter the URL of your website.

Not only will you discover how fast your page is loading on any device, Google will analyze the page and give suggestion on how to speed it up. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that’s free to use.

What do you think is more important? Site speed or responsive design?


Featured Image: Cory M. Grenier/Flickr

Albert Costill
Albert Costill is a co-founder of and a freelance writer who has written for brands like and Search Engine Journal. When he’s not... Read Full Bio
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  • Lee

    We’ve just re-designed our website to reponsive. Site speed has increased leading to a big increase in bounce rate and a decrease in conversion rate.

    90% of our users are not on mobile and the overall impact is around 20% lower sales 🙁

    • Mike D

      Lee – You could improve your site speed with a few, somewhat, quick fixes.

      1. You’ve committed the the single biggest sin of responsive, you’re using your desktop size images for your mobile experience. Find a responsive image solution like Picturefill.js or the like and serve mobile appropriate images. Google responsive image scripts or solutions and you’ll find a ton of options.

      2. You could make more use of image sprites. You did it with some site icons and you could do it for logos and other image files. Saves calls to the server.

      3. You have quite a few scripts in the head of the doc. You should see which ones could be moved to the end of the body of the doc. Some scripts block page rendering while they load giving the appearance of a slower loading site.

      4. Concatenate all the css and js files that can be to reduce the calls to server.

      Hope that helps.

  • Lewis – Marketing Bees

    Why can’t a website be both? I’m not convinced that responsiveness means you have to have a slow website?

  • Norton Loomer

    I don’t get why you are pitting site speed against responsive design. They should go hand in hand. It’s not like you have to choose one or the other. This is like asking if your house should have windows or doors. The answer is obvious: you need both.

    A more practical article would just be mobile site vs. responsive design. That’s an actual debate. Fortunately, you handle it pretty well here. Unfortunately, it gets lost in the mix of a comparison that makes no sense.

  • They are both incredibly important, and there are some recent articles that show you how to approach a more performant RWD site.

    • You are right: sites (desktop and mobile) must be optimized using appropriate tools (free as WP Super Cache) or Premium (such as so you can have both.

  • Hence the reason that Adaptive or RESS (REsponsive with Server-Side) is considered a more performant choice. A ‘mobile first’ approach ensures that mobile users get a speedy experience, rather than trying push all of that desktop-specific data (CSS/Images/JS) down the pipe.

  • Ritesh Patel

    Page loading time is obviously an important part of any website’s user experience. We know that users always hate waiting for website pages which was taken to much time to load and Google also uses site speed as a factor for its search rankings.

  • Mulyadi Subali

    Isn’t the main idea behind rwd is ‘mobile first’? It doesn’t only refer to adaptive design, but also removing non-essential contents, which in turn will improve speed.

  • Mike D

    As some have already pointed out this isn’t a case of either or. Whether the site is responsive, adaptive, or dedicated mobile it needs to be fast. Speed is expected. Your stats are compelling and the reason I personally like to add a performance budget to all web projects I’m involved with.

    That said, if you have no mobile presence then this is all a mute point. The question is, is a slow mobile presence better than no presence at all? Yes, just don’t let remain slow forever, optimize over time. Some won’t have the budget or resources for multiple solutions to achieve the fastest experience and responsive can be an effective way to deliver across platforms and screen sizes.

    As they say, “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” This advice/information is being presented on a responsive page that takes over 6.5 seconds to load the DOM, nearly 16 seconds to render the entire page, and over 2 minutes to load the whopping 2 plus megabytes of total data that comprise this single page, according to the Chrome browser web inspector. MIght want to practice what you preach.

  • You can replace responsive design with mobile page templates. non-issue then.

    • I think the speed of the site at an advantage because you have the perfect design websites that simply will not be visible. The only question is whether the speed is more important for a mobile device or visitors with their computers.

  • Thank you for the information on Site Speed vs Responsive Design. We are currently in the process of upgrading to a responsive website. Now, I’m not sure it is a good idea. I like a fast loading website. I’m one of those people that “bounce” to another site if the page takes too long to load. Is there something specific I should request to make sure the new responsive design loads faster?

  • Mike D

    This isn’t an either or comparison, create fast responsive sites. But to do that requires a commitment to optimization. It takes a lot of work to make responsive sites fast, much more than simply “removing non-essential content.”

    Not everything about this article is a waste though. The stats on speed and it’s affect on conversions is real and important to keep in mind. Every web project should set a performance budget to make sure pages load in an acceptable time, 2-3 seconds is the expectation of most users.

    But speed is irrelevant if you have no mobile presence. You’re better off with a slow presence than no presence.

    The irony of this article being posted on a slow, bloated responsive page is downright laughable. I guess this is a case of do as we say not as we do. Works for Nielsen/Norman, why not SEJ.

  • Mike D

    Apologies for a double post. I reloaded this page several times and my first post never showed.

  • Personally I’ll go for a responsive design first. A good design can make a great first impression. Beside, increase site speed is pretty easy to do IMO.

  • Personally I’ll go for responsive design first. A good design can make a great first impression. Beside, it’s pretty easy to increase site speed IMO.

  • Rank Watch

    Well talking about the overall performance of the site and how Google views both the factors, I believe both have equal importance with Site speed talking 60% and responsive design getting 40%.

  • And I was just woinrendg about that too!

  • i think its very important to check your website speed. It’s good for SEO and visitor