How Much Does Responsive Web Design Cost?

How Much Does Responsive Web Design Cost?

At this stage in the game, you should know what responsive web design is and why tailored mobile web experiences are more important than ever. However, like all things new, to implement a responsive website requires change; in the initial build, throughout ongoing management and indeed while marketing the site.

We regularly speak to people who are sold on the idea of having a responsive website but are unsure of what these changes could mean for them; how do the different processes involved actually translate into lost and gained efficiency?

Well let’s start with the question you’re all already thinking: “How much does a responsive website cost?”

Defining ‘Cost’

It has been said that I’m a pragmatist. I hate to disappoint, so here’s a bold but undeniable assertion:

‘Cost’ in relation to a good marketing investment is largely a moot point. The key is in the name. By definition, a good marketing investment will deliver positive ROI and is therefore entirely scalable. If anything, the long-term ‘cost’ actually comes out negative; so in actuality it’s a ‘profit’. Arguably, the only limiting factors are time (how patient are you?) and bank balance (how cash-rich are you?).

OK. Fair do’s. You probably don’t have a bottomless pit filled with money just for marketing (much to our dismay). What you do have however (or what you should have) is a set of clear and definable goals, such as ‘improving mobile engagement’ or ‘increasing web marketing efficiency’, through specific metrics. If you have goals, you need a solution. So in the knowledge that doing nothing isn’t a viable option, the question we should actually be asking is this: ‘Which solution is most cost-effective?’

Responsive Web Design vs. Dedicated Mobile Site

Traditional ‘dedicated’ or mobile-specific sites (such as ‘m dot’ sites) are an obvious alternative to responsive web design. It’s not exactly apples-for-apples, granted, but as overall solutions they are comparable.

The first place to look is the price-tag. From experience within an agency, I’d say that an ‘upgrade’ in specification from normal website to a responsive website will add as much to your quote as a request for a separate mobile-specific site alongside a desktop-specific site; so both solutions require about the same investment.

But that’s just design and build. Remember it’s the gains made from the investment that really count… Is the return on that investment comparable? Does either convey a significant benefit over the other?

Yes. Very definitely. Responsive websites are much more efficient.

First and foremost, there is the content to consider. Responsive websites can be updated from one single content-management system. Even if your responsive website displays somewhat different content on different devices, all of those blocks of content will at least be centralised for easy maintenance; plus any content that is shared can still be updated globally through a single amend, reducing room for human error as well as the time taken to implement those changes.

Secondly, there are some technical aspects to dedicated mobile sites that are, quite honestly, a little bit ‘hacky’. For starters, you have to manually maintain a ‘device database’ where you specify which devices get which website (i.e. mobile or desktop site). Every time a new phone comes out you have to amend this database. In the modern world, that’s a crazy-big database of devices!

Furthermore, every time your internal design standards evolve (i.e. the font sizes you use), you have to change the CSS (styling rules) for each individual website. This could then also trigger manual changes in the device database due to the new relative levels of impact on each screen size.

By contrast, responsive websites react to screen sizes and screen sizes alone. If new phones come out, the website will automatically apply the right presentation rules for that screen size according to the parameters you will have already set. Also, if you need to update styling rules (i.e. font sizes) you can do it in one central place; including the ability to move the aforementioned screen size parameters if impactfulness changes as a result or the mobile device landscape changes dramatically. Simple!

Mobile-specific sites have become easier to manage since this article was written. In some cases where the content is very different on mobile versus desktop sites, it can be slightly more effective to use a dedicated mobile solution rather than a responsive layout. This relates to a balancing of load-times, customer requirements and capacity to manage multiple sites. Talk to us for advice.

Ultimately then, responsive sites are no more expensive to build but they generally function more efficiently in the long run. But wait, there’s more…

The Responsive Marketing Budget | Value for Money?

If we’re talking about marketing websites, we’re talking about Google. (Now there’s a pragmatic assertion for you!)

Google like responsive websites. Their very own Developers area states that responsive design “is Google’s recommended configuration.” As if you need more impetus than that!

It’s not just a fleeting fancy either. Google have made this decision because they see that responsive websites genuinely add significant value in all three major areas of search relevance.

1. On-Page Optimisation

When you amend page titles, meta-descriptions, keywords, image alt tags or other parts of your HTML code that affect how Google indexes you, they should be representative of the value in the pages visible content. By centralising and streamlining mobile and desktop content into a single responsive page, you are less likely to make mistakes or overlook anything. Therefore, Google can index your content more correctly.

2. Off-Page Optimisation

A link or social media mention pointing to your responsive website is the same as a link pointing to your mobile site and your desktop site. There is therefore no need to double up on your off-page budget (whether that be paid staff or outsourced) in order to promote both. That’s instantly a 100% increase in efficiency! Since your on-page optimisation (above) will be spot-on too, the anchor texts of back-links will be much more relevant as well; meaning that back-links to a responsive site are not just multi-purpose but they are also more effective.

3. Experience Optimisation

You can’t make mistakes with who sees what with a responsive website. There are no databases to constantly monitor. It is purely down to screen size. Therefore, the probability of, say, a desktop user accidentally finding a mobile site in search results (and therefore ‘bouncing’ off the site straight away) is reduced to a big fat zero. If you help Google avoid this rather embarrassing pitfall, you will be rewarded accordingly.

Aside from all this, Google get a better understanding of semantic links between words when more websites are more focused, helping them improve their own algorithm. It stands to reason that they would promote the technique only if it genuinely helped to uncover the true value in web content.

Compared to mobile-specific sites then, responsive websites demand the same level of investment but are easier to maintain and manage, plus they are more marketing-efficient too!

Responsive Website vs. Native Apps

It wouldn’t be fair to have this discussion without mentioning native ‘apps’. Don’t worry though; it won’t take long to put this one to bed.

Mobile apps are much more expensive to build than responsive websites; and you have to remember that you would need to produce at least 2 variations of the same app for Android and iOS (Apple), each conforming to different UI design standards. Then there’s still BlackBerry and Windows Phone et al. to think about. Oh, and then you have to consider smartphone screens and tablet screens within each environment as needing different designs, otherwise you’re undermining your own goal of improving the mobile context through tailored content delivery.

In short, the series of apps you would have to develop would run up a huge bill very quickly. If you’re not Gmail, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, chances are you neither need nor can afford them. You just want a single website that, when found and visited, offers the best possible experience to every user on every device.

Further to this, managing and updating an estate of native apps will undoubtedly be time-consuming and, due to the repetitive nature of the work involved, will create a wider margin for error when doing so.

Perhaps most worrying though is the complete omission from Google searches without another website for content that can be indexed… which defeats the whole object!

I think I’ll leave that there.


1. Choose a responsive website solution to address your Mobile problem (at no extra cost when compared to any other solution).

2. Notice a significantly reduced demand on your time for content management and web maintenance.

3. Notice a significant increase in marketing budget efficiency and fewer missed opportunities in the Mobile channel.

4. Use your new-found spare time/money to invest in other areas like strategic SEO, Social Media, golf or bonsai. Drink more tea. Put your feet up and relax.

In balance, it really is that simple. Isn’t it high time you got responsive?
Talk to us about responsive web design today.