With the ever-expanding number of smartphones and a shift towards mobile traffic, responsive web design has become a staple. Even the percentage of mobile organic search visits has exceeded 55% across the most popular search engines in the US.
If you want users to find your site, stay on it, enjoy the experience, and be willing to return, you must adopt mobile-first thinking. But, of course, it doesn’t mean forgetting about the desktop users. That’s where responsive design, adaptive delivery, and a variety of other tricks come in handy. Today, we’ll walk you through the basics of how to make your images look great regardless of the display size.
Why Choose Responsive over Adaptive Design?
Adaptive design has been all the rage since its inception in 2011. It focuses on delivering an excellent user experience across a variety of screen sizes. However, it requires you to create from two to six website templates to accommodate desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone users. It takes more time and is often considered an inferior option by search engines, creating additional SEO issues you will have to address to get on top of the search rankings.
Responsive design relies on a single flexible template that automatically adjusts the layout to the browser window size. It’s considered a benchmark of current web design thanks to keeping the user experience seamless across all devices, being SEO-friendly, and being much easier to implement. Increased loading time is the only major drawback of responsive design. But it won’t be an issue if you’re smart about your images that make for over half of the bytes loaded.
Responsive Image Basics
Before you optimize the website for mobile, remember that all images must be prepared for online use. Choosing the right file format, resizing original photos to manageable proportions, and compressing the file using lossless or lossy methods are crucial for improving the desktop and mobile experience. Your SEO efforts should also account for responsive images to elevate the site in search rankings.
Art direction is the first thing you must consider when working on a mobile site. Beautiful landscapes and full-width photos may look great on laptop and desktop screens, but they take up too much real estate on mobile devices.
It doesn’t add to the user experience. Instead of serving the same imagery across the board, consider creating a set of photos to fit every screen size and orientation, keeping the focus of the shot front and center. After you upload the images and add the necessary HTML elements, the browser will choose the right image for each user based on the size of the viewport or container.
To implement responsive images, add srcset to the IMG element and specify the files to be used depending on the display size. You can also use the picture element instead. Adding relative size limitations is also a surefire way to prevent the images from overflowing their containers. But it’s necessary to set the maximum width at 100%.
But if you specify individual images for screen sizes in CSS, the original-sized version will be loaded long before the browser receives the command to switch to a smaller file. As a result, you lose the advantage of responsive images, and your website may become even slower than it was originally.
Advanced Responsive Design Made Easy
Content delivery networks (CDNs) are not a prerequisite for responsive design, but they significantly boost load speed, especially for media-heavy websites. Some come with additional perks, like adaptive delivery capabilities that take over the tedious process of making images responsive.
Instead of creating endless versions of the same photos for different viewport sizes, you can save server space and your time by letting the smart algorithms do the work for you and alter images on the fly.
Even art direction isn’t a problem for advanced solutions that come with AI-powered cropping. They can detect the focal point of the image and crop the less informative parts around it. You can even have the CDN alter images for specific uses without doing the groundwork manually.
There are plenty of transformation and filter options for you to choose from. If your website visitors rely on Retina displays, smart algorithms can identify the high-density screen and improve image resolution without expanding file size dramatically.
Lazy loading is another advanced technique perfect for media-heavy websites. Instead of preloading the whole page, browsers receive the command only to parse the parts visible to the user at any moment. The key here is finding the right combination of loading batch and interval to ensure a smooth user experience without undesired delays.
Besides, forcing users to zoom in to make sense of the mobile site also drags customer experience down. But there are a few exceptions to this rule. According to AnswerLab and Google’s study, retail websites win points by letting customers expand the images to take a closer look at the products before purchase. This approach does not only speed up load time thanks to the use of smaller images on product pages but also enhances customer experience, leading to higher conversions.
With mobile traffic taking over the Internet, responsive design is no longer optional if you wish to make website visitors happy and willing to pay. Making your images responsive can be as simple as using an advanced CDN to take over most of the tasks, or as cheap as doing the legwork on your own. As your site expands and relies on media heavily, the manual approach might become untenable. So we recommend you consider automation options from the get-go to save time and server space.