Business

No, your website doesn’t need every cool new feature out there

responsive design

Mobile apps. Responsive design. A customized search bar.

Although it can be tempting to integrate every design trend into your website, businesses need to remember that flashy features don’t necessarily improve user experience. Here’s a look at a few trendy approaches that may or may not suit your needs, and how to evaluate and think about them.

‘Mobile first’

Whether you’re on the bus, in a waiting room or at your child’s school play, the chances are good that you’re on your smartphone. Companies are aware of this, especially social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and so “mobile first” is the design trend at the moment.

However, you shouldn’t feel pressured to develop a mobile app if it doesn’t suit your website.

At NerdWallet, for instance, 33% of our traffic comes from tablets and phones, up from 20% just a year ago. Still, our website relies heavily on charts and tables, which don’t translate that well onto smaller screens. What’s more, if your website is anything like NerdWallet and requires people to plug in data to get the information they need, it’s more likely that they’ll want to do this on a desktop. Even though the industry is trending toward mobile apps, it simply isn’t a top priority for us right now.Don’t go mobile simply because everyone else is doing so.

Know your business and your target audience

The type of company you’re a part of will determine how many features your website needs – if any at all. Having a firm understanding of your business is crucial to building a strong website. The New York Times, for instance, is the ideal product for a mobile app since readers can simply scroll through articles on their smartphones. If going mobile makes sense, do it. If not, so be it.

Knowing your target audience is just as important. If your website, for example, helps students locate affordable tutors, it would be worth developing a mobile app, since younger people are more likely to use smartphones than their parents and teachers.

If going mobile is a viable option for your website, you’ll also want to think about responsive design, a strategy based on optimizing the layout of a website depending on whether a user is on a desktop, smartphone or tablet.

Responsive design

As the “mobile first” movement gains serious traction, the debate surrounding responsive design is heating up. While websites like Boston.com swear by it – and are really good at it – other equally successful platforms haven’t utilized this technology.

Look no further than Airbnb. The wildly popular vacation rental business just redesigned their website without implementing responsive design. If you’re on a mobile device, you’ll simply get directed to their separate mobile site. This may be an attempt to encourage users to use their mobile app. Either way, the lack of responsive design on Airbnb’s desktop website obviously hasn’t hurt their business. Responsive design, much like going mobile, isn’t an absolute must. Ignore the hype and focus on what works for you.

Parting thoughts

Every change you make to your website needs to serve your audience in one way or another. Ease-of-use should carry much more weight than flash and pizazz. We realized that a search toolbar would help our customers better navigate our content, so we built one. This change may not have been incredibly snazzy, but it makes our website more efficient, and at the end of the day, efficiency and giving consumers a terrific user experience is everything.

Eric serves as NerdWallet’s chief technology officer, and is a veteran of successful technology companies such as Riverbed Technology and Microsoft Corporation.


We're studying conversion rate optimization. Take our quick survey and we'll share the results with you.