In 2011, Hertz’s mobile traffic accounted for 4% of its Hertz.com total traffic. In 2012, that number rose to 12% — and the company only expects it to rise in the coming years, says Joseph Eckroth, Hertz’s chief information officer.
As a response to the growing mobile traffic, which includes tablet use, and in anticipation of the growth in this segment, Hertz overhauled its website in order to offer responsive web design.
A responsive website changes its formatting depending on where it’s being viewed — on a desktop, tablet or smartphone. Triggers set into the HTML coding of the website dictate how the site re-formats for friendlier views. (Learn more about responsive web design at the end of this article.)
Allowing this flexibility between screen sizes means that no matter where a person sees the site, it’s in the most user-friendly format for the device. This flexibility is particularly important with the growing number of mobile users.
“We know that 24 months from now [mobile] is not going to be an interesting phenomena but a dominant channel,” Eckroth says, adding that Hertz’s move toward this design is focused on the customer experience.
“We want to have every advantage as mobile grows, and we want people to come to us first and never leave us,” he says. “The only way to do that is by making that experience extraordinarily user-friendly, fast and easy, and then you give them what they want on the device or the browser they want it on, and the HTML responds in the design.”
An In-House Effort
“The learning curve was quite steep,” says Luv Tulsidas, director of Hertz’s web development, on the research that went into responsive web design. The company built sample sites beforehand in order to learn what hurdles they would need to jump in applying this concept to Hertz.com. “We were well prepared,” he says.
Once the company decided to tackle the project, Tulsidas says it took about three months to complete the process, which includes testing — the longest part of rolling out a responsive web design. Hertz used a community of 2,000-plus customers in order to get feedback on which aspects of the site should be focused on while still fitting the screen size of the device.
Eckroth says the testing focused on these two main questions: Would you use this website again and would you recommend it?
One of the purposes of responsive web design is to make the website the same across mobile devices, so each type of device had to be tested as well. “One of the things that’s very important for us is brand consistency,” Tulsidas says, adding that certain usability factors, such as the ability to tap links easily on a touchscreen, had to be considered. Getting real people to test the site on different devices played an important role in how these usability factors affected the layout of each screen.
Another important factor for Hertz is that the company has at least some promotional material that is viewable no matter what device is being used. “From a business perspective, we want to optimize for that as well, and make sure we have the optimal real estate up front and center for some of our promotional stuff,” Eckroth says.
Hertz is building on this responsive design foundation for other features on the site and to use for other Hertz websites. HertzOnDemand.com, for example, also now has a responsive web design.[PAGEBREAK]
“This was an investment in time, energy and intellect — and some money,” Eckroth says, adding that he owes much credit to his web team for making the re-design happen. He says that because responsive web design simplifies the website coding process in the long-term — making it so only one code needs to be changed, versus a code for every device — the return on investment will be “big.”
Part of this return is due to the fact that when the marketing department, for example, has a new promotion that needs to be added to the website, Hertz’s web department only needs to make that update in one place. Prior to having a responsive web design, the web department would have to add the promotion to every device’s version of the website, but now the time to market has been accelerated. “Now we can deploy it once and then it’s everywhere,” Tulsidas says.
And so far, Eckroth reports positive feedback from customers. “They appreciate that what is important to them — the stuff they want most — is what shows on their device,” Eckroth says. “We did our homework to understand exactly what we needed to have on each device.”
What is Responsive Web Design?
Not to be confused with an app or a mobile website, a responsive website allows a company to use the same website coding for various platforms: a desktop, a tablet and a smartphone. For a responsive web design, the coding involves certain triggers that, as a screen gets smaller, make it easier to navigate.
David Broyles, a web producer at Bobit Business Media — Auto Rental News’ parent company — says that responsive web design allows a company to more easily manage how its website looks across these platforms. And more importantly, if a change is made to the website, a web developer only has to make that change once, instead of changing the coding for every platform.
In essence, a responsive web design formats itself based on the size of the screen you’re viewing it on. As the screen gets smaller, the website is stripped down to what’s most important for the user.
Should You Have A Responsive Website?
While this type of web design has been picking up headlines recently, it has been around for several years.
Broyles says companies should be rolling this design out to their site since mobile web use is only going to increase. “If your website is seeing mobile traffic — including from tablets — hitting anywhere near 20%, then responsive web design should be a priority,” he says.
What Do You Strip Out?
As can be seen on Hertz’s re-designed website, there are multiple trigger points where the site reassembles as you change the size of the browser. This response to the screen width organizes the information so it’s easier to view at that screen size.
For Hertz, its most narrow design is in list form and focuses on the booking tool — only one marketing promo is seen and at the bottom. But for the widest screen, which is seen on desktops, you can see four promos on the screen aside from the booking tool, a search box and other features. (A website can be tested on a regular desktop for responsive web design by manually decreasing/increasing the browser using the arrows that appear when you hover over the sides of a window.)
Expectations on Rollout
For a car rental company, the most important part of the website that needs to remain regardless of screen size is the booking tool. Beyond that, Broyles says using your website analytics can help in determining what aspects of the website can be stripped out, but that this is where the testing process plays a significant role. “Thorough testing of a responsive website layout on all screen sizes and devices is critical and can be time consuming in getting the most important elements to display correctly,” he says.
Time to completion, including testing, will vary. According to Broyles, a front-end re-design with the proper style sheets (known as CSS) can greatly speed up the conversion to a responsive design from anywhere between a few months to a few weeks. This timeframe is also dependent on the complexity of the website.
As pointed out by Hertz and Broyles, a responsive web design will see a return on investment on the long term since your web staff — or your third-party web management company — will need to spend less time working on the website every time there is a change.
As well, the usability just may encourage more people to book through your company when they’re on the go.