Adaptive web design dominates in the web’s top brands

Five years ago we ran an analysis of how the web’s top brands delivered web content to mobile. We found that 82% of the Alexa 100 used Adaptive Web Design (AWD, or server-side adaptation) in their websites to cater to different device classes.

Since we ran this analysis RWD has become decidedly mainstream, an indispensable set of techniques in our web toolbox. So has this changed how the web’s top brands deliver content? No. We ran the analysis again and found that the number of sites using AWD has barely changed: of the Alexa 100 sites, fully 80% use adaptive web design in their delivery.

2012 2017
Alexa 10 80% 90%
Alexa 100 82% 80%

This is not to say RWD is not being used on these sites—the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, far from it. Many sites combine techniques to achieve the best results. A typical pattern is to utilise server-side adaptation for wholesale changes e.g. deciding which content to include and resizing images while RWD techniques are used for visual fine-tuning on the client side.

There is no single silver bullet for delivering content to today’s web devices. Use all of the tools at your disposal!

Note on methodology

We deem a website to use AWD if the HTML delivered by the main site entry point varies significantly by device class. To do this we fetched the HTML of the main site entry point using three different device profiles:

  • Chrome desktop
  • Apple iPhone
  • Nokia Asha 210

The resulting HTML was compared using the Levenshtein distance algorithm. If non-trivial distances resulted between the HTML received by the three devices, the site was deemed to use AWD. A simple byte count or hash isn’t a good enough test for this since items such as timestamps can change from one fetch to the next.

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