Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile-Specific Web Design

In early 2014, the landscape in which businesses operate changed forever when Internet usage on mobile devices exceeded PC usage. [Rebecca Murtagh; Search Engine Watch, 2014]

The importance of optimising business website for mobile devices was raised in last weeks blog post titled: “As Mobile Marketing Takes Over; Is Your Website Ready?” In this post we look at the need for businesses to adjust their approach to web design in order to remain relevant to users and search engines alike

There are two primary choices that businesses are faced with when ensuring their websites are mobile-ready: Implementation of a responsive web design or creation of a mobile-specific website. But which design approach should businesses take? Let’s look into each of these approaches to determine the pros and cons associated and help you determine your next step.

 

What Is Responsive Web Design?

A responsive website design will deliver the same content to a browser through a single URL, regardless of the device the page is being viewed on. To fit various screen dimensions, the content, design, and navigation are kept consistent in varying proportions dependent on the device. Instead, the structure of the site changes to suit the dimensions of the screen – landscape for desktops, portrait for mobiles. Additionally, some content and interactivity is “hidden” or minimised to make use of the screen real estate. (A good example the use of “hamburger” menu icon that opens clickable menu options.)

Responsive Web Design Example:

Desktop Design:

Desktop Mashable

Mobile Design:

Mobile Mashable Site

The Pros Of Responsive Web Design:

Easy To Manage Content & SEO:

One website means anything that is changed, updated or added is seen on all devices.

Cheap:

It is cheaper to run a single website than it is to run two. Additionally, one website means no additional marketing costs to promote a mobile website.

Single URL:

With a single URL there is no need for complicated annotations in the back end of the website to enable device detection and redirection.

The Cons Of Responsive Web Design:

Loading Speed:

Large pages that are fine for a desktop display may be slow to load on a mobile device.

User Experience & Conversions:

While having a single website makes for a simplified job for businesses and marketers that is not necessarily the case for the user. To maximise conversions emphasis must be placed on different parts of a page depending on the platform. The position of an effective call-to-action (CTA) on a desktop is not the same position as on a mobile device. On desktops the top right-hand side of the screen is a favoured CTA position, whereas on a mobile the centre at the top of the page is often most effective, or another location close to the top of the page.

Technology Advancements:

Responsive web design is a relatively new technology, coding languages and practices means devices with different browsers load the website in the same way – in some cases making it worse for the user.

 

What Are Mobile-Specific Sites?

A mobile-specific web design is a website that has been created exclusively for mobile device usage. These sites take into account all the limitations and opportunities of mobile platforms to create a website that understands smaller screen sizes, interactive use methods (touch screens) and limited connection speeds (2G & 3G). Mobile-specific website designs are most easily achieved via the creation of a sub-domain of the desktop URL, for example; m.example.com.

Mobile-Specific Site Example:

Desktop Design:

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 12.25.14 pm

Mobile Design:

 Mobile Age Site

The Pros Of Mobile-Specific Sites:

Loading Speed:

If coded correctly, mobile-specific sites will not include many of the desktop elements that slow down mobile loading times. Smart devices will automatically redirect mobile users to the correct site for their device.

User Experience:

Having an exclusively mobile site gives businesses the ability to shape their sites for optimal mobile user experience.

SEO Benefits:

Mobile-specific sites are better for mobile search rankings because Google sees them as a better user experience than a simply responsive site.

The Cons Of Mobile-Specific Sites:

Maintenance Requirements:

A mobile-specific site requires businesses to maintain two separate websites.

Complicated SEO:

A separate mobile site requires businesses to do additional SEO work. Businesses must be wary of creating duplicate content when managing two sites and must also understand that search habits vary across mobile and desktop, therefore content that is optimised well for desktop may not perform as well for mobile and vice versa.

Costs:

There are additional costs associated with designing and building a new website – building a mobile website is not a cheap option.

  

Which Method Is Right For You?

The best website design approach for mobile will depend on the specific situations and requirements of a business.

As a general rule small businesses favour a responsive web design approach to mobile web optimisation. This is due to their fewer staff and capital in which to create and maintain a second website. If your business has a large and complicated website, however, a mobile-specific approach is generally advised.

Whatever your approach, it is clear that your website needs to be mobile friendly in order to remain relevant in an increasingly mobile world.

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