Man sitting and using his phone

"Mobile doesn't matter," said no marketer ever.

A quick glance around a subway train, a ticket line, or even your own dinner table will reveal a fact that you already know to be true: People are always on their mobile devices these days. They’re using them to text, play games, watch movies or, of course, search the web.

So when these people — these current and potential customers — stumble upon your website on their smartphones, tablets or TVs, what do they find? A custom-built mobile site? A slick responsive design? Maybe just a teeny, illegible version of your desktop site that’s not mobile optimized at all? Here’s what they could and should find:

Mobile Web Design: Break It Down for Me
Simply put, mobile web design is a second site – separate from your primary site – that’s created specifically for mobile devices with smaller displays and touch screens in mind. Mobile websites foster a great user experience, often resulting in good local search rankings. And, in general, they load quickly and easily.

Responsive Web Design: Just Hit the Highlights
As the Interactive Director at The Brandon Agency, I am continually working with my team to build interesting and responsive web designs that allow our clients to have a single website that automatically adjusts screen size for the device on which it is being viewed.

Some of the benefits of choosing responsive design websites include having a single website (and, therefore, a single URL) that works on all devices and , in most cases, seeing cost savings vs. developing a second mobile site.

Pros and Cons of Mobile vs. Responsive
Both mobile sites and responsive design will make websites more functional on smaller screens via simpler navigation and faster load times. But there are differences, especially when it comes to the rendering experience, search rankings and compatibility with future devices.

Rendering Experience
Mobile: A mobile site is essentially a copy of your website for which the server does the work to deliver an optimized page that’s smaller and easier to navigate. The solution can create a fully customized mobile user experience, making it a good choice for sites requiring complex functionality.

Responsive: In responsive design, the device does the work and automatically adjusts according to screen size and orientation. For most organizations, a responsive website is the more flexible and less expensive way to enhance the user experience for existing and future devices.

Search Concerns
Mobile: With a mobile site, you must create a different domain (many companies choose to differentiate theirs with “”), which can hurt organic search results. And because of this, links shared from mobile browsers will not count as search link equity toward your primary site.

Responsive: Since responsive design simply shows the same content at the same URL, your site’s link equity is preserved and content is formatted appropriately for the device or resolution appropriately making it ideal for both search and usability.

Mobile: Reworking a mobile site as technology evolves could result in an increased need for maintenance and higher cost over time.

Responsive: Responsive design will work on next month’s and next year’s devices without having to be adjusted, helping to extend the life of your current website.

Which Design Is Right for Me?
In order to determine which is right for you, you first must ask yourself how mobile visitors are using your site. For example, users visiting an airline website on a computer are most likely searching for ticket prices and purchasing tickets. Users visiting the same site on a mobile device are more likely to be checking the status of an arrival or departure, or checking in on an upcoming flight. Because visitors are using the sites differently on different devices, creating a separate site for the mobile experience may be appropriate for this company.

On the other hand, those visiting a weather website — whether on a computer or a smartphone — are most likely all doing the same thing: checking the weather. Because the user experience does not vary based on the device, a responsive website can likely suit the needs of all users.

In addition to mobile sites and responsive websites, there are also native apps and adaptive Web design — but those subjects are for another time. We’d love to talk to you about what type of mobile experience is best for your business. Be sure to comment below.


Nick McNeill

Interactive Director

Nick uses his talents in computer science and graphic design to grow the online presence of brands such as Santee Cooper, Southern Tide, frogg toggs, Farmers Telephone Cooperative and Blue Force Gear. A serial marathon runner, his steely determination shines through every brand he grows. As lead user interface designer of the GuestDesk software suite for online hotel reservations, he watched it explode from $1 million in reservations to over $400 million annually.

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