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Mobile-Friendly: Choosing the Right Experience for Your Site Visitors


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. They’re using them to text, play games, watch movies, shop or, of course, search the Web.

So when these people – these current and potential customers – stumble upon your website on their smartphones or 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 create 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

According to the design gurus at designmodo, “Responsive Web design allows you to have a single website that automatically fits the screen size of the device on which it is being viewed.”

Some of the benefits of creating responsive design websites include having a single website (and, therefore, a single URL) that works on all devices and removing the added expense of 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 with 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, where 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 by “m.domain.com”), which can hurt organic search. 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 for the device or resolution appropriately, making it ideal for both search and usability.

Future-Ready

  • Mobile: Reworking a mobile site as technology evolves could result in higher maintenance and 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. While 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 users 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 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 that’s for another time. We’d love to talk to you about what type of mobile experience is best for your business. If you’re interested, leave us a comment in the section below.