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Posted by Claire Cahill on 07 January 2016

We look at what to consider when choosing between Responsive Web Design or Mobile Design

In this increasing mobile world, the need for a brand to have a digital mobile strategy is growing more powerful by the day. Stats that back this up are shown in a recent infographic from textmarketer.com which highlighted the facts that 50.3% of e-commerce website traffic now comes through a mobile device and 60% of global mobile customers now use their mobile device as their primary or exclusive internet source.

A clear reflection of this shift in user behavior was demonstrated earlier this year when Google changed their searching algorithm and now penalises websites that aren’t optimised for mobile. (You can read more about this in one of my earlier blog posts: The new Google Mobile Algorithm: What is it and what do I need to do?).

So, businesses and organisations need to be well represented on mobile devices as part of their digital marketing strategies – that’s a given. But what is the best way to go about it?

There are two ways that websites commonly adapt for mobile: either by having a mobile website; or by making their website responsive to different screen sizes.

What is a mobile website?

A mobile website is a separate version of a website which is shown to users when they’re using smaller screens. You can often tell you’re looking at a mobile website because the URL could use a subdomain like http://m.yahoo.com/ or http://mobile.twitter.com/.

Debenhams.com has a mobile website version – the two versions are shown below:

example page from the Debenhams websiteexample image from the Debenhams mobile website










Although they look very similar, for the mobile version the way the content is displayed has been changed slightly. ‘Trending Items’ is an interactive carousel on the desktop version, and it becomes ‘Debenhams loves...’ as a simple list on mobile. This is simpler to interact with on mobile and also quicker to load without the images.

What is a responsive website?

A responsive website is a way of making your website adapt to different screen sizes. There’s only one version of your website which is shown to all your visitors, but it’s adapted to fit to the screen they’re looking at it on.

The BBC website has recently changed from a mobile to a responsive website - screen examples are shown below:  

example page from the responsive BBC website shown on a desktopexample page from the responsive BBC website shown on a mobile









Although it’s laid out differently, the content is the same. Some elements have been hidden (such as ‘Welcome to the BBC’) when there isn’t enough space to show it.

Which is best?

Both options do offer distinct advantages so let's take a look at how the benefits of mobile and responsive website design stack up against each other:

Mobile Website Responsive
Quicker load times - as it's designed specifically for mobile, you can optimise images etc to make your site load more quickly. Quicker and easier to maintain as there is only one version of the website to manage.
You can tailor the user experience and content specifically for smaller screens, rather than adapting one design for different screen sizes.  Only one site URL which makes it a lot easier to promote / bookmark etc. You can create redirects on a mobile site but this wastes valuable seconds of laod time.
If needed you can target particular devices rather than screen sizes.  Responsive designs are built to be flexible so they fit any screen size they're on which makes them more future proof.  If a new device comes out, you don't need to update the code that checks to determine whether it shows the normal site or the mobile site.
  It's cheaper to design and build one website than two - making it more cost effective. 
  Keeps Google happy (and therefore SEO performance is improved) by conforming to their new 'Mobile friendly' checks.  "Maintaining a single shared site preserves a canonical URL, avoiding any complicated redirects, and simplifies the sharing of web addresses" - read more at Google.

While the usual rule of ‘the right tool for the right job’ does apply, as can be seen from the above comparison table responsive sites do tend to provide a higher return on your digital marketing investment. 

What is clear is that mobile can't be ignored as part of your digital marketing strategy, if you haven't developed your mobile presence then you need to catch up quick! 

Hopefully this post has provided some guidance on the pros and cons of adopting either a mobile design or responsive approach, if you would like any further advice then please get in touch, we're always happy to have a chat. 


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