Mobile Sites vs. Responsive Design

By now you hopefully already have a good idea of who is visiting your organisation’s website, what they’re looking at, and how they’re finding you.  You should also be aware of the portion of your site’s visitors who view your website on a mobile device.  No doubt you will be finding that this percentage is ever-increasing over time, and it will only continue to do so at least for the foreseeable future.  With the increase in mobile network bandwidth, smartphone market share, and device screen resolution – browsing the internet on the go has never been easier.


I think it’s safe to say that we’re finally beyond the question of “Should my organisation’s website be mobile friendly?” The answer to that one really is a no-brainer.  We are now at the point where we should be asking ourselves “Which method of delivering our site to mobile browsers do we opt for?”

There are two main options for mobile site content that both have very differing ramifications for end-users, and for how you manage the content.

1.       Separate Mobile Site/Content

With this solution, mobile-specific pages and content are tailored to the device.  The content is generally managed separately from the main desktop version of the site.  Usually this would include a cut-down version of the content available on the regular website.  This solution does limit your search engine friendliness as it divides your site content up, but it does provide more flexibility around what you’re serving up to visitors.

2.       Responsive Design

By simply adapting a site’s style sheets, you can alter the way the content is arranged, hide certain content, and completely alter the look of the site to fit the screen resolution of the device.  This option accommodates for a broader array of device sizes (including netbooks which generally wouldn’t be classified as mobile devices, but whose resolution is often smaller than the width of some sites).   Additionally there is almost no added ongoing work as the content is not created separately.

Well, how do you decide which option is best for you?

As a rough guide, if any of the following sound like what you’re after – then a separate mobile site is likely going to be a better fit:

  • Deliver specific content just for mobile visitors.
  • A quicker and easier implementation process.
  • Mobile visitors are likely to be not viewing much of your desktop site’s content (e.g. they are viewing only specific pages via links in emails or shared connect via social media).

Otherwise, if the following are more in line what your needs then you might want to consider a responsive design solution:

  • You would prefer to ‘set and forget’ the mobile site – and not have to update content in two places.
  • Search engine results are important to you.
  • You use conversion tracking codes.
  • A solution that is more accommodating for future device resolutions (including tablets and smaller laptops).

If you’re still not sure which is the solution for you – then it may be that a combination of the two could be the best fit; whereby you have specific content delivered to mobiles for some pages and sections of your site, and the remainder is delivered in a responsive fashion.

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