Mobile vs. Responsive Design: Strategies to keep your site relevant

There are many reasons to invest in a mobile-friendly website. Mobile search is soon to surpass that of desktops and Google’s new algorithm is going to penalize those whose sites don’t meet their mobile standards. Here’s a quick primer on Mobile vs. Responsive design to get your site performing across all platforms and device-types.

What’s the big deal? People don’t actually do substantive web browsing on their phones do they?

Short answer, maybe not substantive, but mobile search is teed up to surpass desktop this year. That means that if your site isn’t teed up to perform well on mobile devices, you may be missing a key opportunity to reach your audience. Couple this with Google’s upcoming algorithm change and the idea that first impressions can make or break your ability to connect with a customer, and there is a strong case to be made for shaping up your site’s mobile chops.

We are big fans of Luke Wroblusky’s book, Mobile First. In his assessment, it is a good idea to think of your site from a mobile-compatibility perspective first then consider how to expand that approach to desktops. It is definitely a different view of the process and each site is a bit different (check your site analytics to review your own visitors’ behavior), but it makes a lot of sense to consider supplying mobile-friendly content to your readership.

One takeaway from Mobile First however, is that people often do some quick research on their mobile devices and, if they like what they see, return to dig deeper when they get back to their desktops. Trends in this area are definitely moving in the direction of a LOT more mobile use and as technologies and mobile-friendly website trends catch on, it is a safe bet that mobile consumption will only increase further.

Ok, I get it. So what are the options?

Fortunately, there are some decent options for getting your site to pass Google’s test and stay on top of the trends: Mobile site design or Responsive (also sometimes called “fluid”) design.

Making the choice between mobile and responsive comes down to a few things:

  1. Timing
  2. Budget (short- vs. long-term)
  3. Content desires

But first, let’s discuss the difference between a Mobile site and a Responsive site.

Mobile sites are stand alone sites, usually built on a subdomain. If someone is running a mobile site, it typically resolves to a new URL like, and features a streamlined design and usually a limited amount of content. These domains are accessed via a device “sniff” that determines what device-type the visitor is using, and redirects users to the appropriate website.

Advantages to a Mobile Site

The advantage of a Mobile site is that you can really trim down the design on these sites, focus the user’s attention on the content you feel is most appropriate to view during a mobile visit, and keep the experience really tailored for the mobile user. Mobile sites are typically quicker/easier to deploy (mostly due to the same advantages listed above) and load very quickly on mobile devices. They do have a few drawbacks, however – namely that they require the management, mobile optimization, and build out of a second website – which can become costly in the longer-term. Mobile sites were the standard a few years ago but have started to fall in popularity due to the advent of (drumroll please)… Responsive design.

Responsive design is a relatively new concept whereby ones existing site is designed and developed in such a way that the site is effectively fluid – changing its material, design, and sometimes even content depending upon the device type and orientation (portrait vs. landscape). Pretty cool, right? Sites with Responsive design adjust to the available real estate to deliver an optimized experience regardless of device type to ensure that your audience receives their best experience. Every time. Plus, if your site is built on a Responsive platform, you need only maintain, manage and optimize a single website and ALL your content is available on any device – which can be a big necessity if your users are looking for something on the go.

As you might imagine, deploying a Responsive site can be time consuming and depending upon the state of your current site, may require re-engineering. In the long-term, however, most businesses opt for this approach when weighed against creating and managing a separate, mobile-only website.

So what should I do?

The answer to this question depends a lot upon your budget and timeline. Google rolls out its algorithm change April 15th and this will affect search engine ranking almost immediately, so it is a good idea to have some mobile plan in play prior to the changeover. Given the tightness of the timeline, many businesses will opt for a quick-fix mobile site solution while they deploy the longer-term strategy of building out a Responsive site. Once the main site has been transitioned, they can turn off the mobile site without incurring any reduction in their ranking or Search Engine performance.

At Relish Studio, we have been building responsive sites for several years in order to position our clients well in both mobile and desktop spaces. We would welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your needs to ensure that your site stacks up to Google’s changes and performs well for all your site visitors – regardless of the device they use to engage with you online.