With the ever-growing use of smartphones for everything from conducting business, to interacting on social media to web browsing, it’s no wonder that the importance of having your website look good on various devices is at the forefront of your mind, as it should be. But what are your options when it comes to ensuring that your users have the best experience on your website, regardless of how they are viewing it?

Enter the great debate – is having a responsive website better than having a mobile (mobi) site? Or vice versa? Before I start, let’s explain the difference.

Responsive Websites

As the name suggests, a responsive website responds to the environment in which it is being viewed. A responsive website is built for viewing on a computer (or non-mobile device), but is built with screen size in mind. It is a flexible framework that will adjust itself automatically to the size of the screen the user is viewing the site on, whether that be on an iPhone, an Android Tablet, a 13” laptop or a 27” screen.

The purpose of a responsive website is to have one site, on one domain, but having the elements of the site respond differently when viewed on devices of different sizes. For example, if you view a responsive website on a desktop, the content may be organised into three columns. When you adjust the screen size you are viewing the site on, these columns may collapse, or stack, to one column for a better user experience. Images will resize themselves automatically instead of distorting the layout or getting cut off.

Because a responsive site is just one site that behaves differently on different devices, the content will generally remain the same, regardless of how you are viewing the site (I say generally because there are ways to hide certain elements on mobile devices, for example large images that aren’t necessary to smaller screens and may slow down load times). But however you are viewing the site, you will have access to the same information and content, in full.

Mobile Websites

Mobile (some people call them mobi) sites, are completely separate from your main website. They are built on an entirely different domain (for example, your website might be built on www.mywebsite.co.za, but your mobile website will be built on www.mywebsite.mobi).

Essentially, a mobile website is built only for viewing on mobile device. There is a little bit of code written into a file that ensures that if the browser you are using detects you are viewing the site on anything other than a desktop computer (screen sizes can be stipulated), then you will be automatically redirected to the mobile version of the website.

Mobile websites generally have less information, and highlight only the most critical details that you would like to convey to your users while they are on the go. For example, your services will be listed concisely and in bullet form instead of explained in-depth, finding your location will be super straightforward and having a short form that people can fill out quickly in order to reach you would be a must-have.

So what kind of site do you need?

Both a mobile site and responsive design will optimise your site to react better to being viewed on smaller screens, both will offer simpler navigation, faster load times and a great user experience. So what do you need? To make an informed decision, I have listed some of the pros and cons of mobile vs. responsive website below:

Rendering Experience

Mobile Sites

A mobile website is a copy of your website that has been designed specifically so that the server does the work to deliver an optimised site that’s smaller and easier to navigate. This solution can customise the experience for mobile users.

Thoughts: This can be a good choice if you have a very large website and only need to showcase certain information for users who are accessing your website on the go

Responsive Sites

When a site has been designed responsively, the device does the work for you and automatically adjusts according to the device’s screen size (whether a phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer) and orientation (landscape or portrait).

Thoughts: This gives a very flexible solution, ensuring that all users have access to all of your company’s information, regardless of how they are viewing the site

Website Management

Mobile Sites

When you develop a mobile site, you have two websites to manage, which essentially means doubling the work in that if you make a change to the main site (or multiple changes to multiple pages), you will have to implement the same change/s on a completely different site too.

Thoughts: This is time consuming and can be expensive if you need changes made to your site quite often

Responsive Sites

Having a responsive website means having one website, which in turn means that if you make a change or changes somewhere in the site, it only needs to be made once, and these changes will be reflected across all devices, no matter how users are viewing your site.

Thoughts: This obviously saves time and effort, as well as being more cost efficient because there is no duplication of work

Domain Protection

Mobile Sites

When you develop a mobile site, you must create it on a different domain (i.e. m.yoursite.co.za or yoursite.mobi) which means that users will have multiple access points to your content, via different servers, depending on how they access the site.

Thoughts: This can dilute the presence of your domain and hurt organic search traffic

Responsive Sites

A responsive design lets the domain remain the same, regardless of how you are viewing the site, which means that all search stats and analytics are contained to one domain and users only have one point of access to your web content.

Thoughts: Google thinks this is a better solution: “Maintaining a single shared site preserves a canonical URL, avoiding any complicated redirects, and simplifies the sharing of web addresses…” – Google Webmaster Central Blog

Link Equity

Mobile Sites

Because a mobile site uses a separate domain, links shared from mobile browsers will not count as search link equity towards your primary site.

Thoughts: Not so great for SEO and Google rankings

Responsive Sites

Since your links remain the same on a responsive site regardless of how users reach them, your company’s link equity is preserved.

Thoughts: This is a much better option for Google and search rankings

Future Ready

Mobile Sites

Constant re-development and adjustments may need to be made to mobile sites in order to stay current with next-generation smartphones and mobile browsers.

Thoughts: Translates to more maintenance and is expensive

Responsive Sites

Responsive sites will work on next month’s and next year’s devices without having to redesign or change anything because of the intuitiveness of the framework.

Thoughts: A better return on your investment

The verdict?

When the rise in smartphone and device usage for browsing started to rise, everyone went a bit “mobi-mad” and started developing mobile websites in addition to their primary sites. And of course, web designers and agencies jumped on the bandwagon because all it meant for them was double the income – who would say no to that?

With how far technology has come, however, and also how Google favours responsive websites (as opposed to mobile sites), it is really not necessary, and in my humble opinion, not advisable, to have both a mobi site as well as a primary site. All it means is more maintenance, which means a higher expense for you, and also a dilution in your site’s searchability with Google. All you need to do, is get a website designer who knows what they’re doing *ahem…* to build you a great website that is responsive to the environment it is being viewed in. Quite honestly, this should be stock-standard practice in website design by now, but sadly, it isn’t.

Contact Me

Do you need a responsive website?

If you currently have a static site, or if you have both a responsive site and mobile site and would like to change that, give me shout on natalie@thecreativelab.co.za or click the button on the right to fill in a short form and I will get back to you. You can also read all about my website design offering here. Looking forward to hearing from you!
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