Mobile Websites vs. Responsive Website Design


Mobile websites are big at the moment but are they the best option for your business? There is no doubting the growing trend – more and more people are using mobile devices as their primary tool for surfing the net. The current stats are at roughly 28% and rising rapidly.

So, we are often asked, “What can we do to make our site mobile optimized?” In my opinion there are only 2 options. The first and best option is “responsive” website design. The second, is “mobile websites” – in my view a temporary band-aide solution. Let me explain.

There are numerous factors that come into play when designing a website – content, visual brand, usability, functionality, speed, legibility, etc. All of these in combination define the user experience. The value of a positive user experience is obvious – happy site visitors who are able to easily navigate a site and find the information their looking for are more likely to return and even share their experience with others. A site that offers a weak or diminished experience is likely to have just the opposite effect.

The question is – should the mobile experience be less? NO! The experience will be different but that doesn’t mean less.

So what is the best solution for websites to accomodate all the new phones and other mobile devices such as tablets that come in a variety of sizes and proportions and that can be oriented vertically or horizontally depending on personal preference. Let’s discuss the options.

To do nothing, is to make your visitors zoom to navigate around your site, ensuring a difficult and frustrating experience. Imagine trying to shop in a large department store with blinders on or driving in your car with most of your windshield blocked or covered. If I can’t navigate your site on my phone with just my thumb, you’ve lost me.

Responsive Design

Quite simply, when a site has been designed responsively its content and structure adapt to the viewers device resolution. A site who’s homepage is three columns on a large desktop monitor will display as a single column on a smart phone. So your site looks good and maintains its integrity no matter what device it’s being viewed on. Couple this with good quality visual design and you provide a positive experience for all your visitors. Sounds great, even elegant. In truth – it is.

Responsive design is best executed when a site is new or being redeveloped. Most development firms charge more for making a site responsive because of the additional time to implement – perhaps 10 to 15 percent of the total cost. To make an existing site responsive may be cost prohibitive depending on how it’s constructed which is why you may consider a mobile site. However, I want to point out that what you may save today will cost you much more in the long run.

Mobile Websites

A mobile site is a separate site from your primary site. When a visitor enters your website address a script checks if they are on a mobile device and redirects them to the mobile site. Mobile sites offer a fraction of the primary site content and functionality – styled more to look like mobile apps.

To reiterate, I believe mobile sites to be a temporary solution at best. If it’s not immediately obvious, I’ve just described the two biggest draw backs of mobile sites. First, you have to maintain a separate site – a potentially costly proposition depending how often your website is updated. Second, your offering less content – a diminished experience. Why? Just because viewers are using a phone doesn’t mean they’re in a hurry. You’re penalizing your visitors just because they’re on their phone. That doesn’t sit well.

One more note about mobile sites. There are numerous online services that say they can optimize your site with the click of a button. My advice – run! Try the demos and see for yourself. These services don’t take your content or brand into consideration. They simply rip apart your site and force it into a generic template.


Your site is a major part of your brand. The experience visitors have on your site is a direct reflection of your brand. If you don’t care enough to make your site easy to use, what else don’t you care about? A visitors’ website experience directly influences whether they will do business with you. Don’t limit the discussion or boil it down to cost. If your talking about it, it’s because it needs doing – therefore, do it right. Both you and your customers won’t be happy with anything less.