We have come to refer to any website that we can view on a smartphone or other mobile device as a “mobile website,” but this is often a misnomer. There are actually three different types of styles when it comes to websites that we see on a mobile device: mobile-friendly websites, responsive websites and mobile websites. Let’s take a look at the differences between these tools.
When a business has a mobile friendly website, they have one website that is seen on both average sized computers and mobile devices. The site snaps to the size of the screen but does not zoom or scale to the actual device size. Meaning it is up to the user to manipulate the screen by zooming in and out to find what they need on the web page.
We put responsive next because it too is one website. In our opinion a responsive website is the “best of both worlds.” A responsive design gives you just one website to manage. However, with responsive websites, the layout of the site on a desktop can scale and fill the screen letting users enjoy their larger monitor, but when the user visits on a smaller device like a tablet the site self-adjusts giving the user a quality experience scaled down to a smaller screen. Responsive websites are designed to be just that – responsive. The site layout adjusts according to the size of your browser screen, whether that browser is on a computer or mobile device, so that it always displays optimally for how the user is viewing it, enhancing the user’s experience.
Items to note: there are some design limitations. Due to the fact that the design needs to scale, it needs to be designed on a grid. Responsive sites can have slightly slower loading speeds if images are not uploaded to be optimized and if the pages are longer. These drawbacks are minimal as compared to the advantages of responsive websites.
Users are able to view and navigate the site on any device and have a similar experience. The colors, branding, navigation items and so on are all consistent on all devices; the main difference is the layout of the content. Even when a user resizes his or her browser on a desktop to open a new window, the layout adjusts accordingly allowing all content to be seen.
As we mentioned above, with responsive websites you only need to remember to edit one site, reducing the amount of work you will need to do.
Not only does Google prefer to show sites that are designed for mobile use in mobile searches, but because you are only using one URL all of your backlinks are leading to your responsive site, whether it is viewed on a mobile device or desktop. Thus, you will have a strong advantage in mobile searches over your competitors using mobile sites who have most likely focused their link building around their regular website. Additionally Google makes note of people who bounce into your website and leave, and if your being found on a mobile search but visitors are leaving quickly it can impact you.
While programming a responsive website may be a bit more cost upfront, over the long term it is a great deal. The management and upkeep of one site will be far less than two.
By now you may have the picture that developing a mobile website involves creating a separate website. If you have gotten that impression then you were paying attention. A mobile website is a second site and it is often on a subdomain of your main URL. Typically this is something like m.yourdomain.com. A mobile site works when a visitor attempts to load your webpage on their phone or tablet and they are redirected to a mobile version of your website.
The main appeal of mobile sites is that they are designed to enhance the user experience on a mobile device. It is no longer up to the user to manipulate the screen so that he or she can read the text or scan over the main navigation; everything is designed to be seen on a smaller screen. Often times mobile sites change around the placement of content based on the on-the-go visitor. When we create a mobile website, we design a separate layout and put forward different content to the user.
Though the users can easily access and view information on mobile sites, there are a few major drawbacks and challenges.
Often main navigations and other content must be pared down in order to display correctly on smaller screens. But sometimes we forget that just because someone is viewing something on a phone rather than a computer, that does not mean that he or she wants to see less information. If you choose to use a mobile site, make sure you are including enough information to still provide value for the user and always provide them with the option to view the full version of the site as well.
Changes to products, prices and menus are often made on the full version or only the mobile version of the site. Businesses need to remember to update content in 2 separate places. For example, when perusing the mobile website for the restaurant at which our holiday party was held, we found a type of wine that sounded delicious and was very reasonably priced. Much to our dismay, when we ordered a few bottles our waitress informed us that the bottles cost quite a bit more than we expected. The restaurant had updated the price on the main site but not the mobile site. As this was their mistake, we were given a deal, costing the restaurant. Long story short, having two sites to edit leaves twice as much room for error.
As each of these sites live in a different URL, if you don’t go deep enough in your URL redirection then mobile users will get content meant to be seen on a desktop and vice versa, especially when content is shared and then viewed on social networks. It sort of defeats the purpose of having a mobile site if mobile users are still seeing the desktop site, so pay close attention to these redirects.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the cost associated with mobile websites. You must pay for the design and development of not one, but two sites. Depending on the size of your company, this can be something to consider in your decision making.
None of these options is a one size fits all solution. When choosing a mobile strategy you should carefully assess your business goals and ensure that the route you decide on aligns with those goals.
Google made the commitment to go responsive with their sites because as an organization they feel it is easier to manage, while companies like JetBlue or Target have mobile websites.
Not sure which method will allow you to best reach your goals? Contact us for a free consultation so we can help you work through the business decisions and develop the best resolution for you.