With the amount of web browsing done from mobile devices, accommodating customers visiting your site from tablets and smartphones is just plain good business. Additionally, Google’s recent update (a.k.a. “mobilegeddon”) has made mobile compatibility all but mandatory for decent search performance.
At some point while accommodating these mobile visitors, you may reach a fork in the road: Should you implement responsive design or build a separate mobile site?
Let’s break down the differences between them, as well as their pros and cons.
Responsive design provides an optimal viewing experience by resizing web page elements based on the size of the viewer’s screen. This means that the user does not have to do a bunch of pinching and scrolling to see your content.
One of the biggest benefits of responsive design is that when it’s done well, your site will look great no matter what device your users have.
Responsive design can also save you time and money in the long run, as you only have to maintain one website instead of keeping up with changes across two separate sites. If you are shuttling a lot of new content into your website every day or making changes to pages on a regular basis, keeping up with the changes can become a tedious, resource-draining chore.
For some businesses, their existing website is performing really well. A responsive redesign would go against the ancient wisdom of “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” In those cases, a separate mobile design that is created from the ground up might be a better solution. Plus, some of the biggest players on the web (most notably, Facebook) are still using mobile sites.
One may be worried about duplicate content penalties for maintaining two websites. While this is generally a valid concern, Google is intuitive enough to know when similar content is the result of a mobile site. They also steadily maintain that an excellent user experience should come before everything else. In that case, a great mobile website will always trump a bad responsive one.
And the Winner Is...
The ultimate goal for your site should be user-friendliness—you must give your website visitors an outstanding experience no matter how they are accessing your site. They certainly don't know whether your site is responsive or not, and probably don't even notice if they are on an m-dot site half of the time.
One sticking point for mobile sites is the creation of two URLs for the same content. This can make sharing messy, and if one version of the page is getting a lot of attention, the second version of the page probably won't get to share in the glory.
On the other hand, responsive redesign is more than just adding a few lines of code, and the transformation can sometimes be much more complicated than building a separate mobile site. The responsive approach demands images and designs that look good on any screen—something that can be difficult to achieve.
From our perspective, most websites can benefit from a clean, modern, responsive design that uses the best technologies to shift the right information for the right devices at the right time. Making the leap to a responsive design now will spare you from having to reconsider down the line, and a good custom web design company (like us) will make sure that your website isn’t too much of a burden for a slow mobile phone.
There will always be a few exceptions that keep mobile sites alive, but for everyone else, responsive design will provide the best long-term solution for keeping mobile users—and, by extension, Google—happy.