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Responsive vs Mobile Websites

Should one respond, or stay mobile? That is the question we’re asking today. Or to be less cryptic – when you’re designing a website, you now need to choose between your website being ‘responsive’ or ‘mobile’. Wondering what  this means? Well, you will of course know that smart phones and tablets are an established part of everyday life now. 40 percent of web traffic now comes from a handheld device (a stat that is constantly on the rise!), so naturally web agencies have to take into consideration how it will look on a smaller screen rather than just the old fashioned desktop view.

In case you’re not a computer programmer who finds understanding source code as easy as eating a bowl of corn flakes, here is a vaguely understandable explanation of the difference. A mobile website is a site that is created specifically for use on mobile phones and tablets. This means it has a separate URL address to its desktop version. These are commonly the original URL prefaced with a ‘m.’. This isn’t to say that the site will be totally different – it will essentially be a copy, but nonetheless a unique browsing experience. A responsive website, on the other hand, is built into the original site – its host, if you will. Rather than creating a new site, some clever code is added to the person or company’s website which means when you visit the site from a phone or tablet, it ‘responds’ and adapts to the new sizing and requirements. Pretty nifty, huh?

You may already be making a decision on which you prefer from that short paragraph but don’t get too hasty, there’s more to the story than that. Here are the pros and cons for each. Just to be different, I’ve listed them as ‘positive’ and ‘not so positive.’ Ready?

Mobile Website

Positive: If advertising is a key part of your website, mobile also currently holds the winning card in this area. The code for making a site responsive and the code for advertising banners seem to be stuck in some kind of internet black hole, as they do not respond well to each other. As it stands, advertising banners are much more difficult to display on a responsive design. This may change at some point in the future, but as it stands, advertising displays happily on a mobile site but is at loggerheads with the responsive design.

Positive: Mobile sites will can load quicker, as they are only loading the things you have optimised the site to display. And with smaller images, content and no responsive code for devices to wrap their heads around, in most cases that should result in a speedier load. However here at Tutch we build mobile first and therefore our sites are super speedy too!

Positive: As a mobile site doesn’t need extra coding to make it responsive can be cheaper, however you will also need to create a desktop version and this leads us on to the ‘not so positive’ column,

Not so positive: It doesn’t necessarily mean mobile websites are the cheaper option. As your web developers will have to create a separate website if you go for the mobile option, this can also be pricey. The cost depends on individual cases.

Not so positive: And another thing about the fact that a mobile site is a separate website: it can be a headache. If you update your desktop website, that update won’t automatically appear on the mobile version. Bear in mind you’ll now be running two websites and this is not the best solution from a search engine point of view.

Not so positive: Another awkward thing about having a dedicated mobile site is it can harm your ‘link equity’. In human speak, that means you’ll be getting less hits as they’re spread between two websites, again this could be detrimental to your Google game.

Responsive Design

Positive: As I’ve just spent a lot of time whinging about the fact that a mobile site is a separate website, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that the biggest advantage with responsive design is that everything is under one URL shaped roof. So this is good for your search engine power. Updating your site becomes much less painful.

Positive: Google, who as you may know are fairly important when it comes to websites and the internet in general, favour responsive design. They have this to say: “…Maintaining a single shared site preserves a canonical URL, avoiding any complicated redirects, and simplifies the sharing of web addresses…” They’re not wrong.

Positive: Back to costs – while a responsive design won’t initially save you money initially, it almost certainly is better value. A responsive design is designed to adapt, and not only to current phones and tablets on the market, but whatever screen it finds itself on. This means you won’t have to pay further money down the line when new smartphones and tablets come on the market, which is massively important due to the sheer number of devices on the market.

Positive: All of the cons listed above for mobile sites are things responsive design can offer.

Not so positive: If you already have a website and wish it to become a responsive design, this would involve a complete redesign of your website’s code. It’s generally cheaper to have this code built in when the website is originally designed, so be prepared to get your wallet out if you want to turn your site responsive. This however is also a good oppourtunity to address any problems with your current website so not all negative!

And that is that. If you were hoping for us to declare a clear winner, I’m afraid we can’t. That remains to be seen, pending advancements in code and handheld devices. At Tutch we lean towards responsive design, as it suits our clients needs best, we do however also offer mobile sites aswell for the cases that require it. It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve on your website. Go through our pros and cons carefully and have a good old think. The choice is in your hands but what ever one it may be we can help you make it so contact us for a chat!