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Responsive Web Design versus Mobile Web Design

Is Google right to favour responsive design?

Google has consistently favoured responsive website design as the means to provide the best UX across multiple screen sizes. So have we.

Google also rewards websites for mobile friendliness in terms of higher page rankings. That’s fine in principle.

However, meeting certain web development structural rules inevitably requires some sacrifices, and these are not always universally popular or fully accepted. BBI Brandboost recently produced a “Mobile Up, Desktop Down” infographic demonstrating and answering some of the anxieties about potential loss of content and design quality by putting mobiles first.

So, is Google right to back responsive website design in the way it does? Or, are there circumstances when it’s better for a company to opt for separate desktop and mobile sites?

The answer is yes to both questions, but the decision certainly takes a heck of a lot of thinking about!

The debate goes on

Needless to say, a great deal has been written on the argument between the one-website-fits-all attraction of responsive website design as opposed to the creative scope allowed by having separate desktop and mobile sites. Designmodo posted a useful list titled “The Pros and Cons of Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile Website vs. Native App” which are all valid. These include:

Responsive Website Design

Pros

  • It’s easier to administer just one website for all devices
  • A single URL ensures users will find you on mobile devices without having to wait for redirects
  • There’s no need to create specific content for mobile devices, so gaining the benefits of desktop website SEO
  • No extra marketing is required to promote the website on mobile
  • Cost savings, one website being cheaper than two.

Cons

  • Having just one website for all devices may not always benefit the user and different emphasis may be required on the same page in order to maximise conversions using the advantages of the platform
  • Mobile provides a different experience to desktop, so having a single responsive website may harm your overall UX on both platforms. If you try to satisfy both mobile and desktop users with the same user interface, you may end up satisfying no one

Separate Mobile Sites

Pros

  • A website specifically optimised for mobile devices should provide excellent UX. It will accommodate both the benefits and limitations of the platform and there is no need for any design compromises.
  • Fast and easy loading on mobile platforms. This benefits the website’s UX and SEO prospects.
  • Benefits to local search results. Mobile optimised websites can generally have better chances to rank well in local search.

Cons

  • Users are redirected to the mobile website. Redirection can sometimes take several seconds which will be detrimental to a positive UX.
  • The mobile website will need additional SEO work. This can be time consuming and create potential difficulties in maintaining consistency and being on message
  • You have to maintain two websites. Handling the simultaneous maintenance of two websites can be a drain on time and resources and potentially increase opportunities for error

Businesses have different needs

In general, opinion tends to come down in favour of responsive design. For instance, Jen Looper in her post “Responsive Design vs m. Sites” adds further cons to the list against separate mobile sites:

  • Maintaining large staffs of developers and ensuring data coherence between two front-end codebases and, presumably, one backend system present maintenance nightmares
  • This schizophrenic web-to-mobile presence might be damaging to your brand if a user becomes confused because the site on their iPhone looks completely different from the site on their desktop

On the other side of the argument, back in May 2012 Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group wrote in “Repurposing Vs Optimised Design that: “It's cheap but degrading to reuse content and design across diverging media forms like print vs. online or desktop vs. mobile.”

This to us looks like an argument from the past in more ways than one. We can see nothing “degrading” about reusing content in the interests of consistency, practicality and for reaping potential SEO benefits.

Nevertheless, while we strongly advocate responsive website design for most business requirements, there are situations where separate mobile sites might be a better option. For instance, in BBI Brandboost’s website section on Mobile Website Design we make the following observation: “When websites supply information such as locations and costs - mobile website design is ideally structured for people who need answers fast rather than those researching for general information.”

So the decision on whether to go the responsive website design route or set up separate sites for desktops and mobiles very much depends on:

  • The type and sector of a business
  • Budget and administration resources
  • Targets in the marketplace and whether they naturally would use mobiles or desktops for research
  • Reliance on organic SEO to gain customers and increase public awareness

With many years of experience in both website development and marketing communications, BBI Brandboost can help you make these decisions from an independent and unbiased perspective. 

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