Before we can compare responsive web design vs a mobile website we first have to be on the same page as far as what we’re talking about. In order to do this we need to define a responsive web design and a mobile website.
What’s a Responsive Web Design?
Responsive web design in general means a design that responds to its boundaries/environment. When we talk about a responsive web design we’re referring to a website design that responds to changes in the screen size of the device the user is using. This approach utilizes different CSS style rules based on the screen width of the device viewing the site.
What is a Mobile Website?
A mobile website is generally defined as a separate website that is only presented to mobile users. The majority of the time this is a site with unique content, separate from the standard website. These websites will have a different URL typically something like mobile.brand.com or brand.mobi.
Benefits of a Responsive Web Design
The following is a list of benefits of a responsive web design:
- Better mobile user experience – It keeps the mobile user from having to constantly pinch and zoom to see the content on your site.
- Lower operational cost – With a responsive web design you don’t have to enter information twice. All the content is the same it’s just intelligently optimized for the screen.
- SEO – If you have a separate mobile website you have to worry about the penalty of duplicate content. Since responsive websites use the same content there’s no duplication.
- Streamlined Analytics – With a responsive website the traffic is on the same server. You don’t have to combine the results and analytics of the standard site and a mobile website.
When Should I Use a Responsive Web Design?
A responsive web design is the best strategy if your site is smaller (less than 75 pages) and not very complicated. As designers we have to decide what information on the site to hide and what to combine for the mobile user.
Larger more complicated sites are very difficult to make responsive. You don’t want you’re mobile user having to scroll for 2 minutes to get to a particular element on your site.
Benefits of a Mobile Website
The following is a list of benefits of a mobile website:
- Full control – If you have a large site you can decide specifically what content is important to the mobile user and only present that information.
- Don’t have to redesign your main website – You can add a mobile website without affecting your current website design. Unless you need to redesign your site the cost of a mobile website would be less.
- Faster load times – Since you know you’re user is on a mobile phone you can optimize accordingly. Just because responsive design can hide a function doesn’t mean it can stop the function from occurring, thus increasing the load time.
When Should I Use a Mobile Website?
If your site has a lot of pages, complex navigation, custom functionality or just too much information a mobile website gives you full control over the mobile users experience. If someone has a large screen then it’s important to give him or her access to everything they might need. However, if the user has a small screen on a phone it’s more important to give them the 20% of the information that meets 80% of their decision criteria.
Even on a mobile device it’s important to provide the user with the information they need quickly. If they have to keep scrolling for what they want their patience will grow thin.