Mobile Specific vs Responsive Design

Mobile-Specific Site vs Responsive Design - Which One Should I Choose?

In: Web Design |
10/04/12 |

There is no simple right or wrong answer to this question. The fact is, while there is a lot of debate over which is the better approach to tackling mobile sites, it really just comes down to which method suits your website and its users best.

Many website owners overlook the need for mobile friendly versions of their sites and are potentially missing out on sales and valuable leads. It’s often thought that the costs required to build a mobile website outweigh the benefits, which is quite far from the truth – 2011 saw a huge increase in mobile and tablet web browsing with around 30% of local searches being made on a mobile device.

The two methods of implementing a mobile site are;

Create a mobile-specific website

A mobile-specific approach involves creating a new, scaled down version of your site with any unnecessary content removed to improve its functionality and load speed on mobile devices. The mobile version of the website will be located on a sub-domain (usually or directory within the main website domain.

Develop a responsive design

The responsive design strategy allows the developer to build a new version of their website which adapts in relation to the device it is being browsed on. Using media queries and flexible layouts, a responsive design will change its size and remove certain design elements of the site depending on the size of the devices screen.

With the right research and planning, the decision as to which method best suits your website and its visitors can be made more easily by asking yourself these questions.

  • Are your mobile visitors using the site differently to desktop visitors?
  • Are their any features of mobile devices that could benefit your visitors? (GPS location etc)
  • What features of your site do you think would be more useful to mobile users and which wouldn’t?
  • Are you looking to fully re-design and re-launch or just create a mobile version of your current site?

Mobile-Specific Site Advantages

  • Usually the approach of choice for situations where website re-design isn’t an option.
  • More effective when you have identified differences between mobile use and desktop use and then create a customised mobile site based on what is most useful to your mobile visitors.

Up until recently, there has been some debate over the best ways to avoid Google identifying duplicate content within mobile-specific websites. But with the introduction of the mobile Google bot, mobile sites can now be indexed separately to their desktop counterparts, as explained by Matt Cutts in the video below.

Mobile-Specific Site Disadvantages

  • There is more content to manage as the site differs from the desktop version.
  • Possible duplicate content issues if the site is not managed correctly.

Responsive Design Advantages

  • Less maintenance is required as there are no additional websites to manage.
  • The route to take if you’re thinking about re-designing your website or if you’re developing a new site.

Responsive Design Disadvantages

  • Difficult to retrofit to the existing design.
  • Can require a lot of testing to make sure the website renders correctly across all devices.
  • Difficult to set the site up to show mobile users’ different content to that of the desktop site.