Which is Better, a Mobile Web Site or a Responsive Web Site?

Before you invest time and money in getting your site ready to support mobile users, this is actually a very important question to ask.  In the web development community, there is some on-going debate about this subject. So if you’re curious to know what all the fuss is about, please read on.

Both approaches will allow you to present your website correctly to mobile browsers. So there really is no correct answer to this question. Ultimately it depends on various goals and factors.

The chart below presents Google’s comparisons of the two methods. Some of these points are open to debate, but they do offer a useful starting point in your decision.

Before going on any further though, let’s define what we’re even talking about here.

Responsive Web Site

For those who believe that a ‘screen is just a screen is just a screen‘, a Responsive web site is the clear winner. With responsive web site design, the 1 and only site is developed to respond adequately on any screen that it is presented on. “Code once and be done with it” is the compelling argument with responsive web designers. To accomplish this feat, advanced CSS (cascading style sheets) are used to ensure that any web element, be it menu item, image, video, table, whatever… will automatically be re-sized on-the-fly in order to accommodate any screen size.

Mobile Web Site

A mobile web site is a separate web site that has been specifically designed and targeted for mobile prospects. While the mobile site is indeed separate from the main (or desktop) site, visitors will (should) be sent to the appropriate site automagically, based on the device they are on during their visit. Sending the client to the appropriate site is done using automatic browser detection and redirection.

pencil_128You can tell a mobile site from a responsive one if you see that the “www.” sub-domain has been replaced with an extension like “m.”, “touch.”, etc. or if the “.com” extension is replaced with a “.me” or “.mobi”. This is quite common with both big and small companies alike. For example, open www.linkedin.com on a phone and you will be routed to “touch.linkedin.com”.

The Debate

Supporters of Responsive Web Design believe that maintaining two different sites is unwieldy and unnecessary.  Their argument is that all content should be presented on all screens at all times [period].

Proponents of Mobile Site Design argue that a mobile site should be streamlined and specifically targeted for a fat-fingered mobile user on a tiny screen and on a comparatively slow cellular network, such that site elements (like images, videos, tables, menus, etc.) are not simply re-scaled but are carefully re-sized, re-positioned, re-arranged, and re-purposed. If you’ve ever suffered having to watch standard TV broadcast on a high-definition television set, you can appreciate the rationale behind streaming the highest resolution content to the highest resolution screen (and vice-versa).

Our Position

Since we (Adverscan Mobile Media) actually develop both Responsive and Mobile web sites, we generally like to choose the most economical, time-sensitive, and effective solution for our clients. However, there are some points worth noting:

  • Using Responsive Web technology is smart and should be used whenever possible, even when you plan to offer a separate mobile site. (Adverscan sends mobile users to our mobile site, but also uses deep links to our mobile responsive site.)
  • Understand that a Responsive site design may NOT always offer the most “actionable interface” for mobile users who you want to contact your business quickly.
  • If like many sites, your site uses content sidebars, be aware that a Responsive design will typically append these content widgets after the main content section. This can have a significant visual impact when presented on a phone.
  • A Responsive site will usually be significantly “heavier” than a mobile web site in terms of content size and will therefore usually not load nearly as fast (especially over cellular networks) as a mobile site. Remember, re-scaling images and videos is much different than re-sizing images. Re-scaling simply tells the browser to re-size the image, but the whole original image has needed to be sent over the air.
  • Large companies have differing opinions on which approach is better. Consider the statement by Coca-Cola on responsive vs. mobile site design: “If you get into this HTML5, hybrid mindset and start pretending that a screen is a screen is a screen, you start forgetting about the customer experience…” (source: Marketers at odds over effectiveness of responsive design )
  • With browser auto-detection installed on your main desktop site, making sure that mobile visitors get redirected to your mobile site is easy and quite effective. So you should never need to actually promote 2 different site addresses, regardless of whether you go Responsive or Mobile.
  • A mobile site can, and should, be part of your domain name, e.g., “m.yoursite.com”. With simple subdomain partitioning (which is free with virtually any domain provider, e.g., GoDaddy), and the use of a CNAME record on the sub-domain, you can ensure that your mobile visitors stay within your domain, even though you have a separate mobile site.
  • A mobile web site may indeed end up having some duplicate content as your desktop site. While there are ways to avoid this (e.g., RSS feeds), having legitimate duplicate content will not, according to Google, affect your SEO (see “Demystifying the Duplicate Content Penalty“)
  • In our real world experience (many dozens of sites), a well-crafted Mobile site that focuses on action will have a lower bounce rate than a Responsive design. Many of our clients have Responsive sites yet use a Mobile site so that they can maintain total control over what, where, and when specific content is presented on a phone. A responsive site, rarely offers that level of control of content placement. Consequently, especially for your main landing page, a well-designed mobile site will usually have a lower bounce rate for mobile visitors than a responsive home page.
  • From the all-important cost standpoint, assuming you don’t already have a Responsive site, the migration cost can be higher and longer to implement than getting a mobile site developed. On the other hand, the ongoing cost (ie, hosting) can be higher, especially over time. So over the long haul a Responsive site should cost less to operate.

Adverscan can offer both solutions to going mobile. For those companies who’ve already invested in their web site and don’t want the added cost or time burden associated with new web development, we can build a mobile site for a fraction of the cost of most web development efforts. Alternatively, for those companies that either want a new site created, or already use a mainstream CMS platform (e.g., WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal) we can migrate their existing site to be Responsive.

Let me know if you found this article useful by emailing me at mike AT adverscan DOT com or feel free to ask for advice (no charge).

Small Local Businesses Have Most to Lose by Neglecting Mobile Users

It’s hard to find even the smallest business that does not maintain a web site. But most small business web sites are not optimized for mobile devices. In fact, even many larger businesses, who maintain dedicated marketing budgets, don’t address the expectations and needs of their mobile consumers. But small local businesses have the most to lose by not catering to their mobile prospects. So if you run a small business that relies on local customers, we think you will want to pay close attention and read on.

50% of all searches that are made from a cell phone have local intent

Referring to Google’s statistics on local intent searches (source http://bit.ly/12mk9nQ) and accounting for the growth rate of Smartphones, one should expect that approximately 50% of all searches that are made from a cell phone have local intent – “dentists Cary”, “carpet cleaners Holly Springs”, “Photographers Apex”, “Pest Control Raleigh”, etc. See the chart below and you will quickly recognize the peril of not catering to your mobile prospects.

The Our Mobile Planet research was commissioned by Google and conducted by Ipsos MediaCT in partnership with the Mobile Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

 72% of mobile users place importance on mobile-friendly site design

For searches made from a cell phone, Google reportedly gives preference to sites that are optimized for mobile browsers. This is understandable given Google’s own studies, which have found that 72% of mobile users place importance on mobile-friendly site design (source: http://bit.ly/12moEyE). And in terms of the very critical analytic ‘Bounce Rate’, where smaller is better, having a mobile site is super mportant. According to a Google survey, 61% of respondents indicated that when they don’t find what they’re looking for quickly (within about five seconds), they’ll bounce out and find another site.

Check Your Site Now

Go ahead and open your web site on a phone. You can also use a Smartphone emulator to see how your site will appear. (However, note that while emulators provide a useful quick checkout, ultimately you need to open your site on an actual phone.)

Mobile Ready Checklist

Answer the following questions to confirm your site’s “mobile friendliness”:

  1. Can your site be navigated using only a thumb?Mobile browsers should never be required to “stretch”, “pinch”, or “poke” with their index finger. A well designed mobile site is one that requires only up/down scrolling and ‘fat-finger’ clicking of elements.
  2. Does the display area of your site require any left/right scrolling?A mobile- aware site will only require up & down scrolling. When it comes to cellphone navigation, right/left scrolling is a big ‘no-no’.
  3. Do the pages of your site load very quickly over cellular (3G)?Before you begin your test, turn off your smartphone’s WiFi connection so you can observe the performance over cellular to match real-world conditions.
  4. Are the most important mobile elements easily accessible?One-click operations like phone dialing, emailing, texting, etc. should be right in view. Other important mobile elements will include navigable directions to your place of business, your hours of operation, testimonials and reviews, watching a video presentation, purchasing an item, booking a reservation, redeeming a coupon, and so forth. Remember that the most common elements requested by a mobile user will differ than those who are viewing from a standard screen.
  5. Are there presentation elements that simply don’t show up on a phone?You know that snazzy animated Flash introduction that you paid a lot of money for?  Unfortunately, it won’t show up on most cell phones.

Finally, ask yourself this – “…if I found my site on a phone would I be compelled to take action or would I quickly bounce out and look for another source of information?

Before and After

The left  image shows a typical small business site before it has been made “mobile aware”. The right image shows the same site after being mobile optimized.

If your site is like most small business web sites it probably won’t be formatted correctly for a mobile phone.

Quick and Affordable Mobile Enablement

Adverscan offers several approaches to getting your site mobile enabled – quickly and affordably.  But what really separates us from the rest of the pack – aside from our 20+ years of mobile and handheld computing expertise – is that all of our plans allow you to also fully tap into the power SMS (text) marketing!  What this means to you is that when you are ready to evolve to the next step in your mobile marketing strategy, you will be ready immediately.  In fact, we will even gift you some SMS credits at no charge so you can see what this power can mean to your business.

Option 1:


If you are technically competent, we offer a build-it-yourself mobile web package, which allows you to create a gorgeous mobile site that provides every conceivable capability you could imagine, free of charge.  You pay only $12 per month for hosting.  And there is absolutely no term commitment (you can cancel anytime). Furthermore your 1st month is FREE, so you can develop and test your site before you actually pay for your 1st month. And no, you DO NOT need to create a separate domain name for your mobile site name. Simply create a subdomain like m.yoursitename.com from your domain provider. (The instructions for Go Daddy are typical).  Finally, from the Adverscan mobile site builder, you will see ‘drop-in’ ready redirection code that can be inserted into your main site. With this single line of JavaScript code installed, anyone who finds your web site on a phone will automatically be presented with the mobile-friendly version you’ve created.

Option 2:


If you are not technically proficient, or you simply don’t have the time, Adverscan can develop your mobile site for you. With our assisted options you pay us only $269 one-time for development. After that, you simply pay the $12/per month in hosting fees. Just like the DIY option (above), you can cancel anytime you want and you can bring your own domain name. The only difference between option 1 and 2 is who actually develops the site – us or you. For options 1 and 2, if you later decide to upgrade to one of our mobile marketing plans, your mobile site hosting rate will drop down to only $8/month!

Option 3:


We also offer alternative options that involve either migrating your current site to a responsive design.  If your site is built on a major CMS like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, this becomes fairly straightforward. Alternatively, we can create a new web site for you that utilizes a responsive web site theme. These options are typically more expensive on the front-end because of the higher development costs, but may cost less over time due to reduced hosting fees.

Up Next…

In our next blog post for this series, we are going to explore the ongoing debate “Mobile vs. Responsive Web Sites”.  This is an interesting topic that deserves a fairly deep dive into the advantages and disadvantages of both.

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