Sites that are not fully optimized or responsive may be putting themselves at a great disadvantage. Why? Users are actually 61% more likely to leave a site if it is not “mobile friendly”. A visitor may become frustrated if they have to meticulously zoom in/out and scroll left to right to navigate a page. Therefore, in order to drive and maintain mobile traffic, it is crucial to create a fully functional design that ensures a seamless experience for all. So the next question to ask yourself is whether responsive or mobile optimization is right for you.

RESPONSIVE

A website with responsive design will automatically fit to the screen size of any device such as a laptop, desktop, phone, or tablet. Content, images, and structure of the site will remain the same across all devices. Here is an example of a responsive design we launched for our client Mount Olivet Conference and Retreat Center.

Mount Olivet Conference and Retreat Center responsive mobile website

Pros:

  • One website. It’s easy for mobile users to find and access the same URL, as opposed to waiting to be redirected to a separate mobile site.
  • Easy management. If set up properly, it is relatively easy to run a responsive design.
  • Easy marketing. No extra work is required to promote a responsive site.
  • Lower cost. At often times, implementing responsive design in your current site will be more cost effective than creating a new separate mobile site.
  • Streamline SEO. Because there is only one URL associated with responsive design, SEO will not become diluted which helps to improve SEO.

Cons:

  • One website. Mobile and desktop users could have different reasons for visiting a site. For example: a mobile user on the go may visit a site for quick driving directions, whereas a desktop user may want to browse the product selection in more detail. Therefore, it can be beneficial to emphasize certain content to better serve the visitor’s purpose for coming to the site. Unfortunately, a responsive design does not allow various forms of content for different platforms. 
  • User experience. Mobile is a completely different experience than desktop. It can be difficult to satisfy all users with a single website, which in turn can negatively affect your user experience on both platforms.
  • Load time. Responsive design is a relatively new technology and requires more front-end code to work across all common browsers and operating systems. This can lead to longer load times as compared to a separate mobile site that is fully optimized. 

MOBILE OPTIMIZED

A mobile optimized site has a separate URL from the original website. These sites are specifically designed for mobile users. Shortened navigation panels, simplified content, smaller imagery, and CTA buttons specifically tailored toward mobile users are a few features that may be different than the desktop site. Keep in mind that “mobile devices” does not necessarily include tablets. Google recommends treating tablet users as desktop users rather than mobile. This is because user browsing patterns and screen size on a tablet resembles desktop browsing more than smartphone browsing.  

Pros:

  • Custom content. You have the ability to create custom content targeted towards mobile users. 
  • User experience. These sites are specifically optimized for mobile devices – which allows for easy navigation and usability. It is a great option for businesses that are experiencing a growing trend of mobile users visiting their site. Google Analytics has "advanced segments" that can identify and segment what your mobile traffic currently looks like.
  • Speed. A mobile optimized site will typically have shorter load times on mobile platforms.

Cons:

  • The need to carefully monitor SEO. Since Google uses a single index that combines mobile and desktop pages together, it is recommended to use meta data to let Google know which mobile URLs are associated with their equivalent desktop URLs. These tags prevent confusion about possible duplicate content between mobile and desktop pages - which can ultimately harm your SEO. It is also important to make sure that redirects are executing correctly for both mobile and desktop. When Google bots crawl a page via mobile or desktop, properly implemented redirects will guide them to the correct URL.
  • Additional maintenance. Two websites will typically require more maintenance than one.
  • Not always universally compatible. A mobile optimized website can look and work slightly different across certain mobile devices. (iPhone, Samsung, Motorola).
  • Higher cost. Creating a brand new mobile website can be more expensive than implementing responsive design to an existing website.
  • Speed. Managing cross-linking and redirecting between the two sites can be tricky. If done incorrectly, page load speeds can be affected.

RELATING BACK TO SEO

Having a responsive or mobile optimized site alone does not have a direct effect on search engine algorithm. Instead, these sites should be used to foster a better user experience – this is what Google really wants to see.

So what option is best? For starters, Google recommends responsive design for a few reasons. First, responsive sites have one URL and the same HTML, which makes it easy for Google to crawl, and assign more indexing properties for content on the site. Since a mobile optimized site has a different URL and HTML than its desktop page, Google has to crawl and index multiple versions of the same site. Second, Google recognizes that it easy for users to share, interact, and link to a website with responsive design as opposed to a fully optimized site. For example, if a desktop user receives a link from a mobile user from a mobile optimized site, they may experience a stripped down version of the mobile site when accessed on a desktop. This creates an unpleasant user experience, which can have a reverse effect on SEO. The opposite also applies for a responsive design. A desktop user might share something that looks great on their large computer screen, but it may not have the same impact for mobile users.

Taking everything into consideration, business goals, budget, and industry trends will have a significant influence on your decision. More importantly, pay attention to user behavior on the current site and don’t hesitate to ask for feedback regarding preferences or needs your customers have. This will ultimately give you an idea of what your audience is looking for when interacting with your site. 

August Ash is a web design firm located in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro specializing in creative web design, internet marketing, and custom web development solutions. For more than 15 years, we have directly worked with our clients to achieve their online business success. 

Have any questions? Chat with us, we would love to hear from you!