Responsive Websites vs Mobile Websites: What's the Difference?

In early 2015, Google rocked the tech industry with its announcement that beginning April 2015, it would introduce a new mobile friendly ranking factor to search results. This meant Google would consider the ranking of websites in search results based on whether that website was mobile friendly or not.

Google’s “Mobilegeddon” was a the company’s natural response to a pivotal shift to users’ browsing preferences. In an attempt to not leave any business owners in the dark, Google even made this announcement two month’s in advance and even offered basic tips to increase mobile friendliness: avoid Flash, use large text to allow for reading without zooming in, and create adequate space between links to accommodate large fingers.

Overall, “mobile-friendly” is a general term Google uses to describe a site that works on the smaller screen of a mobile device. However, it can all get a bit confusing when other mobile terms are involved, specifically terms like, “responsive,” “dedicated,” or “adaptive”.

In this article, we will be reviewing that the differences between “responsive websites” and “mobile websites”.

Responsive Websites

A responsive website is one version of a website that responds (or changes) to the size of the device the user is on. Responsive sites respond to devices of all screen sizes. This means that if a user is on a mobile device, the text and images will move and adjust to a single column display to make it easy to read on a mobile device. If a user is an a tablet device, the text and images will flow to the width of the tablet screen and may display two columns instead of one.

You can always tell if a website is responsive by visiting the site on a desktop and adjusting your browser’s window size from full screen to small. If the site, images and text get smaller, the site is responsive.

Key features of a responsive site include: 

  • Dynamic images and text that move
  • Navigation is condensed or buttons are enlarged to accommodate fingers
  • Optimized images
  • Appropriate padding and spacing between web elements
  • Reliant on mobile operating systems to function properly

By default, a responsive site is considered a mobile-friendly site. It adjusts to confirm to a users’s device, whether that device is a desktop, mobile, or tablet device.

Not all mobile-friendly sites don’t have to be responsive but if they are made to make the experience more pleasant for users on mobile devices, they are considered to be mobile-friendly websites.

Dedicated Mobile Websites

Dedicated mobile websites usually look the exact same away across multiple devices. Nothing changes, nothing moves around, text and images stay put. As a result, navigation and drop downs are limited. A mobile website is a separate version of the desktop website and is specifically designed to view on mobile devices. Typically, dedicated mobile sites only have a limited number of pages displayed on your desktop version but will usually include a link to your actual desktop website so visitors have the option to read additional information.

When a smartphone user visits your website on their device, an “auto-detect” feature will recognize the device and send them to the mobile version of the website. Usually, you can tell if a site is a dedicated mobile site if the URL includes an “m” somewhere: m.smallscreenproducer.com or www.smallscreenproducer.com/m/

Since a dedicated mobile website has limited information and is considered a condensed version of a regular desktop website, it’s generally inexpensive for most businesses and a sufficient short-term solution if you don’t have a budget for responsive website design.

Key features of a mobile friendly site include: 

  • Static content that doesn’t change
  • Simple layout and navigation
  • Small images and text
  • Separate version from your desktop device

Which one should I choose?

In general, everyone should have some type of mobile-friendly website. Not everyone necessarily needs a responsive website, but if you have a significant amount of traffic coming from mobile devices, it is highly recommended. Responsive websites are the Google recommended for their ability to adjust to many different screen sizes, not just mobile devices.

In addition to this, web masters will only need to make changes to manage one version of website, instead of managing a desktop version and a separate mobile version.

Consider a responsive website if: 

  • If your site is complex with many offerings/pages, eCommerce offerings
  • A large majority of your traffic is viewing your website on a mobile device (at least 35%)
  • You plan on creating a website with a longer shelf life and want it to appear more up to date for longer

Dedicated mobile websites cover your basics. They will achieve a consistent website experience for your user across mobile devices with a simplified, mobile-friendly look. These sites will not have impressive features or sophisticated functionality but they will get the job done and are more affordable for those with limited website budgets.

Consider a dedicate mobile website if: 

  • You need a mobile friendly website immediately
  • You don’t have a huge mobile audience (less than 35%)
  • Your site is simple and mostly text and image based

If you’re ready for a new website for your business, feel free to view our portfolio of responsive websites for inspiration. We have designs for all types of industries and businesses. 

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