Responsive web design or separate mobile version

  • February 17, 2013
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Responsive/separate?

Most business owners are aware by now that a proportion of their website visitors will view their website on their smartphone.  But how many business websites actually look good and are easy to navigate on the average smartphone? Surprisingly few!

Web designers generally provide two main solutions to the business without an adequate mobile web presence: Responsive web design or a separate mobile website.  Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

The differences

Responsive websites automatically fit to most device displays.  They adapt.  Separate mobile websites are just that – they are separate to the main website…a cut-down version.

A responsive website will certainly be more expensive than a “standard” brochure style website in terms of development.  If your company doesn’t yet have a website then I’d suggest going straight for a responsive website.  You’ll pay extra over a standard brochure website but your website will be as future-proof as a website can be in terms of working well on different device displays.  If you have an existing standard brochure website then you can either have your existing website converted to responsive or have a redesign to responsive.  You could also opt to leave your existing website as it is and go for the less expensive option of a separate mobile version with a mobile device detection and redirection script.

My recommendations!

I recommend that your mobile website version is not a mere carbon copy of your regular website because mobile users have different goals when browsing websites on their smartphone.  They benefit more from a “cut down” version of the website.  This can be achieved with both responsive and mobile.  But cost isn’t the only reason to go with one option or the other.  Maintenance is an important consideration.

Scalability and potential pitfalls

As a web designer I often see the difficulties that my clients might have when maintaining their websites.  Lots of my clients like to use the content management systems that we mentor them with to update their website, some use Adobe Dreamweaver to update their websites and then just upload the changes via FTP.  Some clients send changes to me to make.  I like to accommodate all types of clients so have a solution for each.  In terms of updating websites, a well-designed responsive website should be easier to update for minor changes, whereas separate mobile websites would generally need to be updated along with the separate standard website (i.e. changes would need to be made twice).  So responsive gets this vote.  But what about the complexity of making major changes? Responsive can become a little more tricky if a client requires a design changes such as showing a large tap-to-call button on a iPhone, for instance.  To be fair a client may need us to perform this kind of change on either build: responsive or separate mobile.  But the process with responsive can be more complex and, therefore, more expensive for the maintenance cost.

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