Responsive vs Mobile Sites

in Google MAPS Mobile sites Responsive Design

Over the last year or so, a new wave of web design strategies has hit the market with the specific intent to afford the rising mobile browser / smart phone accessibility to the website. Unless your business has taken advantage of this technology, the tiny screen on a smart phone will render your website the functional equivalent of an unreadable thumbnail version of your site. You can pinch and poke to read the site, but most people will find that to be too cumbersome.

Two approaches to deal with how a web site renders on a mobile smart device have now started to trickle into the mainstream small business market. I don't think I need to tell you that as a small business you'll need to be able to deftly deal with the smart phone browsers better than you are today (speaking to those who've done nothing). The first approach is to have a truly mobile application that can detect a mobile device and will present the mobile website version to that device. The second approach is to design the site with what has now come to be known as a "responsive" environment. In effect, when the smart device browses to the website, the site content literally rearranges to fit the screen of the smart device.

I have built both and there may be a market for both but it is my opinion that the small business markets that I serve are better off using a truly mobile version of their site than simply rearranging the content. The mobile user is looking for a completely different web experience while on his phone. Generally that person is not looking to read a book, even if it is ledgible. So here are what I consider to be the pros and cons of each:

A responsive site shows all of the content that is on the "big" site, just in a format that is readable on the phone. Usually this happens by moving all of the columns into a single column in some organized way. This is useful for informational sites, blog sites and sites which have frequently updated content that the visitor wants to "follow". But, as an example, I'm not convinced that a plumber's website needs to be responsive (or even that it should be).

Truly Mobile Site

A mobile site is for the minimalist. The idea supporting a mobile site is that when someone hits that site, they are looking for very direct information. Perhaps a little bit about who the company is, how to contact them and how to get there. Mobile sites for businesses that need foot traffic should also have links to navigation (Google Maps), click to call options (for fat thumbs!) and even click to message if the business has setup an SMS channel for their business (it would be very smart to do this).

The bottom line is you need to know what people are looking for when they are browsing for your products and services on a cell phone. For the typical business that traditionally advertises in the yellow pages...the technology of choice should be a truly mobile site. In addition to providing a better, faster experience for your clients, you will also gain an SEO advantage. The mobile pages are unique and indexed as separate pages by the search engines (responsive pages are not). You will be rewarded in the search engines as a result. Now...if I were a betting man, I would venture to guess that Google eventually will generate different search engine results based on the device from which that search is entered. The devices are already tracked in analytics and if Google insists on providing the user with the highest quality search results, then clearly a site specifically designed for a mobile device should provide a better experience for the user.