Going Mobile Part II: When Optimising for Mobile, Go Responsive

Going Mobile Part II: When Optimising for Mobile, Go Responsive

The previous article in the miniseries tried to illustrate why it is of crucial importance for small business to optimise their website for mobile devices, this one will recommend the best way to do so.

The term ‘responsive design’ was coined in 2010 by Ethan Marcotte in an article that is still considered a must-read for anyone who wants to have anything to do with web design. Basically, the term refers to web design approach that allows the website to be displayed on devices of varying sizes and capabilities, without losing any of its functionality or appeal. This is to say that a website in question would be just as easy to navigate on a small display of your smartphone as it would on a desktop or a laptop. This is achieved in a number of ways, including using fluid grids, media queries, responsive images and other.

Basically, a responsive website will detect the type of device you are using, as well as its screen size, and adjust the page layout for optimal performance. This happens more or less seamlessly (although there are some snags to this process, which we’ll get to later in the article), and is usually much preferable to other methods of mobile optimisation, like making a separate, mobile dedicated version of the site or dynamic serving. We’ll try to give you a list of reasons why this is so, but we’ll also try to take a look at the downsides of responsive design, and when you might want to think about going with an alternative.

Centralised Control and Requirements

Making sure that your website adapts to the screen size of the used device instead of making a separate website for different devices has a number of fairly obvious advantages. First of all, when you only have one website, there’s no need to apply all updates to several websites, or deal with their maintenance. Likewise, a user who may have been browsing your website on a mobile device might want to continue doing so on a PC, and having to switch to another version of your website in order to have an optimal experience can be repelling to most people accustomed to the instant gratification that has become the norm in web surfing and design. There is no need to say how this might hurt your conversions and prevent you from spreading the word about your business.

In order to fully understand this benefit, you have to consider the ways typical user behave, and ways in which you are getting traffic. For instance, a satisfied customer might recommend your website on Facebook, or another social network website. An increasing number of people are using mobile devices to log in to their social network accounts, and they might stumble onto that recommendation while doing so. If your website is not responsive, but instead offers a link to your mobile dedicated website, chances are you’ll lose a fair bit of potential visitors, not willing to make the extra step.

SEO Benefits

If you have a website, you either care about SEO, or don’t care about your business. When it comes to SEO, in a vast majority of cases, responsive design is infinitely preferable to having a separate mobile site, for a number of reasons. For one, Google pretty much said so themselves. If that’s not enough for you, here are some things to consider.

First of all, having two separate sites will unavoidably lead to increase in the bounce rates of either – users stumbling onto the mobile version when they would be better served by a desktop version and vice versa. Secondly, with two websites, you are dispersing the SEO value that you are getting from inbound links and lowering the amount that either of them gets. While there are some instances in which people will want their mobile website to rank for (slightly) different keywords than their desktop site, usually they want both sites to rank for the same keywords, which means that by making people choose which one of them they should link to is only hurting your efforts.


While responsive web design is the way to go in most cases, there are instances in which you would be better served with a separate mobile dedicated website. If you need proof of this statement, nothing else needs to be mentioned apart from the fact that giants such as Wal-Mart, Apple and Amazon decided to forgo on the benefits of responsive design, and are instead offering different versions of their websites to the public. With companies such as these, you know that they have carefully considered responsive approach, and have made an informed decision to go another way.

One of the instances in which you might do better with a mobile dedicated version of a website is when your desktop version is perfectly optimised for conversion, and adapting it for mobile as well might stand a chance of significantly hurting the conversion rates. Likewise, if you want to focus on mobile conversions, you have a better chance of being successful with a specialised mobile website. For instance, if you realise that a particular page layout is ideal for your desktop site, but would be impractical for viewing on a mobile device, despite the fact that the site is responsive, you might want to think about making a mobile only version of your website.

Finally, with a desktop or mobile specific website, you get to optimise it to a higher degree for the chosen device. This means faster page loading times (a very important SEO factor) and in general, a better user experience. These benefits, however, usually fade in comparison to those offered by responsive design.

More from this series:

Going Mobile Part I: Adoption Rates and User Behaviour
Going Mobile Part II: When Optimising for Mobile, Go Responsive
Going Mobile Part III: WordPress and Responsive Design