Responsive website or mobile website: which is best?

Responsive website on computer screen, tablet and smartphoneIt is estimated that by 2013 more people will use mobile devices than computers toaccess the internet. You could be losing potential customers if your website doesn’t work well on a mobile phone or a tablet.

Website owners haven’t woken up to this yet – in early 2011 less than 19% of the world’s top 500,000 websites were mobile-ready. This is good news for you because by adapting your site to work on mobiles you can be ahead of the game and more importantly, ahead of your competitors.

So how do you go about getting a mobile website? There are actually two quite different ways of doing it and each has its own pros and cons. We look at the features of each to help you choose.

Responsive websites

A responsive web design has a ‘fluid’ structure which resizes automatically for different screen sizes, so you only need one design for your site. The website layout will adjust itself to comfortably fit the width of the device you are using, right down to mobile phone size. Responsive web design is a relatively new idea, dating only from 2010, so there are relatively few sites built this way at present.

The main advantage of responsive sites is that is that unlike mobile sites all the website is viewable, not just selected pages. Your full website is available to all regardless of the device they are using and mobile users are not offered what some see as a second rate experience.

Building a responsive website costs no more than a fixed width site and if you are starting from scratch it is a cheaper option than adding an additional mobile site. Converting an existing site to responsive will incur a cost but may not be much more than some of the mobile site options. If you are planning to redesign your site soon anyway, it makes sense to opt for a responsive site.

Website for a mobile phone

The front page of a website created for a mobile phone

Mobile websites

A mobile website is created especially for mobile phone screens and is additional to your main website. It is set up so that when someone accesses your website from a mobile phone, the site automatically defaults to the mobile version. You will be given the option of going to the main website if you prefer.

Websites for mobile phones are usually a slimmed-down version of the main site, showing only the most important pages. The main advantage is that the slimmed-down site will load more quickly on slow mobile phone connections than your full website would. Some also argue that people on the move just want the key information – how to contact you, where to find you – rather than be bombarded with information they don’t need.

Mobile sites can be built to your specification by your web designer but an easier, though not necessarily cheaper option is to use one of the many mobile website tools available (see below).

So which should you choose for your website? Here’s a comparison chart to help you make a choice.

Responsive website

Mobile website

Resizes automatically for all screen sizes from computer monitors to mobile phones. Created for mobile phones and is additional to the main website; may not work well on tablets or computer monitors.
All the website is viewable, not just selected pages, so you are not keeping content from mobile users. Only essential pages are included so loading time is much faster, and people on the move just want key information quickly.
Ideal for sites with regular new content such as blogs. Ideal for static websites providing information about a company or service.
Ideal for online stores with advanced ecommerce features. Shopping carts can be added with some mobile website tools but they lack features and you need to add products individually.
A new responsive site is as easy to build as a standard website – but converting a standard site to responsive will take more work than a mobile site. Quick and easy to prepare using a mobile website tool, but monthly fees can work out expensive.
Has features for mobile phones like one-click for your customers to call you and gps so they can find you.

Which option you go for depends a lot on your website and your business. If you feel that visitors to your site should not have to miss out on any content, a responsive site is better. If you’re happy for mobile users to see a fast loading site with the key details about your business, go for a mobile site.

Here are some mobile website tools. All charge a monthly fee though some have free options. Check with your web designer – they may have a “reseller” contract with one of the  providers that allows them to offer a much cheaper deal, or they may be able to offer their own mobile website package.

Wirenode – from £4.25 a month or free if have their ad on your site
Onbile - from £4.25 a month or free with advertising
GoMobi – avilable through hosting providers at different prices; Heart Internet is one of the cheaper options at £3.99 a month

If you have a WordPress site you could try on these plugins which will create a mobile version of your site: MobilePress or WordPress Mobile Edition.

For more on responsive web design this is a very good selection of articles.

 


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