A new client recently asked what the difference is between a mobile friendly and a responsive website is. It’s a great question because like Like most fields, there are a lot of different terms used in the web design/development industry that mean slightly different things though they are used interchangeably. This causes a great deal of confusion in the general marketplace. Mobile friendly, mobile site, and a responsive site (along with their related terms) fall into this trap.
Here’s the quick description of these terms that helped clarify the differences for her and allow her to make a decision on a mobile site. I thought I’d share them here as well so when we talk you’ll have the necessary background to make the best choice for your business as well.
A mobile friendly site is a site that plays nicely on mobile devices. It doesn’t use Flash technology that is not supported on Apple devices and its images and links work on the mobile device like they do on a computer. These sites are a good solution for existing sites where the site owner’s primary visitors are not heavy mobile users (generally speaking age 60 and above) and the business is not an entertainment or dining establishment.
A mobile site is a site that is specifically tailored for mobile devices and almost always has a “normal” site for computer users with the same or similar content. Mobile sites came into being when smart phones were first unleashed on the Internet. A little “geek speak” here, but just a little. It was like the Wild West, there were no standards in place for scaling a site from a standard web page size of 800 x 600 pixels to a smart phone screen size of 320 x 480 or smaller and the robust fixed sized sites did not provide a good user experience. And in many cases these sites looked just awful on anything smaller than a VGA monitor. But, before smart phones, 800 x 600 was the standard website size for almost 5 years, so established websites were caught off guard so to speak as technology basically ran them over.
The way these sites work is when a visitor comes to a domain URL ( myawesomecoolsite.com for example), the site detects the device type being used and then directs the device to the site that will provide the best user experience. These mobile specific shadow sites typically use an m.myawesomecoolsite.com URL format although for a time the myawesomecoolsite.mobi format was all the rage. The big advantage to this set up is that the user experience can be tailored to the most likely needs of the visitor. For example, it used to be that when a visitor is visiting a site using a smart phone, the most often desired options were to call or get directions to the business. This usage created cool phone specific features like “click to call” buttons where a visitor can tap the screen and call the business without having to enter the numbers.
A responsive site is a single site that scales to the device’s browser window. Responsive sites have been helped along by new HTML standards and the very high penetration of smart cell phones in the consumer demographic. Additionally, device specific features like “click to call” can be added to mobile friendly sites creating a feature rich experience for site visitors regardless of device.
Because of these and other factors, responsive sites are the current industry best practice as the site owner does not have to keep two sites up to date, the site’s visitor always has the same options at their fingertips, and the setup is generally lower cost because there is only one site to create. Further, studies are showing that today people, especially Millennials, expect the same options regardless of the device they are browsing from.
An example of what a mobile responsive site can look like is Pianotex.com. It’s built on the Genesis framework and uses the Executive Pro child theme. Take a look at it on your computer and then on your phone. If you click/tap the phone numbers from your phone, you should be prompted with “call this number?”
So which should you choose?
A responsive website design provides you with the best of both worlds, a single site to manage and update and a great user experience for your site’s visitors and is the best choice for most businesses. That said, a mobile site can be a great asset for businesses catering to customers who are heavy mobile device users and the mobile site can be scaled down for quick action, like to make reservations, find out the business hours, or pull up a map with directions from the device’s current location. If you do choose to have a mobile specific website, always make sure to have an easy link to your main website. This gives your site visitors the experience they want and builds a stronger relationship with you.
If you have questions about your website and how you can build stronger relationships with your website visitors, we should talk. Give me a call today 888.469.4686 to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.