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Mobile optimized vs. responsive web design: What's the difference?

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Posted by Mark Parent - December 28, 2015

When it comes to browsing on mobile devices, there are two types of websites that can work well for this: a mobile optimized site and a responsive website.

Responsive web design has experienced a high degree of interest over the last few years -- and for good reason.

If you need a website designed by a professional, which type will serve you best?

A mobile design site requires two designs

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When you have a mobile optimized site, mobile visitors will land on a separate site.

A mobile optimized site means that you've created a separate website for mobile users (usually designated by an "m" prefix, though some businesses use separate URLs entirely). This means you have to pay for two separate website designs: one for desktop and laptop users, and the other for people who are browsing on mobile devices.

This can create additional costs, both for the initial design and for the sites' maintenance. If you plan to use this strategy, make sure to budget for the added expense so you aren't caught off guard.

Responsive web design changes based on the device

Conversely, responsive web design incorporates code that changes the site's elements to fit the screen and device. It compresses images, changes the text layout, and adjusts the menu and advertising to meet the needs of the viewer. Since it's all on one website, you don't have to worry about managing two properties.

Think of responsive web design as an elastic band. For larger devices, the band gets bigger and incorporates more white space. On smaller devices, it contracts, allowing the consumer to use it without discomfort or confusion.

If you're thinking about going with a responsive design for your website, make sure you read another one of our blog articles, 'The 4 characteristics of a well-designed responsive website."

Mobile sites might confuse visitors

The last thing you want is to confuse your customers. If they don't know what to expect when they visit your website, they'll leave immediately. Unfortunately, mobile optimized sites can have this impact on visitors, especially if you're using two distinct URLs.

If you plan to use a mobile optimized site, make that fact clear. Include it in your marketing materials and customer correspondence so visitors are prepared when they visit your site -- regardless of what device they use.

Responsive web design gives you more freedom

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A responsive website adapts to suit the environment.

When you adopt responsive web design for your website, you can alter or change your design at any time without frustration. It's the ultimate flexibility tool in this industry because it allows you to adapt to the market's expectations.

As web design changes (such as through the introduction of enhanced HTML and CSS), you want your website to remain as flexible as possible so you don't get left behind. Responsive sites are easier to maintain and update, especially if you don't want a complete redesign every six months.

Both mobile optimized and responsive web design offer advantages for your business. They allow visitors to view your site regardless of their device of choice. However, understanding the differences will help you make an informed decision.

If you want to learn more about how responsive web design can benefit your company, contact us today.

Or, if you are interested in learning more about how you can better align your inbound digital marketing strategies and content creation with an agile, data-driven website, download our growth-driven design eBook.

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Topics: Website Design/Development


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