A recent statistic about the importance of properly built mobile websites hit me like a ton of bricks the other day. Yes, we all know that in the marketing world "it's all about mobile". It's been like that for at least the past three years, right? But stop and consider just how powerful mobile has become.

According to Google, one in three searches happen on a mobile device nowadays. Of those searches, 75% result in a purchase, and 81% of those actions were spontaneous. In a world where instant gratification is everything, how can you afford NOT to have your business' website optimized for mobile screens? Furthermore, Larry Kim does well to point out that local intent is higher on a mobile device.

"Searches on mobile devices are 66% more likely to have local intent than a desktop search. Meaning people searching on mobile phones are usually looking for something around them. For example, directions to a business or a phone number to call." - Larry Kim

But hold on. There is a subtle yet very important difference between mobile-friendly and what is referred to in the Internet world as Responsive Design.

Mobile friendly websites are websites built specifically for smaller screens. When done properly, they look and operate just fine on mobile devices, including tablets. They are, however, built separately from desktop sites, meaning viewers on mobile devices will be re-directed from the main site to a less resource-intensive mobile site. One business. Two websites.

Responsive Design sites are defined as those sites that are built on a single codebase. Based on the parameters set in an accompanying CSS file, the site changes display properties based on the viewer's screen size. One business. One website.

So how do you tell whether you have a mobile friendly website or a Responsive Design website? Easy. Go to your browser. Pull up your website. Then, dragging from the corners, begin changing the width of your window. As your window gets narrower, you will begin to see the display change: perhaps some images on the right of your screen will drop to somewhere lower on the screen, your navigation (home, about us, etc.) will disappear or change styles, some items will disappear altogether because they aren't compatible with a mobile screen (Adobe Flash)

Responsive Design is Better

There are several reasons why I believe a Responsive Design site is better than a desktop site-mobile site combination.

  1. Google wants it that way. Matt Metergia at Street Fight points out that, yes, you can do what s called Dynamic Serving, but "it is easy to understand why responsive is their first choice – it's web-crawling bots can be more efficient when indexing multiple versions of the same site."
  2. Responsive Design is easier to update. Think about it. If you have a website for desktops and a website for mobile devices, each time you want to change the content on one or the other, you will have to change it twice. How much is your time worth?
  3. Consistent design and feel. This reason is somewhat related to No. 2 above. I once worked on a website that had a desktop version and a mobile version. We dealt with RSS feeds that fed both sites, so updating timely content wasn't too much of an issue. The biggest issue was with the design. I could never fully achieve a consistent look at feel between the two sites because the Content Management Systems and frameworks were so different. Our users never got a consistent feeling across the various screens. With Responsive Design sites, you can be more consistent with your branding and messaging. Whatever change you make on the desktop can have a corresponding effect on the mobile site, and vice versa.
  4. Easy linking and sharing. This is a big one. Because the desktop and mobile site were never quite the same, we couldn't link to mobile pages the same way we linked to desktop pages. Talk about a brain drain for our social media coordinator! Whenever he wanted to share something on Facebook, he first had to list out the link for the desktop site, and then he had to find and include the mobile link as well. What a pain! With Responsive Design, it's easy: one link, that's all... kind of like "One Call, That's All", for the legal industry! But I digress.

As we move forward even further into the mobile age, think about how important Responsive Design will become. Do you really want to be creating different sites for desktop, phones, tablets, wearables... and home appliances and thermostats, and so on? Save the time. Save the energy. For now, Responsive Design is the way to go.

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