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Mobile-friendly vs. Responsive Design

Matt Labus
Jun 21, 2018 · 3 min read

When was the last time you needed an answer to something quickly, and you pulled out your phone and searched the web for immediate results? I’m guessing it was quite recently! We use our phones today more than ever. In 2016, for the first time ever, mobile web usage surpassed desktop usage, and believe it or not, businesses are still adapting to that change! But when it comes to deciding how you want your website to look on mobile, there are a couple of options. and it’s OK to admit if you don’t totally understand the difference! Let’s take a look at responsive design vs. mobile-friendly design, and explore where the difference lies between the two.

Responsive Design
A responsive website is one that changes based on the screen size of the device. It has dynamic content that changes, optimized images, correct spacing based on device, and is reliant on mobile operating systems for functionality. With a responsive design, texts and images change from a three-column layout to one that fits your device’s screen perfectly. If you’re on a website on desktop and want to see if it’s responsive, simply shrink the window and observe whether or not the display changes to match the window size. Responsive websites react with the user in mind, and enhance usability no matter what the device is.

Mobile-Friendly Design
Simply put, a mobile friendly site functions the exact same way regardless of the device. In other words, mobile-friendly designs do not change based on the device being used. Nothing changes in the functionality other than the scale of the site. Many great features of the website, like navigation drop-downs, are limited, as they can be difficult to use on mobile.

Which One Should I Choose?
In order to build a winning brand, you need to reach your customers on their phones. Period. One of the most important things to keep in mind is the fact that Google now ranks mobile sites above desktop sites for SEO ranking. This means when someone searches from a mobile device, websites that are optimized for mobile viewing will rank higher than websites that aren’t. I would recommend asking yourself a few questions before deciding between responsive and mobile-friendly:

  1. What is the purpose of my website?
  2. What is the end goal of visitors to my website?
  3. On what device do I expect my visitors to visit my site?

Brands Should Shift Towards Responsive
While it’s good to suss out your options, we feel pretty strongly that the best course of action to take would be to develop a responsive site. Regardless of your brand or your industry, you know that a large percentage of your website traffic is coming from mobile. You simply cannot lose that much of your audience because your site looks awful on a phone! It’s time to graduate from mobile-friendly sites because most time, mobile-friendly isn’t actually friendly for the user at all. At the bare minimum, we should shift towards the responsive design, and ideally start making plans to transition to a Progressive Web App (PWA). A PWA will allow a company to take the rich functionality of a native app and combine it with the discoverability and speed of the internet to produce an incredible mobile experience for the user.

Mobile web usage will continue to grow as more and more people use smartphones. Today, while 4 out of 5 consumers use smartphones to shop, businesses are having to choose how their website appears on a phone. The mobile market is huge, and creating a user-friendly web experience that works across devices will provide exponential value to any company.

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