Not sure if you should invest in a mobile website or a site that uses responsive design? You’re not alone. With more and more people buying more and more mobile devices every day, it’s hard to know what’s a fad, what’s an investment-worthy trend, and what’s really here to stay.

What’s the Difference Anyway?

If you don’t know the difference between the two, don’t worry: a lot of people don’t. In fact, most people just assume they mean the same thing. Unfortunately for those folks, they don’t. Here’s the difference:

  • A mobile website is a separate website that is designed specifically for mobile devices (mobile phones, in particular).
  • A responsive website is a single website that has been built using responsive design, meaning that it automatically fits the screen size of the device on which it is viewed.

So, one means two websites for one type of device while the other means one website for all types of devices.

Which Should You Choose?

If you’re not ready to choose between a mobile site or a responsive one, the best thing that you can do is think about how your website fits into your overall marketing strategy. For instance, here are a few things you’ll want to consider:

1. How Important Is SEO To You?

Because responsive websites let you keep your domain (and all of the good SEO-driven organic search traffic that comes along with it), they’re generally thought to be better for SEO. It’s said that mobile websites, on the other hand, can dilute organic traffic (since they involve having two websites instead of one). In practice, however, differences in ranking between the two seem to be pretty minimal.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Although a website that uses responsive design is more likely to hold up better to the ever-increasing variety of screen sizes and dimensions on the market, it’s also a lot more complicated to design. That and the fact that they typically require a complete redesign of the existing website means that they can be quite a bit more expensive. Mobile websites, on the other hand, are easier and less expensive to build.

3. How Much Time Do You Have?

Although responsive websites cost more to get up and running, they’re effectively twice as easy to maintain than mobile websites because they only require maintaining one website (instead of two). That’s probably the biggest trade off with a mobile website: what you don’t pay upfront in design costs you could end up paying after the fact in maintenance time and/or fees—but that’s only if you haven’t taken your website’s size into consideration. Which leads us to what may be the most important thing to consider:

4. How Big Is Your Site?

In general, larger or image-heavy sites are better suited for responsive website design. This is both because larger sites typically have more updates and take more time to maintain, and because if you have a lot of images on your website, you probably want them to display well across platforms. Also, if you have a larger site, you probably have more information to share with your customers, and a responsive site will be better able to display your information in a way that’s likely to draw customers into your sales funnel.

On the other hand, if you have a small site that is rarely updated, a mobile site may be completely adequate for your needs. In fact, for websites 5 pages or smaller, a mobile website is probably the best choice.

Seeing Is Believing

Here are a few samples to give you a better idea of how different a mobile website and a responsive website can look.

Here are two responsive websites (one from a tablet, and one from a phone):

responsive screenshots

And here are two mobile websites:

mobile websites


See the difference? They’re pretty different—but depending on your needs, either may be just what you need.

Ready to go mobile or see if a responsive site is the right choice for your business? Give us a call or fill out our contact form.