Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile Website Version: Which One is Right for You?
Since smartphones became one of the dominant devices for surfing the web, marketers have typically had two ways of dealing with websites for phones (well, three if you include a still prevalent strategy — do nothing — but that doesn't count):
- create a mobile version of their website (i.e., m.website.com instead of www.website.com); or
- use responsive web design (RWD) to serve different layouts depending on available screen width.
The thing is, from there the facts become a little dodgy. Depending on which references you consult, mobile versions or RWD can deliver pages that get served faster. Some sources say that mobile versions are God's gift to maintenance, while others say that with RWD, maintenance is your friend. The confusion should be expected — helping companies move into mobile versions or RWD has become a legitimate business, and depending on what a particular agency specializes in, it's likely to say that mobile versions or RWD is always better.
Let me clear this up for you with three points:
- Doing nothing is a dangerous strategy in the long run. Just ask advertisers in the yellow pages.
- You don't have a dog in this fight.
- What you need is cold, hard facts, and that begins with math.
Before you get into mobile version vs. RWD, you should first learn about what mobile visitors want on your website and how they behave. This means getting familiar with the same questions you should be analyzing for desktop and laptop visitors:
- How are mobile visitors behaving? Are the traffic patterns different from visits to desktops and laptops?
- Have you observed what mobile visitors want? What are they trying to do based on the differences in your most accessed pages?
- What can you do to help mobile visitors find what they need?
What all of this means is that as you fire up Google Analytics or Omniture or WebTrends, you already have part of the answer. Review what's different for desktops and laptops vs. tablets, and again vs. mobile phones. (While analyzing, keep tablets and mobile separate — the behaviors can be drastically different.)
Tim Ash is the author of the bestselling book Landing Page Optimization, and CEO of SiteTuners. A computer scientist and cognitive scientist by education (his PhD studies were in Neural Networks and Artificial Intelligence), Tim has developed an expertise in user-centered design, persuasion and understanding online behavior, and landing page testing. In the mid-1990s he became one of the early pioneers in the discipline of website conversion rate optimization. Over the past 15 years, Tim has helped a number of major US and international brands to develop successful web-based initiatives. Companies like Google, Expedia, Kodak, eHarmony, Facebook, American Express, Canon, Nestle, Symantec, Intuit, AutoDesk and many others have benefitted from Tim's deep understanding and innovative perspective.
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