Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile Website Version: Which One is Right for You?
Analyzing the Results
A mobile website wins if you get the following results
- the top pages are wildly different; and/or
- the tasks you need to emphasize require more customization.
Mobile versions will tend to work better if you need more customization. Since it's essentially a separate website that will be redirected to once a mobile device is detected, you can tailor the experience more and decide which pages don't need counterparts within the site. The m. or mobile. version can have significantly fewer pages, show more appropriate navigation elements and menus, and tie into the user tasks that match up well with visitor needs.
That means if the top pages vary wildly based upon your traffic monitoring tool, a mobile version of your site may be the better choice. Likewise, if you need to focus on different tasks, a mobile version will give you more granular control. See Facebook, ESPN or AOL.
RWD wins if this is what you find:
- the top pages and assumed visitor tasks are largely the same; and/or
- branding consistency across devices is of utmost importance.
RWD is a great practice for branding consistency, but there are pitfalls to be aware of. First, if the code is poorly written, the page will load all the elements (e.g., all three layouts), and mobile devices in particular will suffer as the pages are served since they're significantly less powerful than desktops and laptops. Second, "retrofitting" all pages to RWD can be cumbersome and costly, especially if you have hundreds to thousands of pages not designed with RWD in mind.
Still, getting it right can be a huge win for websites where the use cases are largely the same between desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Some of the world's largest brands, and some of the most focused ones, use RWD to great effect. See Microsoft, GE or Oxford Dictionaries.
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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