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What is the Difference Between a Mobile Website and a Responsive Website Design?

Websites have change dramatically in recent years. New Web design technology and new platforms have caused a significant shift in how we access the Internet. The advent of mobile and tablet browsing mean that people are accessing your website from a range of different devices.


Mobile websites are typically separate website designed to be leaner and faster for mobile devices. However, a new option has been growing in recent years that allows your standard website to adapt to mobile devices and appear very much like a mobile website.

Responsive websites respond to the different sizes of viewing devices by presenting a slightly different website. But under the surface, it’s the same site – just being displayed differently.

This way, your website can appear differently to suit any device from a 3.5-inch smartphone to an 8-inch tablet computer.

Compare this to a standalone mobile website, which presents the same interface for all mobile users. In addition, a standalone mobile website must be separately designed & managed. It can take additional resources and maintenance in the long run.  Note: we cover all of this, along with other mobile items, in great detail in our Mobile Whitepaper.

Responsive vs. Adaptive

There are actually two forms of responsive website which tend to be packaged up under the single term “responsive website”. In fact, many of the so-called responsive websites out there are actually called “adaptive” websites. So, what’s the difference?

A responsive website “responds” to the user’s resolution by scaling everything to the device’s screen size. It will constantly be in proportion with whatever device the visitor is using. An adaptive website, on the other hand, adapts to different screen resolutions by providing different layouts based on predefined size limits. Normally an adaptive website will have three main layouts – the mobile layout, tablet layout and full desktop layout. These designs are switched on and off as the browser’s resolution changes.

So, which option is the best for your business?

Responsive websites and standalone mobile websites offer advantages. Responsive web design needs to be “baked in” to your website’s architecture and layout. It often takes a lot of work and experienced designers to bring a really solid responsive design to live without causing problems.

Standalone mobile websites can offer a lean mobile browsing experience without overhauling your existing website, but you need to build an entirely separate design. In many cases, you will need to manage content and other resources separately and it can involve a lot more work in the long run.

If you can afford it, and want to take full advantage of the latest technology, responsive design is really the way to go. But a standalone mobile site is still a very good idea if you aren’t going to make your main website responsive.

Be sure to check out the Mobile Websites 131 whitepaper to learn more about mobile websites!

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About the Author

Ron has been in the industry for over a decade and is passionate about websites and marketing. He also enjoys dart frog keeping, botany (Orchids), and playing basketball.

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