Mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, are being used more than ever, not just when consumers are on the go. According to a Google/Ipsos study, in the United States, the top five places where mobile phone users access the Internet are at home (96%), on the go (83%), in a store (76%), in a restaurant (70%) and at work (69%). For the majority of users, they have the option to use a laptop, tablet or desktop computer at home but still reach for the smartphone for shopping, browsing, banking, job searching, sharing and more.
Since a large portion of your audience is likely visiting your website via a smartphone, you should ensure their interaction is smooth and unburdened. There are two approaches to cross the divide on the best website design for mobile users: responsive design and a mobile website.
What is a mobile website?
In theory, a mobile website is just like any other website that you visit in its creation and function, and they can be accessed across the varying types of mobile devices. However, a mobile website is optimized for mobile devices to improve usability by streamlining registration and purchasing processes and simplifying content access. A mobile site uses a different URL and HTML than your full site, and mobile users are redirected to the mobile site, often automatically.
We design mobile websites with the user in mind. Browsing the Internet via a mobile device can be quite frustrating, so it’s important to provide the information your consumers want without sacrificing the user experience. Knowing how your users access your site can help you determine the design features. We find that many of our clients want a slimmed-down version of their website to serve as a mobile site. Limiting access or information might help you visitors find what they’re looking for more easily, but it can also be the cause of some frustration.
For example, a lot of your consumers are accessing the Internet on their smartphones at home. They are making an active decision to use a handheld device over a desktop or laptop computer, so a mobile website design needs to be able to match the PC/Mac experience. Users who are on the go may be willing to sacrifice information for faster scrolling and data at a glance, but users who are surfing at home probably aren’t willing to use a whittled-down version of your full site.
A mobile-friendly layout is imperative so users can find information quickly without needing to scroll or zoom in. This may require ditching some images or featuring partial content with the option to continue reading more. The full site’s information is still available, it’s just rearranged and presented in a simplified way. Navigation menus are a hot-button issue as it can be difficult to choose an option from a lengthy menu when doing so on a mobile.
What is responsive design?
A website that utilizes responsive design retains the content, images and basic structure of the site but allows those elements to be rearranged depending on the device being used. A desktop monitor would allow for the full site in its original layout to be displayed because it offers the most room when being viewed in full-screen mode. Let’s say the site features a banner, a block of content, an image, a graphic and two adverts arranged on screen. When viewing that same site on a smaller device, such as a tablet, the layout would shift slightly to adapt to the smaller screen. Some responsive designs keep all of the elements and just make them smaller so that you get the same experience. Other responsive designs might push the advertisements further down the page or drop the graphic in favor of the image.
Responsive design is often favored over creating a separate mobile website because it allows for more concise brand recognition. It also allows you to have a little more freedom in determining site layout and design. Another advantage is that responsive design can work on any device and browser, so you aren’t creating a different site for each operating system.
We recommend responsive design to our clients because it ranks well with consumers and Google. Yes, even Google prefers a responsive design because those sites are easier for Google’s algorithms to index and assess the sites (rather than having to do the work twice, once on your full site and then again on your mobile site).
Which design is right for my business?
Choosing mobile website or responsive design can be a difficult decision. It’s not one that should be made lightly because it will have a huge impact on your users. At Online Potential, we recommend to monitor your website through analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Moz Integration so you can determine who is using your site, how they are accessing it, and what time of day they are browsing. This kind of collected data can help us determine which site design will meet not only the needs of your company but the needs of your consumers as well.