Mobile Show-Down: Responsive vs. Separate Mobile Sites

Posted on by

A hot topic in web development lately is deciding how businesses should format their mobile sites. It’s clear that regular websites no longer cut it — they’re too crowded and difficult to navigate on tinier displays, and research shows that people are 5x more likely to abandon a site if it’s not optimized for handheld devices.

So what choices do businesses have? Currently, it boils down to two schools of thought: separate mobile sites vs. responsive sites.


What’s the difference between a separate mobile site and a responsive site?

A separate mobile site stands alone from a “regular” site and highlights the most common information that customers are searching for (e.g., directions, store hours, phone numbers, etc.).

A responsive site is a site that adapts its content to the size of screen that it’s being viewed on. Because the content is fluid, there is no need for a separate domain/redirection for mobile users.

So which option comes out on top? The jury’s still out. Google says that it doesn’t favor any particular URL format as long as it’s accessible to both Googlebot and Googlebot-Mobile; that said, they have claimed that responsive design is their preferred choice.

But what’s easier for businesses? And what do visitors prefer?

Rewind to the US Presidential Election

The 2012 election wasn’t just a political battle between POTUS candidates — it was also a mobile one. Obama’s team decided to go with a responsive site while Romney’s went for a separate mobile set-up. Smashing Magazine did a great article outlining the differences between the two opponents, and here are a couple takeaways:

1) The main problem with Mitt’s separate mobile site was that “only a fraction of the full website’s features were included.” The absence of content left a lot of serious questions for potential supporters, such as “Where does he stand on issues?,” “What can he do for my state?”, etc. Therefore, sometimes it’s beneficial to have access to all of a full site’s content (especially if consumers are doing a lot of research).

2) Obama’s responsive fly-out menu failed on many mobile devices. Romney’s simple navigation avoided a lot of technical complexity, but it required a full page refresh just to jump from section to section (which isn’t very efficient).

3) A typical page on Romney’s separate mobile site was about 687 KB and took 8.75 seconds to load. A typical page on Obama’s responsive site was a whopping 4.2 MB, resulting in a 25-second loading time (to see the massive difference, check out the side by side comparison). Difference in site size and loading times could be a major factor in deciding which approach to take.

Clearly, there are pros and cons to both mobile approaches (especially if presidential marketers have a hard time mastering all the intricacies). At the end of the day, the important part is making sure that visitors can find the information that they’re looking for as quickly and easily as possible. If you’ve published good content and organized your site as best as possible, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Are you an advertiser looking to sell mobile solutions to your local business customers? VendAsta’s white label Sites product offers small and medium size businesses the option between separate mobile sites and responsive sites. It’s the same content with a different layout, so switching between the two is effortless.