According to global market share data, mobile browsing now surpasses desktop browsing as the major form of “being online.” In fact, when including tablets under the mobile device category, this tips the scale to about 55% mobile (versus 45% desktop) browsing for all web traffic. What does this mind-boggling statistic have to do with you? Well, if you have a website or plan to create one, you’ll need to make sure that it’s a mobile-responsive website.
Notice here, we didn’t say a mobile-friendly website. Mobile-friendly design and mobile-responsive design are two very different things. But what exactly is mobile-friendly design and what is responsive design? To understand the difference, let’s dive into:
- Mobile-friendly vs mobile-responsive: Which one do you want?
- What does mobile-responsive entail?
- Who most needs a mobile-responsive website?
- How to build a mobile-responsive website
Mobile-friendly vs mobile-responsive: Which one do you want?
You can probably indicate from the table of contents above that mobile-responsive is going to be the winner here. To make our case, let’s define each one.
- Mobile-friendly – Websites that are mobile-friendly are typically pages that are shrunken-down versions of what you would see on the desktop screen. While this allows mobile users to view, browse, and use the site, it doesn’t necessarily make it easy. Login and password bars become hard to click, buttons can easily be “fat-fingered,” and user experience usually gets put on the back burner.
- Mobile-responsive – Websites that are mobile-responsive are pages that have been reformatted to reproduce what you experience on the desktop. This means that instead of shrinking everything down, clickable items are enlarged, and pictures are resized and reformatted. This also safeguards the user experience when turning the mobile device from a vertical view to a horizontal view.
Boiling this down further: Mobile-friendly is “seeing” the same information from desktop to mobile. Mobile-responsive is “experiencing” the same information from desktop to mobile.
Why would anybody have a mobile-friendly website?
Before we completely dismiss mobile-friendly websites, it’s a fair question to ask: Why would companies (or individuals) opt for mobile-friendly websites?
Ironically, some companies use them to deter mobile users from browsing on their phones. If the company built an app, for example, they would rather funnel them to the system they created specifically for phones (and tablets). This could be for functionality or security reasons. Often, you have greater control of both when you have a well-designed application.
The other reason companies and individuals opt for mobile-friendly pages is because the two terms are often used interchangeably, and first-time website builders often don’t know the difference.
In short, unless you plan on building a mobile app as a part of your long-term business plan, it’s best to stick with a mobile-responsive design.
What does mobile-responsive entail?
Above, the benefits of mobile responsiveness were briefly touched on. However, here are the in-depth benefits of having a mobile-responsive website as opposed to a mobile-friendly one.
One of the most noticeable differences between mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive websites comes from the question: Do you have to zoom in to read the homepage? Because a mobile-friendly website allows you the full functionality of a website but doesn’t adjust to the screen size, you might be staring at paragraphs that look like ants clumped together in neat formation. To read it, you have to zoom in on your device and then, even worse, scroll left and right to see the edges of the words. With mobile-responsive designs, this text will be enlarged and reformatted to fit on the smaller screen.
Similar to text, images often need to be touched up to be viewed correctly on the mobile device. With a mobile-responsive website designer, you can quickly switch between desktop and mobile views to see what each picture will look like. This offers you the freedom to zoom in or zoom out as needed.
Buttons are notorious for being frustrating on mobile devices. That’s why, with a mobile-responsive website, buttons are enlarged to accommodate the smaller screen, and they have enough space between them to be distinguishable.
Switching between vertical and horizontal views
With mobile-friendly websites swapping between views can mean losing text, images, or functionality. Mobile-responsive sites keep this in mind and prepare for both.
Faster load times
Having a mobile-responsive website goes beyond just adjusting sizes. It actually reformats the backend to load quicker than mobile-friendly sites. The phone is probably about one-tenth of the size of a laptop, maybe even one-twentieth of a desktop computer. This means the hardware inside is also a fraction of computers. Mobile-responsive websites take this into account and make it easier to load pages. Fast loading time comes with two further benefits:
- Lower bounce rates – When smartphone, tablet, or other mobile users are forced to wait ten seconds for a page to load, they’re quick to exit out of the tab (a bounce from your website) and try a different website. In fact, ten seconds is pushing it (try 3 or 4 seconds). With faster load times, you get less of that, which means lower bounce rates.
- Higher conversion rates – Guiding a customer “down the sales funnel” takes a few different steps. Typically you have to create awareness about your product or service, then generate interest, demand, and finally, action. This means you need a smooth transition between each step — if this is made clunky by poor mobile web design, you’ll lose out on conversions. However, if your website is optimized for mobile, you may see higher conversion rates because the user experience is more favorable.
If you’re still wondering “why use responsive design for websites?”, we’ll explain who benefits from this type of optimization.
Who most needs a mobile-responsive website?
Everybody should use a mobile-responsive website.
Realistically speaking though, the major factor is your audience. Let’s take a restaurant, for example. People often find their dining options by searching something broad, like “food near me” or something specific, like “Italian food in Austin” In addition, a large majority of these searches will happen on a mobile phone. Restaurants need to meet their audience here and create a mobile-responsive platform that allows them to click through the menu, hours of operation, delivery options, and more.
Restaurants aren’t the only industry that needs mobile-responsive websites. Consider mobile responsiveness a must if your business model involves:
- Gaining a readership through a blog
- Showing off images or pictures of traveling, food, hair transformations, or more
- Using an ecommerce platform to sell products or services
- Scheduling software like delivery apps or calendar bookings