The Difference Between Responsive and Mobile-Ready

By Jacqueline Sinex, Wednesday, December 9, 2015
responsive web design

Mobile technology is a hot topic, especially as mobile website traffic grows and begins to surpass reported desktop traffic. This growth in mobile device activity coupled with an emphasis from Google on considering mobile readiness part of search engine ranking has many marketers scrambling to make sure their websites are ready for the best mobile experience.

What Does it Mean to Have a Mobile-Friendly Website?

When a website is mobile-friendly or mobile-ready, this means that, in general, the website works on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. It means that people can visit the website on desktop computers as well as mobile devices and get some kind of information about that business. But it does not specifically relate to the way the website was developed. In fact, websites can be built in many different ways to be deemed “mobile-friendly”.

A Second Mobile Enabled Website

One way a company can address its mobile audience is to build a separate website that is designed specifically to serve mobile devices. In this case, the website technology will detect when a user is visiting from a smartphone or iPad, and immediately show them the mobile website. This website is probably designed differently, and may even have different navigation options or reduced content. In this instance, it is necessary to maintain content on two separate websites.

The Same Website With a Separate Mobile Theme

Another way a web developer can help a website cater to the mobile crowd is to create a second theme for the website, but serve the same content from the same website database or files. When the visitor uses their mobile device and arrives at the website’s URL, they are given a unique design theme that modifies the display of the content to better fit their screen. However, the content is all maintained in one central website and there is no need to maintain a separate website with more pages of content just for the mobile users. This is a common setup in WordPress websites and used to be more of the norm a few years ago. There is still value in this method since you can update or switch the mobile theme without modifying the desktop theme. Some purchased themes for CMS programs come with mobile theme options that you can select from.

The above examples are sometimes also referred to as “reactive” since the online presence is still appropriately reacting to the audience and serving a customized display.

Websites With a Responsive Theme

When a website is truly responsive, there is only one website to maintain, and a theme that is coded to automatically resize to different screen sizes. It is still common for there to be several CSS files (style sheets) and may be different files to operate the theme in proper viewports, but the ultimate concept is based on screen size rather than devices. This provides a great experience to a wide variety of users, from someone with a huge desktop monitor to a smaller laptop screen to a full-sized tablet, a mini-tablet, and smartphones. The goal is to offer content (text and images) in as legible format as possible.

Search engines prefer responsively designed sites over other methods, but your site may still pass the mobile-friendly test without being fully responsive. It is also possible for a site to have a main section of content that is nicely responsive, but some features like a shopping cart or payment integrated page are not. We believe this will continue to improve as other software integrations upgrade.

There is a nifty testing tool for checking your website out on different screen sizes. It is a simulator, so not a perfect representation, but still neat.

SEE ALSO: The Difference Between Online Marketing and Sales

Posted in: Web Design, Web Design Resource, Web Development, Web Site Maintenance, WWW Learning Center

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