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What’s the Difference between a Mobile Website and a Responsive Website?

Jan 12th, 2017

Being one of the main algorithms Google now uses, many people know the importance of having a mobile-friendly website. So when they hear the term ‘responsive website’ they think it means the same thing and use the two terms interchangeably. But in fact, these are two very different things and all website owners should become familiar with both ideas.
A mobile-friendly website is really the bare minimum in terms of mobility. When those bare minimum standards are met, an exact replica of the website will appear when it’s viewed on any device such as a smartphone or a tablet, or even a desktop computer. Nothing will change with the exception that text and image size may change slightly on mobile devices so they can be better viewed on a smaller screen. Those sizes however, will not change depending on whether it’s a phone or tablet that’s being used.

Having a mobile-friendly website doesn’t change anything about the actual site, or the user’s experience on that site. They will be able to see everything as if they were looking at it on a desktop computer, it will just be optimized for their mobile device.

A responsive website on the other hand, does just what its name implies – it responds to the device it’s being used on and will change accordingly. Unlike mobile-friendly websites, usability will change as needed on responsive websites. This means that when a website is responsive it will look and function differently depending on what’s being used to view it.

When viewed on a desktop computer, the full website will be displayed with all functions, images and text visible. When the website is viewed on a tablet or smartphone, the layout and navigation of the website will change. Some menus may be displayed at the top or bottom of the website, while other features may not show at all.
After understanding the differences between a mobile site and a responsive site, website owners then need to understand which type they need. In short, all websites should be mobile-friendly. Google has placed such a huge importance on this that those that aren’t mobile-friendly may not even rank at all; that’s how vital Google considers mobile-friendly websites. And those who have a simple, static website may find that having a mobile-friendly website is all they really need.

Switching to a responsive website is expensive and really only necessary for websites that are very big and include a lot of navigation. A good way to know if it’s necessary to switch to a responsive website is to analyze the bounce rate. The bounce rate of a website is how many people land on the site, spend a very short amount of time on it, and then leave.
A high bounce rate typically means that users aren’t getting the information they need from a site, or the user is having difficulty using the site. Both of these factors indicate that switching to a responsive website will lower the bounce rate and be better appreciated by visitors.

While many may think the terms mobile-friendly website and responsive website mean the same thing, they are very different. In order to determine which type of website is needed, website owners need to understand the differences between the two and know how to analyze their site metrics.