Responsive Web Design or Mobi Site – which is the better solution for your business?

As a digital marketing trainer and search marketing consultant I am often pulled into debates amongst digital and search marketers around whether companies should create a mobi site for their customers over the ever popular responsive web design. Before I get into the detail, let’s first clarify what the two mean.

Set of touchscreen smartphones image

What is Responsive Web Design (RWD)?

Responsive Design is when a website automatically adjusts to suite the device (i.e. Desktop, Smartphone or Tablet) that the user is using. It will adjust the navigation to provide a more optimal experience for the user based on the type of device they are using when browsing the website. When a visitor goes to your website the server detects that the user is browsing from a mobile device and automatically adjusts the content of the existing website to the size of the particular device in order to avoid having to scroll to see the full page.

What is a Mobi Website?

A Mobi website is a website that has specifically been created for a mobile user (even though it can be accessed from a regular desktop site) where the website has registered a mobile specific domain (mTLD) with .Mobi in it (e.g. Usually, when a visitor goes to your website the server detects that the user is browsing from a mobile device (Smartphone) and redirects them to the Mobi website instead. This website is usually managed separately from the main desktop site and contains its own unique content designed specifically for the mobile user experience.

So which option is best?

Most marketers are convinced that one or the other option is the best route however in most cases I find that their arguments to support their convictions are often unsubstantiated by any research or facts. It is merely an opinion based on personal preference, or because someone told them so.

I am finding more and more marketers leading towards responsive design as an option because it appears to be much easier to maintain one site and they don’t often have a lot of mobile users to justify the cost of maintaining a separate .Mobi site. For those websites showing a large percentage of their users coming from a mobile device, it makes sense to create a uniquely Mobile optimised website.

Before making your choice you should consider a number of factors and the potential implications of each option. Whichever option you choose for your business you need to ensure that you provide the user with the best possible user experience for the greater number of site visitors that you receive ensuring that you keep your bounce rate (people who visit your website and leave immediately) down to a minimum, preferably lower than 40%.

What you should know about Responsive Web Design (RWD)

If you are thinking about Response Web Design, you need to consider all of the facts. Here are some implications of responsive design.

Responsive Design is said to take approximately 7 x longer to load than a Mobi site and is often loaded with disruptions to the site’s core functionality. If you serve advertisements off your website you should be aware that advertisements often break during RWD. Some companies have reported that responsive design is not necessarily compatible with Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) resulting in your website not being able to render properly to the user. While most of these issues can probably be rectified, it does require incredibly skilled and technically competent developers to make sure that it works properly.

What you should consider with Mobi Sites

A user who is searching from a Mobile devices is looking for a different experience to a user who is searching from a Desktop. Google has even created a separate index in which to store content that it finds on Mobi sites so that it can attempt to serve a mobile user with the most relevant content that has been designed for the mobile user.

When Google is unable to find relevant content in the Mobile index it then moves on to the normal index and tries to find the most suited page for the user. It goes without saying then that by having a .Mobi site, optimised for search engines as well as the user experience, you have an opportunity to rank where your competitors don’t. Google’s mobile index is not nearly as cluttered with competitive content as the standard index at this stage.

However having a separate Mobile site is not simply a cut-and-paste from your standard Desktop. It is said that approximately 50% of mobile search queries lead to a conversion. The mobile user is not looking to read through pages of reviews and articles, they simply want a solution to their query – and fast. When applying keyword research (using Google Keyword Suggestion Tool) you will find that the types of search queries that a user types into Google from a mobile device differs quite a bit from that of the desktop searches.

This means that it becomes increasingly important that you develop a separate set of content uniquely targeted to what the user is searching for when using a mobile device, and then only show them that content which will help them convert quickly, with limited clicks, no complicated navigation and in the shortest amount of steps possible. This is not always easily achieved if you are serving the user a fluid website that simply shows them a shrunk view of your bloated website.

Creating a mobile website will take time and will require its own content and its own conversion strategy. From an SEO perspective, a mobile site will need to build up its own domain authority and acquire its own backlinks in order to raise the sites relevance and popularity in the index, whereas a responsive design requires only one site to maintain and only one SEO strategy to improve search rankings. However, your responsive website will have to compete with the thousands of other desktop pages in Google’s Index in order to rank for certain keywords – where the mobi site will probably rank faster as it has less competing sites in the Mobi index.

With the many pro’s and con’s that you need to weigh up in order to make the right decision, I leave you with this final word of advice: If you have a large number of your website visitors currently coming from a Smartphone (you can check this in your Google Analytics data), then it is more likely worth your while to invest in a separate .Mobi Website. If you have only a small percentage of your visitors coming from mobile devices, then maybe just consider the Responsive Web Design route for now.

I will continue to monitor the trend around both options over the coming months, and in particular will focus on the impact on search rankings for each. I will be sure to publish updated opinions and comments on this topic as it evolves.