Written by Peter Bui Follow on
Published: 06 July 2015

mobile vs responsive

In episode 89 of the podcast, Martina and I briefly talked about the idea of a stand alone m. mobile site versus a responsive design website. It came about from an article that we were reading and discussing from Web Designer Depot titled, Responsive Design is Failing Mobile UX.

We discussed the pros and cons and also the importance of having a mobile friendly website, but which one is actually better and what should you choose for your website?

The Difference

For those of you that don't know exactly what the difference is, here is a good explanation and definition.

Responsive Design Website

A responsive design website is a website that will change its width and layout according to the screen size and orientation of the device that you are viewing it on. It is usually made up of one website and one code base. If you were to read this website for example on your mobile smart phone in portrait mode, and then rotate it into landscape mode, the design of the website will change and adapt to how you are viewing the content.

Standalone Mobile or m.site

A mobile m. site can load from a sub domain such as m.joomlabe.at and is instead a dedicated version of the website in a smaller and lighter form and there are good reasons for using either. The mobile website is usually a different set of code base as well and needs to be maintained separately.

The Importance

There are a few important factors which really push you towards implementing a mobile friendly website. These include:

Search Engine Optimisation

Since April 2015, Google now factors in the mobile friendliness or the mobile usability of your website as a determining factor on how well your website may rank in Google search results.

You can read this great article from Moz about 9 things you need to know about Google's Mobile Friendly update.


Depending what is on your website, you may need to show and display a unique experience for the user in order for them to enjoy and use your site properly on a different device such as a mobile. Pinching, zooming, rotating, slow loading, waiting and continuously scrolling on your website on a mobile device isn't the best experience for a user. You will lose readers and potential customers if your mobile experience is not working.

Speed Optimisation

Not all Internet connections are super fast. In fact, a mobile connection can instantly go from super fast to super slow as soon as you walk into a building or rural areas. Making sure that you website is mobile friendly and optimised for speed over a mobile internet connection is so important for the end user.

Having a good mobile friendly website will help your website visitors enjoy and digest your content better and hopefully more often too.

Theory of Human Mobile Motivation

human mobile needs

In a fantastic presentation by Kristofer Layon at SxSW in 2012, he talks about the idea of the Theory of Human Mobile Motivations. Taking on from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, Kristofer adapts it and breaks it down to the needs of a human when consuming content on a mobile and how a designer and developer should be presenting that content to the user on a mobile device.

Responsive Websites


In this article from Search Engine Watch, the author Jay Taylor, states that responsive is the best because of

  • Recommended by Google
  • One site for many devices
  • Easier to manage

All of which make responsive websites very appealing for implementation. He doesn't mention any cons to the decision though and I think there are many that need to also be taken into consideration.


The disadvantages of a responsive site include:

  • Unoptimised for mobile and slow loading times
  • Can cost more to implement depending on size of site and amount of content
  • Some older devices do not support modern responsive web techniques

Mobile Website m.site


  • Optimised for the mobile user
  • Improved usability
  • Can be quick to implement


  • Multiple domains names
  • Cross platform sharing of content is tricky

This article from Jen Looper titled Responsive Web design vs 'm.site' on Sitepoint makes some good points as to why people are not using m.sites any more and fully embracing mobile first responsive web design with progressive enhancement.


Taking it Further

An article from Design Modo titled, Responsive Design vs Mobile website vs Native App takes the idea of mobile experience a step further and talks about designing and building a full native mobile experience via a smart phone app as well.

We can see this in good examples such as Expedia or even Air BnB where the rich native app experience helps improve the usability of the users experience when searching for accommodation.

So What is Right for You?

After reading all this you would be wondering, what is the right and best choice when providing your end user with the best mobile experience. This all comes down to your audience and budget.

Each solution will cost different dollar amounts, with a native mobile app most likely costing the most. A stand alone mobile site costing a little less but more than a responsive website as it has its own code base to look after and maintain.

So you will need to ask yourself, how does the my audience interact with my website and its content. Are they using mobile devices at all or is the demographic or industry or niche just not the type of content one would consume on mobile.

Lastly, is that demographic that you're currently targetting going to change, and will there be trends on how they view your website and the content? Is mobile usage an increasing trend in your niche or industry? If so, then that could be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of.

Balancing out your audience, trends and costs will help you decided exactly what is best for you.

Share Your Thoughts

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and opinions on the topic. We'd always love to hear what others thing in regards to what is a very important topic.


Peter Bui

Peter Bui

An all round web specialist with years of experience in web design, development and open source solutions at PB Web Development

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