You really have three choices when it comes to an approach for your website's mobile version. From a Google perspective, neither is necessarily any better than the others just from the standpoint of gaining their favor. However, each does have both its advantages and disadvantages. I'm going to walk through these three choices, and then tell you which approach I generally recommend and explain why.
Responsive Website Design
Perhaps the most common approach, a responsive website design is one which automatically adjusts the size and position of different components of your website based on the visitor's device. Some of the things that a responsive website may do include changing the font size, displaying smaller pictures and videos, spacing links further apart so they are easier to tap, and re-ordering the content so it fits well onto the screen and flows well as you can then scroll down to see the same content as if you were on a regular desktop PC, but it's been re-formatted so you can now see it easily on your smartphone or table.
One advantage of a responsive design is that you have a built-in consistent look and feel to your website, regardless of how your visitor choose to visit it. This feeling of familiarity and comfort is a factor in website conversion. Additionally, since you only have to maintain one website, your overall cost will probably be lower than other options.
The downside to a responsive design is that you may be showing visitors more than they needed. For example, if you consider the scenarios in which a person is likely to visit your website and think through what they really want to know about you if they are using their phone to look you up, do they really want to read all of your articles and detailed explanations? Maybe, maybe not. Plus, all of that content has to load on their device.
Dynamic Page Serving
This approach to a mobile website will redirect mobile users to a different URL if they are on a mobile device. The methods for making this determination vary, but the most common result that you may recognize is visitors being sent to a “m.” version of the website. In this scenario, you essentially built a duplicate version of your website, including some pages while leaving others out, and tailoring the content of those pages to better suit mobile viewers.
The two main advantages of this approach are that you don't have to make much modification to your existing website, and achieving a highly-optimized mobile viewing experience with streamlined or summarized content and less options for the viewer, so they are more strongly directed to a particular outcome, ex. calling you, as opposed to other things they might do on the desktop version of your website such as read PDF's or special reports you may have.
The disadvantages include having to now main two different websites, and the attempt to tailor content for mobile viewers may leave your existing customers in a flux since they are used to looking for certain things in certain places, but now you've gone and moved things around on them which can be frustrating for your existing customers. Additionally, since you have two websites, you need some technology to decide which version you're going to serve up to your user, and that technology may or may not work the way that you really want it to – a situation which is becoming more problematic as newer smartphones emerge on the market with extremely high-resolution displays. You also carry additional cost associated with maintaining more web pages.
Different Mobile URL
In this scenario, mobile visitors are sent to a completely different URL where your mobile website is housed.
The advantages are essential the same as dynamic page serving, in that you can deliver a highly mobile-optimized experience for your user with summarized content and simple navigation. Sometimes the term “web app” is used to describe this type of website, in that it functions almost more like an app on your smart phone rather than looking like a web page. In some cases it is cheaper to launch a new “web app” than to convert your website to a mobile responsive design, so some business owners may see it as a short-term cost avoidance so they don't have to redesign their whole website.
The reality is that any cost-savings is very short-lived, because you're going to be paying additional hosting and maintenance costs, plus you have all the same disadvantages as dynamic page serving.
SummaryYou have three primary choices for how to approach the mobile website for your business, and I've done all three. First you have the responsive design, which maintains a common look and feel regardless of how someone access your website. This is what I do the most of. Second, you have dynamic page serving. I've hand-coded custom HTML websites in this format for some clients. Finally, you have what I call the “web app” which is essentially a completely separate website. I've done these as well. Overall, I steer most small businesses toward a responsive design because:
1. It maintains a consistent look and feel for your website; 2. Lowest overall cost; 3. Most future-proof as device resolutions change; 4. Less headaches with having to deal with multiple websites. So there you have it – my general recommendation for most small business owners is a responsive website design. That said, there may be cases where one of the other options is a better choice for your particular situation, so feel free to contact me on my website right here and we can talk through which option might be best for you.
We'll continue the discussion about mobile websites in the next article.