By Jeff Kline


Should You Build A Mobile Site, Responsive Design, Or App?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

After reading last week’s post, you understand why a mobile-friendly site is important. But figuring out how to optimize your site can be confusing.

Do we make changes to our current website? Build a brand new website? Create an app?

Before you get caught up in the technical aspects, remember to focus on what really matters:

Your visitor’s experience.

Bowling Green Area Chamber mobile viewWhen a smartphone user visits your website, does she have to zoom waaay in to find the navigation menu? Or is it right smack in front of her, displayed as big, easy-to-click buttons. (Bowling Green Area Chamber’s mobile-view menu is perfect.)

When a tablet user visits your site, is it easy for him to log in to the member directory and update his profile? Or does he encounter errors and page time-outs?

The right mobile solution for your website depends on the needs of your audience.

With that in mind, the first decision you’ll need to make is whether to build a separate mobile version of your site or update your website to a responsive design. After you’ve solved the website problem, you can start to think about whether a mobile app would be of any value to your audience.


Mobile Site vs. Responsive Design

Mobile Site

A mobile site is basically a scaled-down version of your main website, often with less information provided. A mobile site works by redirecting smartphone and tablet users to the mobile version of your site, built on a separate domain.

childfund mobile sitePros:

  • Ability to serve up information in a customized format that suits the mobile user. For example, on a mobile site built for smartphones, you can place your phone number, address and hours of operation at the very top, so on-the-go users can get in touch quickly. ChildFund International uses its mobile site to highlight its texting fundraiser campaign.


  • Bad for SEO. Spreading your content across two domains dilutes the SEO “juice” from both sites, rather than allowing your main website to get all of the credit. It also creates duplicate content.
  • Extra workload. Two separate sites means you have to manage the content separately, too.
  • Risk for error. You have to set up redirects to your mobile site, which increases your risk for faulty redirects. Errors create a bad user experience, and Google might penalize your site.

Responsive Design

Google has stated that responsive design is the best practice for mobile optimization. And when the King Of Search talks, we listen.

A website with a responsive design can adjust to fit any screen size, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. The website elements simply shrink or expand and rearrange themselves to fit on a device.

If you choose to go with a responsive design, you don’t necessarily have to redesign your website. Instead, responsive functionality can be applied to your current web design.

South Central Kentucky recently updated to a responsive website design.

south central kentucky responsive website design


  • Good for SEO. You only have one website, so it gets all of the traffic and SEO credit.
  • Access to all content. Another benefit of having just one site—the information people can access on their desktop computers can also be accessed on mobile devices!
  • Long-term compatibility. A responsive design will always be compatible with the latest smartphone and tablet models, because the content simply adjusts to fit the size. Your visitors are always guaranteed a great user experience!
  • Save time by not having to update a mobile site separately.


  • Setup costs are usually higher than a mobile site’s.


When you weigh the pros and cons, responsive design really comes out on top. Not only is it much better for SEO, but it provides visitors with a better user experience. As more and more websites become responsive, people have come to expect it. So if they land on your website and can’t access the same website they access on their desktop computers, they are going to become frustrated.

How many times have you landed on a mobile website, only to become frustrated with the limited information and click “Go to desktop version” to get to the information you really wanted?

In my opinion, a responsive design is a much better mobile solution.


Mobile App

greater chamber app charlotteAfter you’ve implemented your mobile site or responsive design, you can begin to think about a mobile app.

A mobile app is one of those bright, shiny objects that seems very cool and innovative. But you have to ask yourself, is it necessary? Building an app is a HUGE investment and should only be pursued if it will solve a problem or enhance your visitors’ experience. Poll your website visitors and interview your members to determine if an app would be beneficial.

The Greater Chamber app, being utilized by Charlotte Chamber, allows members to browse and redeem coupons.

In case you missed the “There’s an app for that” craze, a mobile app is software designed to run on a smartphone or tablet. There are many different kinds of apps—games, productivity tools, banking, e-commerce, GPS, and so on.

ArtClixConsider building an app if:

  • Your website has a membership login feature and it is difficult for members to log in and manage their accounts from a mobile device.
  • If your website includes a big e-commerce component. (If you are a retailer, for example.)
  • Visitors need to be able to use smartphone/tablet features to interact with your organization. (For example, the High Museum of Art’s ArtClix app utilizes the smartphone camera. When museum visitors use the app to photograph an individual work of art, they’ll receive information about that individual piece, comments from other visitors, and audio clips from the artist.


As you begin to think about how you might mobile-optimize your own website, remember to focus on what really matters—your visitors.

Do your visitors want easy mobile access to every corner of your website? Go with responsive design. Not only is it extremely user-friendly, it is rapidly becoming the standard.

If for some reason a responsive design is not a viable option—whether for budgetary reasons or an absolute need for a customized mobile experience—a mobile website is better than nothing.

Only once your website is mobile-friendly should you go back to your visitors and determine whether or not they need an app to complete their mobile experience.

Create a great experience for your mobile visitors, and they’ll keep coming back for more!


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