Responsive Web Site Vs Mobile Specific Website

In the UK users accessing websites on their smart phones is sky rocketing. The majority of monthly plans come with free 3G minutes and there are thousands of hotspots to pick up a decent wifi connection.

The statistics provided by Google’s new Mobile Planet tool are startling (based on 2012):

  • Over 50% of the population in the UK own a smart phone (74% increase on 2011).
  • Over 31% of smartphone owners have made an online purchase on their phones.
  • 60% of smart phone owners will go online every day on their smart phones.

Expect these figures to increase, as the growth in smart phone usage from 2011 to 2012 has been huge.  Just look at these figures from Google Analytics comparing mobile usage in April 2013 to the same period as last year.

Increase in mobile visitors - Google Analytics

You can see from the above 21% of users accessed the site on a mobile device in 2012 but this seen a rise of 119% to 46% in 2013.

In a nutshell if you have a website in the UK and your serious about online business you need to make sure that you have a website that can be comfortable to be viewed on a mobile device. By this I mean, reduce the amount of horizontal scrolling, pinching and making sure buttons are big enough for fingers.

However, you still want your users using a desktop computer to see the normal website and only users accessing on a mobile device to see your mobile version of the site. So how do you implement a mobile friendly strategy whilst also retaining ability to rank in the search engines?

You can either go with two version of the same website ( for desktop and ( for mobile or you can have a website with a responsive design which changes layout depending on what device the website is accessed on.  From an SEO perspective, in my opinion responsive design is the way forward when dealing with a mobile website.

The difference between the two,  is that websites with a responsive design will show the same content but lay it out in a way that is practical to be displayed on a mobile device (same website, different layout dependant on device) whilst a mobile specific website (e.g. would be a separate website, often with different content to the original desktop version.

SEO Advantages of Mobile Responsive Website

There are many advantages to responsive mobile design both from a user experience and also from an SEO perspective, here I will just concentrate on the advantages from an SEO viewpoint:

  • Duplicate content – The bane of an SEO’s life, duplicate content issues are near the top of agenda on the majority of web builds from an SEO perspective. If you have separate websites for mobile users then this may have the similar content (product descriptions etc…). You will two addresses with the same/similar content and now have a duplicate content problem. Responsive websites get around this problem as the URL stays the same but the layout changes dependant on the device the user is using.
  • Google recommends that the ideal configuration is the address (URL) and content do not change from desktop to mobile but just the layout. Read more about Google’s take on mobile optimised websites.
  • We all know how important backlinks are to your website. By having one address for all content of that page then you will be keeping all ‘link juice’ to one single URL rather than spreading it between two URLs. The result of this is a page with more inbound links, which makes the page rank higher in the search results.
  • Having a responsive design will ensure that you minimise short clicks from non-desktop users. By ‘short clicks’ what I mean, are users that may click onto your site but they don’t stay long and return to the search results to find another site. Now, this may happen if your mobile specific has different content to your desktop site or if you serve a desktop site to a mobile user. They may decide to return to the search results to find something more suitable.  The problem is that these ‘short clicks’ are giving an indication to Google that your site may not the best choice for that search term.

Of course, while I think mobile responsive web design is usually the best option, there are reasons why responsive design may not be the best option:

  • Some websites have a huge amount of content and there just isn’t a practical way to rearrange all the content, therefore some ‘busy’ sites may have a dedicated mobile version of the site, which has less content. This seems to be the case with the majority of the UK’s major online retailers (more at this at bottom of article).
  • There is the issue of time, cost and expertise. For some smaller firm’s this maybe too much time to set this up properly.  Alternatively for big companies it maybe more simple to maintain two separate sites rather than try to figure out how to get responsive web design working properly.

QA of Responsive Design

Cross Browser testing used to be easy, simply load up Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome and make sure your website was displaying properly in all 3 and you was done. But nowadays, you need to test your website on a variety of browsers and devices.

Here are some tools to help you with this process:

  • UserTesting – Not your typical cross browser testing tool but I have used this to incredible success when testing mobile responsive design. The great thing is that a fresh set of eyes are looking at it and you can specify the handset or the device of the user.  Cheap and quick to use, when I specified a user with a Samsung device I had my testing  video back in just 2 hours!
  • Litmus – One of the original cross browser testing tools, now seems to be more geared to testing emails in various email clients (Gmail, Hotmail etc….).
  • Browser Stack – This seems to be the complete option for testing your mobile responsive design with the majority of desktop and mobile browsers included.

UK Retailers using responsive web design? 

Many of the large e-commerce sites (ASOS, House of Fraser, Debenhams etc…)  have a separate site for mobile use (e.g. and do not engage responsive design.

Econsultancy show which of the top 20 UK retailers actually use responsive web design and I have to say I am surprised by the results with the majority of the big retailers in the UK preferring to go with a separate mobile site and not a mobile responsive design.  Maybe it is easier for these big companies to maintain two separate sites (desktop and mobile version) rather than manage responsive design.


  1. Keith Parris says:

    I use both Litmus and Browserstack frequently, they are both good tools with some limitations. But they are responsive to your inquiries or program issues and are constantly striving to improve their products.

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