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Is Responsive Web Design Right for Your Brand?

Man using smartphoneSomeone asked me the other day whether they should build a standalone mobile site for their brand or whether they ought to use responsive development (i.e., a site that responds and works across a range of devices, including desktop, tablet, and mobile).

There’s no one perfect answer. I usually recommend going with a responsive design (Google does too), but they’re not perfect for every situation.

The pros are generally straightforward:

  • Responsive sites generally rank better for SEO. Responsive designs usually have more content and more pages, which Google tends to like. And they’re easier to update since they’re not managed separately, which increases the likelihood you will update the content. Google likes that, too.
  • Responsive sites generally cost less in the longer term. Every time you update content on your main site, you also need to update it on the standalone site (unless of course, it was something no mobile user would ever care about). Maintaining two separate sets of content: Ugh. It’s inefficient, time-consuming, costly, and not terribly SEO-friendly. Again, ugh. That said, standalone sites can often be had relatively cheaply, so think about how long your site will live before deciding (FYI… it’s almost always longer than you think/want).
  • Responsive sites generally work across devices more readily. This one’s not a lock, but many development shops handle different devices/screen sizes more effectively with responsive designs than on standalone sites (the very nature of responsive requires it). Again, this one’s a little more sketchy, so make sure you know how your web development team, whether in-house or outsourced, handles varying devices and screen sizes for both options.

So, how can you decide? Here’s what I consider:

  • How often do you update your content? Maintaining content on two separate sites sucks (sorry, it’s a technical term). The more often you update your content, the better responsive looks.
  • Do you have a specific goal for mobile users that’s different from your regular website? Few companies offer goals targeted only at mobile users, but give it some thought. If you’re one of those companies, a standalone site could be an acceptable option.
  • How long do you plan to keep your current site? If you’re planning to redesign or relaunch in 6-12 months, go ahead and put up a quick standalone site for now. But if expect your site to stick around for a while, responsive probably makes more sense.
  • Finally, compare prices. While responsive sites can be a fair bit more upfront, the difference is often manageable enough to make them a good choice.

For me, the evidence is pretty clear. Responsive is usually the right choice. In fact, I’d recommend you assume you’re going to use responsive design, then only choose standalone when its benefits far outweigh the benefits of a responsive site for you and for your customers.

And, if you’re interested in learning more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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