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Responsive Design – There Can Be Only One


March 4, 2014

If your marketing data definitively shows that your customers are NOT mobile users, and they are NOT likely to become mobile users, then you don’t need a mobile site.  Perhaps they live in areas that are so remote (in caves or under rocks) that cell signals just don’t reach them. But for everyone else, you need a “mobile site”.  If there’s some debate or resistance to the investment it would take to produce such a site, please see my previous article  where I’ll attempt to convert you. Assuming you’re a believer, read on.

There are basically two ways to approach mobile sites. The First is to detect the browser and redirect mobile users to a site specifically designed for their device. This gives the most control over the display and can cut costs in rare instances when you are certain that your audience is exclusively using a few different  devices. This it is not my recommended approach…

The second way (far superior IMHO), is to build a responsive website: a.k.a  a site that detects the browser and adjusts the display to best suit the user’s device. Critics may say that this method requires much more testing to get right and that it is difficult to get the display perfect in every scenario which, in turn, can increase development time and cost. And they would be right, however, I maintain that the benefits far outweigh the risks.


Google and other search engines give more relevance to sites that are responsive because their content does not dilute (or get diluted) by the content of a parent website. While there are ways around this with proper coding, responsive is the more elegant solution. Back in June of 2013, Google announced that it was changing the way it ranks smartphone search results. This in effect gives an advantage to responsive sites. Again, careful coding and architecture can alleviate this, but the message is clear that Google prefers responsive design. In fact, they flat out state this on their Smartphone-Optimized developer’s page.

There’s also a benefit in link building. Because there is just one single site, a link to your mobile site and a link to your main site are the same. You keep the link equity you already have and gain a competitive advantage over mobile versions of standard websites that must duplicate the same link.

Finally, responsive sites are more efficient when managing an SEM campaigns because you will not be paying twice for the same keywords. Only one site for both PC and Mobile means only managing one campaign. This “Only One Site” concept becomes the theme from here on out.


Rest assured that any added expense you may encounter when initially developing a responsive site will be quickly recovered when it comes to maintaining it.  Maintaining only one site is far better that having to maintain a traditional site and multiple mobile versions of it. Yes, there are CMS solutions that can publish to multiple sites and help manage this, but having only one site, again, is far more elegant.


I see a huge advantage when it comes to user experience. It was once the trend to create mobile sites that were a paired down “more optimized” version of their parent sites, expecting that mobile users were on the go wanted this. It’s a myth. What’s true is that the mobile user often has different priorities than the PC user. However, data consumption and time spent over mobile usage (see my last article) indicates that if anything, mobile users are more engaged and apt to consume and share your content. The lesson is to account for this in your design solution of a full, robust website. Don’t give the mobile user less. “Only One Site” leverages the trend of mobile consumption rather than the false myth on mobile assumption.

Philosophically speaking, there is no mobile. It is all one internet viewed through the device of your choosing. The choices are changing faster than we could possibly design specialized sites for. Thus, continuing to do so is pointless. Who knows what device will trend a year or two from now? Responsive design has the strategic advantage of flexibility and so it doesn’t much matter.  With a responsive site, we are able to tweak and optimize for what comes next, rather than having to build an entirely new version to accommodate the next trend. I say if you are going to go mobile, do it with gusto – Just do it responsively. Don’t make me take your keys away people.