March 12th, 2015

Why a Mobile Optimized Site Is Better than Responsive Web

When a brand goes mobile or updates their mobile presence today, the default approach is usually Responsive Web Design (RWD). However, there is often a better approach to deliver a great user experience for mobile devices. The dangers of using the wrong approach is wasted time/money, customers loss, lower conversation rates for transactional services and brand degradation. In this blog I argue for when and why Mobile Optimized Site* is a better alternative to Responsive Web.

* Optimized Sites are specifically designed for a certain segment of devices. For example Mobile Optimized Sites are web sites specifically designed for mobile users on a smartphone, which means that text, images, videos, etc. are scaled accordingly for the screen, bandwidth and touch screens. Sometimes also referred to as Adaptive Web Design (AWD).

So why should you chose the mobile optimized approach?

Customer First
Mobile First means Customer First on mobile devices. A customer-centric approach should be based on what the customer wants and needs and not a technology or approach. Ask yourself if a scaled down version of your desktop site on mobile (or a scaled up version of your mobile first site on the desktop) is really what will serve customers best? Also consider potential differences between mobile and desktop in terms of e.g. forms for customer data input.

Mobile Devices Are Taking Over
The majority of media consumption and browsing in North America and Europe is already taking place on mobile devices and this trend continues. Within a couple of years, if not already, the mobile channel will be the most important one for commerce, communicating with customers, providing information about your business and more. Mobile traffic actually accounted for 45% of all online traffic from Nov 1-Dec 31 2014, up more than 25% from a year ago, according to IBM’s digital analytics benchmark.

The Biggest Companies Do It
Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Bank of America, Delta, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, Bookatable, etc. have all chosen mobile optimized websites for their mobile audience. And yes, it’s because it’s proven to deliver more revenue from mobile and desktop users as there are no compromises. And of course they can afford it. Using Amazon as an example, their shares of visits from mobile and desktop are almost equal, with mobile responsible for 49 percent of all visits.

Mobile Optimized Transactional Websites Perform Better
Half of all ecommerce website traffic comes through a mobile device, and having developed hundreds of Responsive websites and Optimized versions of sites over the past 7 years we can see the difference. 9 out of 10 times the Mobile Optimized sites generate higher conversation rates than Responsive Websites. The main reason is that the purchasing process is based on the most common denominator between mobile and desktop web, which is a compromise, and not the best user experience.

Designing Responsive Websites Can Become a Barrier
For UX designers, having to come up with one design for Desktop and Mobile is hard. Typically it means that they cannot deliver the richness they want for bigger screens nor the desired simplicity and use case based design for smaller screens. Ask your designer to do 3 draft versions for your mobile and web presence including 1 responsive and 2 optimized sites and see the difference. The mobile optimized sites also work much better when wrapped as native applications on the app stores.

Responsive Is Complex and Expensive
One common argument for going responsive is cost savings; one site for all channels. This is not necessarily true. UX design increase in terms of complexity, development is harder, QA and testing is a lot more difficult and because of these issues cost and lead time might actually be considerably higher than standalone optimized sites for mobile and desktop. The cost of maintenance may also end up being higher as a small change for mobile could have a big impact for desktop which means that there is no such thing as a fast update.

Conclusion
Responsive web can be great for informational and promotional websites such as Starbucks and content consumption sites like newspapers, magazines and blogs but for transactional and service based sites targeted at a mobile audience (e.g. Uber, Amazon, Marriott and Walmart) optimized web is the better option. Don’t just take our word for it though but test and benchmark your approach based on the suggestions above. Best of luck!

By the way, next week my colleagues will argue for why Responsive Web is the best approach.

Looking for more reading to help make sense of Responsive vs. Adaptive Web? Download our free whitepaper today.

Do you disagree or agree with our assessment? Prefer other alternatives such as Adaptive Web? Want to discuss your project with us? Contact us to discuss further.

Magnus Jern, President Mobile Application Solutions

Tags: mobile websites responsive web ux/ui

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