Thoughts from the McDonagh team on technology, the Web, mobile, search, and more.

You don't need an app for that: Why a mobile-optimized website might be right for your business

Posted on 4/18/2012 by Neal Hohman

Businesses need to be thinking about how they're reaching customers on mobile devices and tablets. The percentage of web site visits from mobile devices continues to grow. As more and more people get smartphones and tablets, more people visit the web via their mobile phone or tablet. We're recommending to many of our clients they think about a mobile-optimized website.

First some background: A mobile-optimized website is different from an app you download to your phone. Apps are great for an established audience and if you have a budget to build applications for multiple platforms. Applications also have abilities on devices that mobile-optimized websites don’t currently have.

There is also a difference between a mobile-optimized site and a mobile-specific site. A mobile specific site is a site targeted only to mobile devices. It looks to see if the browser is on a mobile device and then serves the mobile site based on this information. You’ll often see sites with a mobile subdomain (, for example). There are a number of issues with this approach, however. Sharing links from these sites proves problematic to people that then view the links from an iPad, desktop, or non mobile device–or to people looking for the full site experience. It also often requires more time to update your sites, as you will, in many cases, have more than one site to keep updated.

Here’s where a mobile-optimized site comes in. A mobile-optimized site responds to the dimensions and capabilities of the browser viewing the page. If the visitor is on an iPhone it will show much of the same content as what you would see on the desktop, but resized to fit the phone. This design process has been termed “responsive web design.” (For an example, try resizing your browser window right now--you'll notice how our site adapts to the browser's width.)

Our homepage as seen on a desktop (left) and on a mobile device (right).

Responsive web design isn’t perfect either. There are use cases where an app or a separate mobile site is better, but we find in most cases that a responsive, mobile-optimized website is the most cost-effective, user-friendly approach for our clients. A mobile-optimized site is available to anyone, anywhere, on any device. It is device agnostic.

In essence, with a mobile-optimized site you get a fast, intelligent web site that responds and adapts to the user on whatever device they’re accessing the site on. This is often the most cost-effective and user-friendly way optimize your content for mobile devices and tablets.

UPDATE: We've posted some more data, this time from NPR, on how they're prioritizing mobile-optimized sites for their stations.

Get in touch with us to talk about making your site mobile-optimized.

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