Responsive or Mobile-Specific: Which Option is Best?

Written on: March 29th, 2016 in best practices, mobile

Our clients are always asking, “Does my site need to be responsive?” In a word, yes. But, there are options to consider when it comes to delivering a mobile optimized experience. There is no “one size fits all approach,” and the direction your company chooses depends largely on your unique goals and objectives.

We could go on about the the different theories and philosophies behind which options are best, but let’s keep it simple and talk about the three most popular options for designing mobile friendly websites: mobile-specific, responsive and doing nothing at all.

Mobile-Specific Design

What is it?

Mobile-specific allows you to design a website specifically for mobile devices and provide a simple and unique user experience. This works best for companies who do not provide a lot of content on their site and for task-specific sites, such as travel status, package tracking or document-sharing.

The mobile-specific site for the Steamship Authority is laser-focused on what travellers need to know right now
Mobile-specific site for the Steamship Authority


  1. Usability. Your website is specifically developed for mobile devices, so you can pull out all the stops to create an appealing mobile user experience.

  2. Pure Speed. Your website is built for speed, so it will load quickly and efficiently on mobile devices.


  1. Updates. Managing two websites = more work!

  2. Two Websites. Users may need to remember you have multiple websites and will wonder if they are missing content or tools vs. the “Full Site”. (Case in point:

  3. SEO is Work. The mobile website will need additional SEO work and does not benefit from any ranking “juice” that your desktop site may have.

  4. Not Adaptable. A site can be optimized for either touch model (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone) or keyboard-and-pointer (Blackberry). A mobile-specific website will not look or behave exactly the same from one device to the other. Nor is it likely to scale up to tablets well.

Responsive Design

What is it?

Responsive design allows you to design a single website to work just as well on all devices by adapting it to fit the screen of any device – phone, PC, Xbox, Kindle, Smart TV…

To visualize this, if you are on a PC right now, reduce this window’s size from full-screen down to very small. You’ll see that the text, images and even menu adjust their layout and design as it gets smaller. Whether you are using a 27’’ PC or an iPhone, the website will look just as great.

The Imarc site fluidly adapts to varying screen sizes, from huge to hand-held
View post on

Why is this important? In our ever-connected world, employees, clients and prospects are constantly on-the-go. Your site should be designed in a way that provides a great experience and full content, whether they are standing in-line at Starbucks or on their PC at the office.


  1. It’s much less work! You only need to manage one website across all mobile devices, and with one URL it also makes it simple for users to find you.

  2. No Hassle SEO. Your desktop website SEO “juice” remains consolidated to one site and Google will rank your site higher when giving search results to mobile users.


  1. It takes a little longer. Development of responsive site takes longer to build versus a desktop site or mobile specific. Imarc’s rule of thumb is about 20% more time for front-end engineering and QA (and an even smaller part of the total project time).

  2. Content. You must be concise. Content written for desktop also needs to be easy to read on mobile devices. The desktop forgave too-wordy copy; mobile does not. Some content writers find this to be BIG challenge.

Do Nothing

What is it?

Before the mobile revolution, every website was designed for one device: a big screen with a keyboard and mouse. By necessity, phones can show those sites, they’re just tiny – so there is the option to do nothing!

A 2008-vintage Imarc CMS tool, as seen on a modern phone
An old desktop site as viewed on a phone


  1. It’s cheap!

  2. Mobile phones can display a desktop website. Still, the experience will be far from optimal for the user, with lots of zoom-in, zoom-out.


  1. Poor first impression. Your company will be perceived out of date and out of touch with today’s business world.

  2. Lost opportunities. You may never hear from the prospects who viewed your website and then quickly found your competition.

  3. You’ll lose the Millennials. They’re the first generation of “mobile-first, PC-rarely” users. If they’re in your target audience, ignore them at your own risk.

So which should I choose?

Bottom-line, delivering a website that’s optimized for mobile is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s a need to have. Since April 2015, Google algorithms now favor websites that look and perform better on mobile devices, making them appear higher on search results. The mobile revolution was nearly ten years ago; a website that doesn’t acknowledge that will not age well.

If you are now saying to yourself, “I frequently update the content on my site, but do I have the time to manage two sites?” you may want to consider a responsive design for its ease of updating and administration efficiency. But, if you are thinking, “All I need is a clean, user friendly mobile site with limited content,” then a mobile specific site might well be your best bet.

Deciding which mobile approach works best for your business ultimately comes down to your unique goals and objectives. If you have any questions about what direction is best for your company, let’s talk!


Jason Makin

Let's Talk.