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What’s Best for My Website? Mobile Friendly, Mobile Optimized, or Mobile Responsive? What’s the Difference?

Everything’s going mobile, but what does it all mean? Are mobile–optimized websites mobile–friendly? And are mobile–friendly websites mobile–optimized? We’ll get you some answers!

Being in the Search Engine Optimization field, I get a lot of questions about mobile. What does mobile compatibility mean? Should I pay attention to mobile page speed? But the most asked question I get is “What’s the difference between mobile friendly, mobile optimized, and mobile responsive?” It can be really confusing what all of these terms mean at first glance, so I wanted to create a post that will help break this down. Let’s dive into the differences below!


What does Mobile Friendly Mean?

“A mobile friendly website is essentially when your regular website shrinks down to be small enough to display on a mobile device. It looks like a tiny version of your website. There’s a lot of zooming, pinching and scrolling going on, but the site displays and functions.” (source)

Awhile back (not that long ago 2018) Google rolled out a new version of their search algorithm that was specifically built for mobile searches called mobile first indexing. Prior to this new change in the algorithm, Google had used crawling, indexing, and ranking systems for looking for content based on desktop versions of websites. This was a massive change when this was rolled out, and the bottom line was that with the new algorithm if Google thought your website wasn’t “mobile friendly” your website wasn’t going to show up in searches done on mobile devices like tablets and phones.

There are many ranking factors that are put in place now with Google, but still none are bigger than your site being mobile friendly. Being mobile-friendly is the basic, or minimum, requirement in a mobile design strategy your company should be looking for when it comes to mobile visitors on your site. If your site wasn’t built in the last few years or hasn’t had any updates, chances are you’re not mobile friendly. But a good way of double checking this is by visiting Google’s Webmaster tools.


Can my website get by just being Mobile Friendly?

A mobile friendly site will work for mobile compatibility users, but this is typically a slimmed down desktop version of a website and doesn’t possess mobile friendly website design elements. A smaller version can fit on a smartphone or tablet and can be functional, but it’s not designed to give the mobile user the maximum experience.

If this is as mobile as your website is currently, make sure you’re visiting your Google search console often and looking for mobile experience issues. These are common when your site isn’t mobile optimized. Look for clickable elements being too close together (rule of thumb is your content should be written in at least 14 to 16-point font so when your content is displayed on smaller screen sizes it’s not hard to read or click on). Again, though, this will meet Google minimum requirements for ranking.


What does Mobile Optimization Mean?

Unlike the mobile friendly approach to your website, a mobile-optimized website is designed for smaller screens and built using a mobile-first approach that will reformat itself for mobile users. All mobile optimized sites are mobile friendly and made to make the website as frictionless as possible for mobile users.


So why should my site be mobile optimized?

According to Counterpoint, a Technology Marketing Research Firm, almost half of U.S. smartphone users are spending 5 hours a day on their mobile devices. To no surprise, browsing the web is one of the most popular activities on mobile devices. For this reason, making sure your site is optimized for mobile needs to be a point of emphasis in order to maximize your businesses success online.

Users navigate, read, and even act a lot different in viewing a website than they would on a desktop. Because of this, more and more platforms are looking to make mobile user experience better. For instance, featured snippets have begun popping up on popular questions in search results. Why? Because more mobile users are using voice search to get quick answers. It’s estimated by 2020 50% of all searches will be conducted via voice based on search analysis by ComScore. Sure, some of these searches will be done through Alexa, Google Hubs, and other speaker devices, but roughly 20% of that 50% will be searches done on mobile, according to alphametic.com. The difference between mobile users and desktop users are: mobile users are much more likely to be searching for a quick answer to questions like finding directions, restaurants nearby, or movie reviews. Desktop searches trend on being more in depth searches like researching, car buying, or planning a vacation.


What can I do to Optimize my site for Mobile?

Becoming mobile optimized isn’t something that just happens overnight, but here are some mobile friendly website design elements that will help your site meet the standards of search engines like Google for being a mobile-optimized website:

  • Your site needs to be in a single column layout
  • The simpler the navigation the better – the idea here is finger size “thumb friendly” and meeting requirements by having larger and more friendly touchpoints. Focus on Click to call, Quick email, and Contact or RFQ buttons. For Ecommerce sites, Buy now and critical contact information.
  • Graphics are always good on websites, but not optimizing the images can cause your site to have many issues from a mobile standpoint. Make sure to not have images fall off pages, and optimize for all screen sizes (tablet, androids, iPhone etc.) Images that overlap or are too close to critical information can negatively affect your mobile optimization efforts.
  • Unclutter your site’s design and simplify your site’s Call To Actions (CTA’s)
  • Make sure spacing and formatting of all content is set up properly for maximum readability and UX.


Are there tools I can use to see if I’m Mobile Optimized?

You might know your site is mobile optimized, or maybe you just want to see how it stands up to the mobile optimized test. I’ve included some tools below to help you get an idea of how you can improve the performance of your mobile site. Check out these mobile website optimization tools below:



What does Mobile Responsive Design Mean?

So, this brings us to the last category. What is mobile Responsive design? Responsive design picks up where optimization leaves off, and in a way adapts the website to reformat and restructure itself, not only for the device but also the screen size. Optimized will tell the website “Hey website, you’re being viewed on a mobile phone, so display yourself for a phone.” Responsive will tell the website “Hey website, you’re being viewed on a Pixel 2 XL, which has a screen size of 411px by 823px, so format yourself to fit those exact dimensions.” By making your website a responsive design, the layout of your website will scale from the smaller screens on smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, small laptops, standard desktop screens, and even large widescreen monitors. Responsive gives the maximum user experience on all devices and is the only way to guarantee your website will look great for optimum usability. A good example of a site being responsive would be Smashing Magazine. Pull this site up on your phone, tablet, and desktop. Or if you’re a little more web savvy, use your own website, grab the right edge of the browser window and start pulling it left. Watch as the content, images, navigation and columns start to shrink, scale and reformat based on the window size.


So what type of design works best for my business and website?

This is a great question, and something every business owner who owns a website should be asking themselves. Really, it depends on a few questions that need to be answered prior to this question:

  1. What is the main purpose behind my site?
  2. What does my site need to do for visitors?
  3. What devices do you expect your visitors to be using?

The goal is to give your visitors a user experience that’s smooth, easy, and frictionless when navigating. Depending on who’s using your site and what platform it is being used, if your website can provide this kind of user experience, then, hopefully, that gives way to more conversions and return traffic, producing a better ROI in the long run. If price points are something you need to consider with your website project, mobile optimized and responsive design are going to be more expensive when building, but it’s less expensive most of the time if it’s decided on as a new site is being built, rather than adding it to an existing site. It can also take more time to build on an existing site, so keep this in mind.


Conclusion – Think about your visitors

Think about your visitors on mobile and desktop and what kind of user experience you want to give them when using your website. Remember, just because someone is using mobile doesn’t mean your site has to be boring. Factor in videos, photos, maps, and call to actions when making your decision as well. From there, optimize your website for that great experience your users are looking for.


Not sure what’s best for your next website in this ever-changing digital world? Contact us below and we can help you plan the best mobile optimized direction for your website project.

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