May 19, 2022
mobile site vs app vs responsive design

Mobile Site vs App vs Responsive Design

Learn the differences between a mobile site vs app vs responsive design for a new website or one that’s being updated for your small business…

Mobile internet traffic continues its steady rise, as desktop search slides on a very slow, but measurable decline; and, it’s no wonder why. Practically every tween, teen, millennial, and adult have a smartphone and/or tablet. In the latest figures available, sales of smartphones to-date this year, reached 349 million, according to Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company which compiles such figures.

Back in October of 2011, desktop traffic declined for the first time since the internet became available to the public, according to a news report by CNet. Ever since this very subtle yet seismic shift, mobile internet access has increased. In fact, mobile traffic accounts for 51 percent of all web use, while desktop accounts for 42 percent — the reason for Google Mobilegeddon 2015.

The fact is, both Google and Bing, which collectively handle well in excess of 100 billion queries per month, have set their software to assume local intent. For instance, more people are likely to search for “pizza” on the way home from work or after picking their kids up from baseball practice — not from a desktop computer. It’s also why users now commonly see local search results at the top of the SERP (search engine results page), complete with a map, address, phone number, and URL.

What all of this means, particularly for small businesses trying to gain as much of an SEO advantage as possible, is the need for sites which adapt to mobile devices. The question then becomes,”an ‘m’ dot site, a responsive design site, or, a mobile app?” Let’s look at the options first to get an idea of what each one actually is and isn’t.

Mobile Site vs App vs Responsive Design

Okay, so what exactly is the difference in these three types of platforms? Well, first and foremost, the differences are technical, but putting what each is into layman’s terms isn’t hard to understand. Basically, a “mobile site” or what’s called an “‘m’ dot or ‘mobile’ dot site”, is a separate property from the TDL or top level domain–it’s another site, but uses the business’ domain name to redirect to a copy platform. A mobile app is just that, a lightweight, typically interactive application, that people download to their smartphone or tablet to access a business.

What’s more is that people are arriving to the mobile Web through more diverse channels than ever before. In addition to direct and referral traffic, [companies] are using social networks, email campaigns, SMS campaigns, search and more. Because these activities are increasingly happening on mobile, creating Web experiences optimized for mobile makes even more sense for [small businesses and large companies]. —Smashing Magazine

A responsive design site, however, is actually no different that the “original” site. It’s a site that automatically “responds” to the access device and sizes itself accordingly. Take a look at a site using responsive design on a desktop, then look at it on a mobile device. Flip through the pages on each device, and it will look much the same.

All three, therefore, essentially do the same thing; so, what’s all the fuss about? Well, that comes down to how SEO friendly each one is, and what a business’ customers prefer. It also depends on what a business wants to accomplish. These factors are the reason for the debate about which platform to use.

SEO Advantages and Disadvantages

Starting with a mobile app, businesses using these are generally providing some type of service. An example is Geico, which has a desktop site, a ‘m’ site, and a mobile app. If a customer visits the ‘m’ site, the first thing which appears is an invitation to download the company’s mobile app. Since Geico sells insurance, it makes sense for the company to have a mobile app. It’s also an instantly recognizable brand, so having a mobile app with no SEO benefits does not matter. However, it does benefit customers who’ve been in a fender-bender or stuck in a parking lot with a dead battery or flat tire.

Now, on to the “m” dot or “mobile” dot sites. These will have SEO benefits, however, it’s very tricky to get there. Google explains, if a “m” dot or “mobile” dot site isn’t setup correctly, it has the potential to basically wreak havoc on a business’ SEO, splitting any gains between the two properties. This is because a “m” dot or “mobile” dot site is actually another website.

Responsive design is a whole other matter. Google states this is the best option because it shares the same domain. The take-away is, by way of comparison, it’s responsive design which beats mobile apps and “m” dot or “mobile” dot sites.

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Owen E. Richason IV

Covers social media, apps, search, and similar news. History buff, movie, and theme park lover. Blessed dad and husband.     

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