Is Responsive Really the Only Way to Mobile?

Lauren Owens - April 23, 2015

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you woke up this week to a new reality. After months of warnings, Google has launched a new algorithm that considers mobile friendliness as a ranking factor. This means that Google’s mobile results and desktop results will be different for many, if not most, web searches. The sites that will rank via mobile search will be mobile friendly. This is very good news for users who have experienced years of frustration when it comes to mobile usability. For webmasters who have yet to hear the siren’s call of mobile, however, this could be an unwelcome reality check.

If you’re in the latter camp, you may be wondering if you really have to undergo a complete website redesign in order to conform to Google’s standards. And the answer is “no.”

While Google has been recommending responsive design for some time now, there are alternatives to responsive design. Before we look at other options, let’s consider what responsive means.

What “Responsive” Means

Responsive is a whole new way of looking at web design and content delivery. With responsive, the template expands and collapses depending on the screen size the user is viewing it from.

For example, this is MoreVisibility’s homepage when viewed on a desktop screen:

Screenshot of MoreVisibility website viewed on desktop

And this is the same page when viewed from a mobile device:

Screenshot of MoreVisibility website viewed on mobile

As you can see, the content is condensed, but nothing is lost in terms of user experience.

The biggest barrier to going responsive is the need for a complete website redesign. This should include a pre-design content strategy. If you’ve recently redesigned your website, or simply don’t have the budget for a redesign and content strategy, you many not want to invest in a responsive website at this time.

The good news is, responsive is not your only option.

Alternatives to Responsive Design

The two primary alternatives to responsive design are dynamically serving templates and separate mobile URLs. Both are mobile versions that require separate mobile content. The benefit of this kind of mobile versioning is that a variety of pages can be created rather quickly. This is especially important for marketers that need to quickly create landing pages for paid marketing efforts.

Dynamically Serving Templates

Dynamic serving is a process of serving different code to the same URL, depending upon the device that is being used to access the URL. The primary benefit of dynamically serving templates is the ability to consolidate both mobile and desktop content on the same URL. This means that search engines are able to view and consider the content on your desktop version as a ranking signal, even when serving your mobile version.

Unfortunately, there are numerous drawbacks to this method, including implementation issues that can cause a host of SEO and user experience woes.

Separate Mobile URLs

Separate mobile URLs – for example, or – enable you to easily set up separate mobile pages, and tailor your content to your mobile audience. Like dynamically serving templates, there are a number of technical issues that can hamper deployment.

Unfortunately, these alternatives can sometime result in a “watered down” version of your website, which may not be the best way to reach mobile users.

At the end of the day, responsive will likely win. (Google seems to think so.) And, if you’re on the fence about whether to create a responsive website, the question is “when,” not “if.” Still, if you’re not yet ready to take the plunge, it’s important to know that you do have options. For more insight into this topic, please download our report, The Ultimate Guide to Website Redesign.

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