Better Mobile Sites Through Responsive Design

In a previous blog post, we introduced our responsively designed mobile sites. At On-Site, we think these new sites are a refreshing alternative to old-fashioned mobile-dedicated websites. But not everyone agrees with us. There’s a lot of hearsay surrounding the mobile-dedicated versus responsive design debate. So in this post we’re going to delve deeper into the pros and cons of building a website responsively versus building a dedicated mobile site, specifically as it applies to the apartment business.

The responsible approach to web design

When we talk about building a website responsively what we really mean is a single website that can shrink or stretch to fit any device and any screen size. In this manner, one website can deliver a personalized, content-rich web experience to every single mobile device out there in the world today, as well as devices that don’t even exist yet.

The responsive approach to web design ensures that every facet of your full-fledged desktop site translates perfectly across mobile devices. We think this is the best way to build a mobile website and here’s the main reasons why:

  • Responsively designed websites are personal. Because responsively designed websites are always aware of the device they are being viewed on, they can offer device specific functionality. Take for example, a user visiting your website on a smart phone. A responsive website will recognize that the visitor is on a smart phone and highlight your phone number accordingly. Since the visitor is likely on the move (hopefully not talking on the phone and driving at the same time) your responsive website will also emphasize the link to driving directions.
  • You can close more leases. Designing responsively reduces the friction points in the lead conversion process. By highlighting your phone number or your driving directions there are less obstacles between your prospective renters and your available apartments, which means you close more leases.
  • Responsively designed websites encourage social sharing. At the recent Multifamily Social Media Summit one of the big takeaways was that social media is replacing traditional word of mouth advertising. A single website and a single URL (à la responsive design) makes it easier for renters to interact with, share, and link to your website through all the various forms of social media.
  • There’s no extra cost (or at least there shouldn’t be). Responsively designed websites are built from the ground up to be that way. And with a responsive framework in place your website will stay relevant longer. Since we’re saving on labor, we pass that savings on to you. There’s no reason why you should pay extra to make your community website look good on a mobile device.

Dedicated to being awful

The alternative to designing a responsive site is building a dedicated mobile site. A dedicated mobile site is a completely separate site, built side by side with your primary desktop site. In this case, visitors accessing your website using a mobile device are automatically redirected to your mobile site whether they like it or not. And there’s a lot not to like.

  • Dedicated mobile sites are harder to maintain. With two websites and two URLs to maintain, you have to work twice as hard to keep community info up to date. If you’re lucky, your website provider will automatically translate the changes you make to your desktop site to your mobile site. However, serious sacrifices are made to content, branding and functionality in order to accommodate the hardware and data speed limitations of mobile devices. In the end, you really have no idea how your provider is going to cut your website down in order to fit on a phone.
  • Branding options are limited. Ever notice how all mobile-dedicated community websites tend to look alike? That’s because dedicated mobile sites don’t offer much in the way of branding options. In fact, website providers who offer dedicated mobile sites tend to offer those exact same sites to all their clients with little more than a company or community logo to differentiate them.
  • A separate dedicated mobile site hurts SEO. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Google themselves can attest to this fact. If you follow the link, Google goes into detail about why dedicated mobile sites don’t rank as well as their responsively designed counterparts. The long and the short of it is dedicated mobile sites are harder for Google to crawl and index, hence they place lower in search rankings.
  • Dedicated mobile sites look horrendous on tablets. There are 6,400 types of web-enabled devices in the world and growing. Dedicated mobile sites can’t possibly account for all of them. As such, dedicated mobile sites have to be designed to meet the needs of the lowest common denominator, which in this case is a tiny smart phone. Imagine how that mobile site will look when blown up on a full-size tablet. It suffices to say that it won’t be pretty.

Load runner

In all fairness, the one thing that dedicated mobile sites have going for them is speed. In order to design a website responsively there will be content that is visible or hidden depending on the viewing medium. If on a smart phone you hide one image and show another in its place, the hidden image still loads. Dedicated mobile sites generally load faster than those built responsively, because there is no hidden content. However, with good design it’s easy to avoid the pitfalls that usually cause responsively designed sites to lag behind their mobile-dedicated competitors. At On-Site we design our websites to minimize the amount of hidden content so that load times are comparable to mobile-dedicated sites.

And that, in a nutshell, is why we like responsive design. It allows us to build future-friendly mobile sites that attempt, in some way, to anticipate emerging technology. As opposed to already outdated mobile-dedicated sites that cater to yesterday’s aging mobile devices. By designing our community websites and online applications responsively, our clients are better able to serve not only today’s Gen Y renter, but the future Gen Z renter and beyond.