Whether marketers use an "m." site for mobile optimization or meld mobile design into responsive design is dependent on who they are and what their goals are, says Joe Tertel, who is a senior digital marketing consultant with Harrisburg, Pa.-based marketing agency JPL.
In general, responsive design works better for marketers, he says. But that isn't always the case, Tertel says. He lays out the rationale for each type of site design:
- Specialized Content: Tertel cites work JPL did for a client, Blue Mountain Ski Area and Resort: "What we determined with Blue Mountain is there was specific content on the mobile version that is not on the desktop version, and vice versa. So the mobile version has some slightly different features. The trail map is organized in a different way, the weather is linked in a slightly different way."
- Specialized Functionality: Again, citing Blue Mountain: "There's GPS actually built right into the mobile device through the mobile website so that you can find your directions really nice and easy."
- Mobile-Targeted SEO: While Google now prefers responsive design and melds mobile and desktop together, Tertel says it used to be important to specifically target mobile search. They had to take up less space and be written differently, based on mobile users' intent. "There [have] been no studies or information from Bing, the other main search engine, related to m. vs. responsive design," he says.
Pro Responsive Design
- SEO: "Google is definitely showing a preference to responsive design," says Tertel, adding that his organization beta-tests a lot of new products as a Google Engage agency. "This can be seen in their organic rankings and especially within their paid search (Google AdWords) where they have made an effort for advertisers to develop responsive designed sites with their enhanced campaigns."
- One Step: "Responsive design is just better, overall," he says. "Because then Google doesn't need to have a redirect in place. Or you don't have to have a redirect in place to say, 'Hey, this is a mobile device,' as opposed to 'This is a desktop device.' So with responsive design, you can do all that in one shot."
Bonus. Thinking About Creating an App?
"I would think most sites out there don't need to act like an app," Tertel says. "You just need basic information. In a lot of cases, on your mobile device, you're either looking for a contact person you can call or you're looking for directions. And if you're doing any kind of research, you want it to be quick and easy research with the basic information. So you don't need all the text and all the romance copy that you would on a desktop. And with an app, there's a specific reason that you have an app." An app is appropriate, for instance, when marketers need to present specific data sets, he says.