Difference between Responsive Web Design & Mobile Web Design

Vincent Sevilla
V. Sevilla|08.04.16

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Vincent Sevilla
August 4th, 2016
Difference between Responsive Web Design & Mobile Web Design
We often hear the term "responsive web design" being thrown around a lot these days – sometimes in contrast to mobile web design. However, what exactly differentiates the two from one another. Both types of designs primarily place their focus on the user, but have a few pointed differences that have to be defined if you want to accurately depict them in the right context.

Responsive Web Design Defined

With Google stepping up the priority of good user experience, creating a web design that primarily caters to the audience can certainly get you into the good graces of the search engines. And we aren't just talking about the inner working of a site's SEO. When talking about responsive web design, we refer to the optimization of a website in terms of its interactive design and how it facilitates the ease in which it can be viewed.

A responsive website is one that has easy to read fonts and can be navigated with little difficulty. Because it highlights optimized user experience, it can usually be accessed across multiple devices, from desktop computers to mobile phones, with very little change in the experience. This is the reason why most people usually interchange the definitions between a responsive website and a mobile website.

Responsive Web Design vs. Mobile Web Design

While it is entirely possible to call a mobile website responsive, not all mobile websites necessarily have this quality. Having a responsive website means that the design itself places the user's experience in the forefront and prioritizes the ease of use and interactivity. Apart from this, there are also some other differences that differentiate the two.


Some mobile websites are created on a totally different domain to separate the mobile experience with those from other devices. This is usually seen on a URL structure that has this format: "m.mobiledevice.com". Responsive websites on the other hand usually stick to one domain and all changes are dynamically kept within this URL.

Site Rendering

Since mobile sites are usually created on a separate domain, they usually have their own viewing resolution that is relative to smaller devices like mobile phones and tablets. This custom viewing experience is unique to mobile users and primarily caters to these devices. In contrast, responsive designs usually use specialized code that automatically adjusts to the type of device the site is being viewed on. While this kind of flexible design makes it easier to adjust to a myriad of devices, the cost of creating such a design might be higher than creating a customized copy of your site for mobile.

Link Equity

Taking a look at how mobile sites are sometimes separated from its main domain, any link equity received on the mobile site is naturally not counted towards the main site. Compared to responsive sites, since these just make minor tweaks in the back end to modify how it is viewed across devices, it still funnels all the link juice into one domain and gets to keep everything the way it is.


An argument can be made that responsive websites tend to load slower compared to mobile designed websites. This is because of the amount of code that it normally has to process, especially if site owners want to add CSS Media Queries code into it. The amount of webpage elements will bog it down compared to a striped down mobile website, especially if the mobile site does things on a "load it when necessary" basis.

Forward Thinking

Mobile sites tend to take into account the current generation of devices. However, as technology continues to advance, further revisions need to be made to adjust for these changes. Alternately, responsive websites makes use of code that does not change as easily to enact any dynamic changes done on it. This can result in responsive websites becoming more future ready compared to mobile designed sites.

So Which Is Better?

So here comes the big question: which is a better investment for your website – a mobile website or a responsive one? Before we answer that question, it would be best to look at two things: your audience and the goals of your website.

Based on your website's analytics data, you can easily see where your traffic is coming from. If you find that your audience is mostly on the go, then you might want to take a look at creating a mobile website that primarily caters to your users. Making a layout that encapsulates all the key points of your site and delivers it as succinctly as possible is a great way to go, especially if you're looking into increasing the amount of impressions and clicks your site gets over time.

Also, try to take into account the amount of time and effort it takes to redesign an existing site to a more responsive interface. While it may be easier to create a responsive website from scratch, if you already have a website that you want to convert, then you'll need an experienced coder and designer who can make the appropriate changes.

In either case, the main consideration for both types of websites is still the end-user. As long as you are able to give your audience a seamless and efficient user experience, then you know that you are going down the right path. Which do you think makes for a better site design? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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