The Best Mobile Design for Your Business

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:: By Tom Cottrill, Fathom Digital Marketing

Have you tried to view your site on your smartphone? What does the design look like on a 4 x 2.5 inch screen? What kind of interaction can you offer with your visitor? When it comes to reaching and engaging smartphone users, there are quite a few options to wade through. Mobile marketing is an investment, costing time, resources and dollars. What will be worth the investment? Consider the return on your investment (ROI) and ensure your dollars are not wasted.

Over half of smartphone users agree that a bad mobile experience will make them less likely to engage with a company. Word-of-mouth is affected by a bad mobile experience as 57 percent of users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed site, according to Google. Mobile can no longer be ignored. The question becomes: How can you fit it into your marketing budget? Well, let’s break down your options to reach mobile users:

Native Applications: These applications are specifically designed to run a certain device’s operating system and typically need updates or adaptations to work properly for different devices.

Web Applications: Each time one of these applications runs, it needs to have all or some of the software downloaded from the Web. The type of device doesn’t matter, as long as it is a Web-capable mobile or tablet.

Hybrid Application: Exactly what you think these applications would be – these are a hybrid between native and Web applications. Most applications on smartphones are considered hybrid applications, there is an element of integration with the device’s file system and Web-based services, and it can function properly whether or not the device is connected. 

Responsive Website: Building your website to be usable and aesthetically pleasing across a wide range of devices. No matter what device these users are accessing your site on, the design will cater to them.

Start With Responsive Design 

Being in an agency/client model, we make the choice on a client-by-client basis. Our preference, though, is for a responsive design. Specialized sites and native apps tend to be far more expensive over the lifecycle of the application. Responsive makes the most sense for our business, as it allows us to put in more time and effort upfront, while only having one site to maintain long term. In such a quick-moving market, you don’t have to panic every time a new device hits the market. Since responsive design is typically geared toward device width, it really only needs to be revisited when there’s a major market change in devices. If you just want people to have the same experience on your website, this is the answer.

Understanding Web and Hybrid Applications

These methods are often chosen as a compromise. They give you some of the features at a reduced cost, but it is not without sacrifice. You lose a lot of the fluidity and feel of a native application, while still saddling your users with the need to open their browsers and remember a URL. If you’re going this route, you should have a clear understanding of why you’re doing it, and do a significant cost vs. benefit analysis on it. You’ll often find either a responsive site or a native application is a better solution.

If You Have the Resources, Go Native

For the clients we’ve gone responsive on, I don’t regret it. With each site, you learn more tricks and more methods to do better work and make it a better solution. However, I think this really only applies to the Web-browsing experience. Nothing beats native applications for customized and memorable mobile experiences. That carries a price tag. Native applications require maintaining code in as many as four different languages, and constantly updating to stay current with the devices. This can increase your cost by tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if you choose to focus on the big two (iOS and Android) you run the risk of excluding a significant percentage of your audience. Windows and BlackBerry devices see low usage overall, but they see significant usage amongst enterprise-level clients, so you may be excluding a small but important portion of your audience.

In the end, I don’t think you can doggedly adhere to one of the four. Before deciding on your mobile strategy, assess your business need, your ultimate goal, the project at hand and the infrastructure of the current site to determine the best solution. 

Tom Cottrill is the Director of Digital & Software Development for Fathom Digital Marketing

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Terry Jett 05-03-2013 3:32 PM

Excellent advice for those businesses still wondering what to do. I find it hard to believe so many businesses are still without a mobile compatible site.

My advice to at the very least get your website into a responsive design. At least that way with a tap to call button mobile users can contact you easily.

Thanks for sharing your insight and knowledge,


Nimesh D. 05-03-2013 6:00 PM

Thank you for a great article, I am going to send it to my clients to read to understand.. Responsive Design are also good for tablets...

Jay Moreno 05-03-2013 7:47 PM

Good article Tom!

In addition to a responsive website it's also worth looking at standalone mobile optimized websites, where by the mobile visitor gets forwarded to it from the desktop site or better still use an adaptive design approach, also known as RESS.

Google recommends that a responsive design is good for SEO because it serves the same content for mobile on the same URL. On the other hand Google's GOMO Mobile initiative recommends a mobile optimized site for the best mobile end user experience.

Google also recommends page load speeds of 3.5 seconds or under - which for the majority of responsive layouts, particularly when it comes to WordPress, this is not usually possible due to bloated code, oversized images, and the downloading of unnecessary resource libraries.

What adaptive does is takes the best of both your lightweight standalone optimized mobile sites and your responsive layouts - it can serve the content on the same URLs just like responsive, but it optimizes content specifically for mobile.

Meaning the source code it dynamically delivers is much less bloated than a responsive layout, the images are reformatted specifically for mobile are sized correctly so they are more lightweight for better page load speeds. Overall the code adapts itself to be the most compatible for the mobile device viewing it. There is a lot more to adaptive than this but all together it makes for a much better end mobile user experience since you have much more control over site layout and content.

Take a look at the top 100 corporate websites and you will find very few use responsive for their mobile visitors but instead use an adaptive mobile optimized design. For me the reason they do that is for user experience. You don't go that extra mile just for laughs!

Responsive is currently very popular amongst web designers as its certainly the easiest way to get into mobile - however a responsive design is far from being mobile optimized typically having issues with validation and page load speeds in comparison to a mobile optimized site which is usually capable of being loaded on to ALL phones not just smartphones. Don't forget Feature phones still make up for a good percentage of mobile devices accessing the web so shouldn't be ignored.

Aleyda Solis did an excellent presentation on the different approaches to mobile web over at SEOMOZ - its free to sign up and view.

Researching and understanding all the pros and cons of each approach, will at least help you choose the design approach that you think is best for you and your clients.

We don't dislike responsive design - but think its best suited specifically for desktop browsers and tablet visitors. For mobile visitor we use our own JumpMobi Adaptive WordPress Theme. This theme took us two years to develop and is now being used by over 2000+ developers world wide that understand the benefits of an adaptive approach over a responsive.

DanielG 05-06-2013 10:48 AM

Yes, this is a great article.

Taking what Jay is saying to another hybrid idea is the use of varied plug-ins and extensions for Content Management Systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.

The browser type is detected and the appropriate template set is delivered. Because these systems use a database for content, there is no need to have different versions of content for different designs as the content is merged with the data and presented. The downside is that one must maintain different design sets, and you can have as few as two (mobile and desktop) or many if you do device specific design. Of course that can be viewed as a benefit as well because you then can make a specific version for say a Nokia feature phone, a version for Google Nexus, and an iOS version. These add-ons have become quite mature as they have been around for quite some time.

As far as the URL is concerned, it is my experience that one can (in advanced cases) do the addressing any way you want. For example if one wants the mobile address to be presented as, that's works, or one can leave the URL alone, just serving the appropriate design. In the case of multiple device design, one could do,, etcetera.

Doing multiple template systems would probably be less of a chore than maintaining multiple applications on multiple platforms with multiple devices. If the app is simple, then perhaps one could just do the main ones and not worry about individual devices, but as the app grows, so will the fragmentation.

Personally, I like the approach of Responsive. It's an elegant solution that uses web standards that are well supported leaving me to only have to worry about size. As a bonus the lean nature of the design helps with regular page speed that Jay mentioned. Bonus.

Modern Design 05-07-2013 10:10 AM

that's right! More and more people are beginning to use the internet from their mobile phone, and it is estimated by trade analysts that if smartphone transactions linger at their existing speed, then the number of users logging on to the internet from a phone will surpass the desktop internet users by 2015. Though most smartphones can access the internet but the understanding they get is less than impeccable, as most websites just aren't intended for mobile phones. By building a mobile-friendly site, you won't just get entrée to more users; you'll also get an enormous hike on your challengers. Thanks for great article!

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