If you’re a web designer, you’re in the business of creating the best possible browsing experience for your viewers. Good experiences convert visitors into customers, and if your website is a hassle, your visitors will take their business somewhere else. With the multitude of ways that people now connect to the internet, it’s important to recognize the types of platforms you’re reaching out to depend on the type of website you’re using: mobile-friendly, mobile-optimized, or responsive design.

What’s a Mobile-Friendly Website?

Mobile-friendly websites are HTML-based websites that do not contain any Flash elements. While these websites can be viewed on a smartphone, their presentation will not be optimal. Visitors will have to scroll and zoom around in order to navigate the site. In short, mobile-friendly websites are websites that will load on mobile devices because they don’t contain unsupported Flash elements, but are not designed with mobile presentation in mind.

What’s a Mobile-Optimized Website?

Mobile-optimized websites are websites made specifically for smartphones as opposed to desktops, laptops, or tablets. Due to the exceptionally small viewing space provided by mobile devices, mobile-optimized websites are generally simpler in presentation. For example, mobile-optimized websites usually don’t require users to scroll or zoom to navigate or read text. A direct consequence of this design is that even the smallest amount of screen space has to be carefully allocated and most images reduced in size to accommodate mobile load times. Mobile-optimized websites also on occasion use mobile-specific functions like “tap to email” that can add a fun extra element to an otherwise simple website.

What’s a Responsive Design Website?

Responsive design websites are websites which provide optimized navigation with the least manageable amount of resizing or scrolling. These websites provide an excellent presentation on virtually any device, including tablets, desktops, laptops, and smartphones.

Whenever someone loads a responsive design website, it will automatically adjust to fit the screen size and resolution of the accessing device—making this perhaps one of the greatest advantages of responsive web design. Even the layout of the site may shift to better accommodate the specific device that has accessed the page. For instance, a user on a desktop might get a full-sized menu bar with sliding drop-down options, whereas the same website might provide a barebones menu for tablet users.

Responsive design websites also prevent you from incurring a duplicate content penalty in the eyes of search engines; a penalty often taken on by users who set up multiple websites with similar content for mobile and non-mobile users.

Which Do I Choose?

It’s worth noting that from a design perspective, while responsive design websites are the most comprehensible compatible type, they’re also usually considerably more work to create. Then again, if attracting the millions of people who connect to the internet through a variety of gadgets is worthwhile to you, a mobile-optimized or responsive design website is a must.

While capturing mobile audiences is probably desirable for any web developer, it may initially seem that some sites could not feasibly be presented on many mobile platforms. Websites that incorporate a dense volume of text or very large media files, for instance, might present a unique problem for a mobile-minded developer.

However, even text and media rich websites like Wikipedia and YouTube have managed to find simplified ways to present their content specifically to mobile platforms, meaning oftentimes any apparent barrier to making your website mobile-friendly can be overcome with some creative redesign.

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