When it comes to viewing content on a screen, not all users are created equal. Some have tablets, some prefer desktop computers and some use smart phones. Many have all of these devices and go between them interchangeably. Your website can’t just be optimized for laptop or desktop use any longer—not when you take a look at the numbers. About a product or service from a mobile-friendly website, specifically one that employs the use of (RWD), than one that is not. If you’re tasked with deciding between designing a mobile-compatible site and fully responsive site, how should you choose?


Defining RWD vs. AWD

First, a little clarification. The difference between fully responsive design and adaptive web design is subtle yet significant. With responsive web design, or RWD, your website is created to respond to the unique behavior and environment of your users depending on the platform they’re using at any given moment. This means that your site will look excellent whether it be displayed on a tablet, smart phone or laptop, and are also taken into account. This design change involves no extra work on the part of the user; it happens automatically, without the user having to tell the site which kind of device they’re using.

On the other hand, with a site that’s mobile compatible, also known as adaptive web design, the user has access to two different versions of what is essentially the same site: one that’s for laptops and desktops and one that’s for smart phones and other mobile devices. Where RWD features flexible, fluid layouts, AWD features . Essentially, with an AWD site, the user would have to select the appropriate site—whether mobile friendly or desktop version—when looking for a company’s information.


How to Choose

That being said, the design option you select is highly dependent on your target audience, your website’s overall purpose and whether SEO concerns come into play. Users aren’t concerned with which method you go with—they may not even notice; they just want to be able to navigate your site seamlessly on any device they’re using at the moment. Both methods address the need for the versatility of websites across all devices, but they go about this in slightly different ways.


Compare and Contrast

The biggest thing the two have in common is the ability to present sites in a variety of screen sizes to afford the user a better overall experience. Their biggest difference is how they deliver on that task. RWD generally requires more code and implementation methods when it comes to fluid grids, CSS and flexible foundations, while AWD has a layered approach that’s more streamlined and uses scripting to help view content in a variety of screen sizes. RWD works in large part due to the fact that it can adjust to virtually any screen size and device that users are on at any given time.

Perhaps the biggest deciding factor between adaptive and responsive web design is search engine optimization. In terms of SEO, when you have an AWD, you have to manage two SEO campaigns, one for your desktop version and one for your mobile version, which divides your resources and creates a lot of extra work. Because the mobile site and the desktop site will be indexed separately, AWD may not be the best option for a business focusing on SEO. With responsive design you only need one campaign, and can focus your resources right where you need them.


At the end of the day, responsive web design is the strategy that Google recommends, and with Google as the king of searches, this can be a major factor in your decision to be seen by many users. The main factor in your decision is to take the user experience into account and what will make the user most likely to stay on your site and ultimately purchase something.

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