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The Truth about Responsive Website Design

By Fred Pierce

As owner of a Bed and Breakfast website design company, I have an opportunity to travel all over the country and speak at many B&B conferences. After talking with many owners and innkeepers, I have learned that some website companies are leaving out the whole truth about Responsive Design.   

You may have heard that if you don’t have a responsive website, you won’t be found on search engines.

Let’s compare the different types of web design, what Google recommends, and what this means for you as a business owner. First of all, what are the different types of mobile design?

Responsive Website Design – The website uses the same URL on all devices. The website serves the same content to any device but will change the view and order depending on the size of the device. In other words, it rearranges the content to fit onto any screen size. Responsive design is client-side rendering. This means the browser will have to download the entire web page, then resize it according to the screen size.

Adaptive Website Design – The website uses the same URL on all devices. The server (where the website is hosted) detects the device whether it is a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop, and will load the version of the site that is optimized for that device. In other words, only mobile-optimized assets are downloaded. This method is the server-side approach, because all the work is done by the servers before it even reaches the client.

Separate Mobile Website – The website has a separate URL for the mobile website. Usually you will see it as a sub-domain of your regular domain name. Something like These different URLs are usually optimized for mobile devices.  

You can also have a site that mixes the different methods, which is ok to do.  An example of this would be having a responsive design for the PC and tablet, and then loading a separate mobile website for mobile devices.

Google supports smartphone-optimized sites of all three configurations. Your Google rankings will not be affected if you don't have a responsive design. However, Google does prefer responsive design because the Google bots have less pages to index which means it is easier for the search engines to crawl your site.  For more on why this is, see

IMPORTANT: - I must repeat myself and say Your Google rankings will not be affected if you don't have a responsive design!   

Does this mean you should convert your website to a responsive design? Not necessarily. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method, and you should carefully consider methods according to what you want to accomplish.

Responsive Design Advantages:

  • One URL makes it easy for users to interact with the website.
  • If built properly, responsive design automatically adjusts to whatever device the user is using.
  • When making changes to your site, you only have to make those changes in one place instead of two if you have a separate mobile website.

Responsive Design Disadvantages:

  • You will have to change your entire existing website.
  • Cost.  Because responsive design can be tricky, and there is more to building it, it will cost more.
  • All content is downloaded whether it is used or not. This means that if you have a large slideshow, it will have to download the entire full size slideshow to the mobile phone, then resize it.
  • Pages load slower; full-size images are downloaded, then resized to fit the device.

Adaptive Design Advantages:

  • One URL makes it easy for users to interact with the website.
  • Adaptive loads much faster because the server pushes only the needed information to the mobile device.
  • Adaptive can adapt if you have different needs for mobile devices than on a desktop (ie. Car insurance companies can make insurance claim forms more visible on mobile sites so customers can file as soon as an accident happens).

Adaptive Design Disadvantages:

  • Have to build a separate site.
  • Requires more website maintenance ( this maintenance should be done by your webmaster)

Separate mobile site advantages:

  • You don't have to create a new website to add a mobile website.
  • If built properly, the mobile site can load very fast.

Separate mobile site disadvantages:

  • Different URLs can make it harder for users to interact with website.
  • May need to be redirected, which slows down site.
  • Requires more website maintenance

My opinion:
Responsive design is pretty cool.  You can drag and drop the browser window smaller and bigger and watch the website content change according to the size of the window.  But just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should.  (I need to remind myself of this when I go snowboarding.)   

Responsive design has its place but doesn't mean it should be used in all places.  If responsive design makes sense for your company, and you have the extra money to spend on this new fad, then great - go for it.  But please don't fall victim to these scare tactics other companies are adopting to sell you a website.  Remember that you will not be ranked any differently if you don't have a responsive website.  Make sure you follow the guidelines on the three types of designs Google recommends and you will be fine.

Ultimately, users don't care whether or not a site is responsive or adaptive —they just want to be able to view your content. No matter which you choose, the focus should be on creating a great website.

November - 2013


March 2015

Responsive website design has had some upgrades!  There is a newer component to responsive design called RESS which means responsive design + server side.  This newer approach to responsive website design has helped the performance of responsive websites.  This means the server is doing all the work and it will load a lot faster on your mobile device.

Google has made an announcement that they will be demoting websites that are not mobile friendly starting April 21st 2015.  This is very important to get taken care of by the deadline if possible.  We offer two options to help with this new change.  One is to get a separate adaptive mobile website to go along with your current BnBwebsites website, or you can upgrade to a responsive RESS website.  Please see our pricing pages for details.

For more information on the announcement Google made regarding the mobile update, please check out

To see if you website is mobile friendly, please visit and put in your website to test.
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