Designing for Mobile Friendly and Beyond

On April 21st, Google changed their mobile search algorithm to reward sites that were developed and designed for mobile devices. Mobile-friendly sites will begin climbing the search rankings—surpassing their non-mobile-friendly competition to reach a wider audience.

Many organizations may opt for quick fixes and wind up disappointed with their mobile site. A better approach is to strategize before designing, understand mobile web design approaches, avoid quick fixes, and invest in solid design and development for your mobile transformation.

Strategizing Before Designing

A design and development firm evaluates your mobile strategy holistically. This includes listening, gathering analytics information, and discussing options with you. Your mobile strategy centers on your goals for your site—What do you want visitors to do?

  • Donate?
  • Read and share articles?
  • Complete forms?
  • Watch videos?
  • Contact us?

Once you answer this question, the priority of your answers form the foundation for your mobile strategy, which will guide the design of your mobile site and the pathway you choose in your quest for mobile-friendliness.

Understanding Mobile Designs

There are three mobile web design approaches: responsive, adaptive, and parallel mobile sites.

Responsive Web Design (RWD)—A responsive design changes in size and layout to meet the requirements of the mobile screen size. Designers only need to create one template.

Adaptive Web Design (AWD)— Also know as “dynamic serving”, will show users a different template (e.g., phone, tablet, or desktop) depending on what kind of device they are using. Only one web URL, or address, is used.

Parallel Mobile Site—A parallel mobile site is really just two or more different websites—one created for mobile, one created for desktop—with different domain names.

Below is an image that illustrates nicely the general differences between the three mobile web design approaches. A very useful article written by State of Digital effectively explains the pros and cons of the different mobile design approaches.

Google mobile friendly web design approaches: Responsive web design, Adaptive web design, parallel mobile sites

There are many different factors that should determine which web design you choose for your mobile transformation, but any decision should be guided by a detailed mobile strategy, developed carefully by you and your design firm, with your audience in mind.

RWD is the industry standard for those who want their sites to be uniform across all devices (desktop and mobile), and it is the best way to simultaneously please search engines like Google and your mobile audience. It can be complex to build, but it is simple to maintain, and whether you are transforming a current site or starting from scratch, it is the best way. AWD is a good option for tailoring mobile content specifically to mobile users. For example, if you want the mobile screen to focus on donating as the primary view.  Although AWD can be very quick to implement, it may be more time-consuming to manage, and the bottom line is that it is not Google’s preferred method. Parallel mobile sites are, generally speaking, not a good option for contemporary websites.

Avoid Quick Fixes

In the wake of “Mobilegeddon,” many companies both large and small are offering inexpensive, quick fixes for websites. They duplicate a portion of your site and host it on a separate server. Essentially it is the dynamic serving option above; however the resulting mobile-friendly sites are small-scale versions of your original site, which although functional, have certain drawbacks:

  • Limited design elements
  • Limited customizability
  • Geared toward GoogleBot, not humans
  • May or may not improve user experience
  • Do not account for your customized mobile strategy
  • Do not transform your whole site; only pieces of it
  • Tie you to new URL addresses and hosting services for your mobile site (added cost)

These approaches will not support your mobile strategy. While the end product is the minimally viable mobile-friendly label you desire, it will lack human appeal and fail to meet the highest standard of website design that Google constantly recommends: Responsive Web Design.

The Right Path to Mobile Friendly and Beyond

The “Mobile Friendly” label is Google’s proxy for a satisfactory mobile user experience (UX) and site performance. In an upcoming white paper, we will discuss how Google has created multiple tools to assist developers and designers with the mobile transformation:

  • Mobile-Friendly Test
  • PageSpeed Insights
  • Google Webmaster Tools

These tests are extremely helpful but also limited. They give the thumbs up or down and offer generic suggestions based on best practices.

We recommend aiming higher than a simple “mobile-friendly” label by focusing on a superbly designed user experience and website performance that will keep your visitors on the site longer, influence their behavior, and keep them coming back as well as sharing it with others.

Go Beyond RWD and Mobile-Friendliness

To go beyond RWD and mobile-friendliness and deliver the best possible mobile user experience and website performance, your web designer should:

  • Incorporate your mobile strategy
  • Use Google’s tests as guides
  • Create a visually pleasing mobile site using eye-catching images, appealing typography, properly sized  objects, and eye-focusing interstitial spaces
  • Make the site easy-to-use and present a clear path for users to get what they want.

Before Taking the Plunge

Design and development firms are prepared to make your site mobile friendly by helping you choose the right mobile web design. They are uniquely poised to customize every element of your site to further your mobile goals beyond simple “mobile-friendly” label.


Before plunging head first into the design phase, make sure you have considered your mobile strategy carefully, and when in doubt on which design approach to use, choose a mobile responsive web design over all others.

Need to make your site mobile friendly?  We’re offering a free site review and estimate.



Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply