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Difference Between Adaptive, Responsive and Mobile-Friendly Websites?

It’s estimated that the number of mobile users around the world will reach 4.68 billion by 2019.

Almost 63% of the world’s population already owns a mobile phone. Considering that number continues to rise, it’s critical to target the mobile market if you wish to be successful.

In that regard, you have three options for your website. What is the difference between adaptive, responsive and mobile-friendly websites?

If you’re unsure of the differences between those three mobile solutions, we’ll walk you through the basics of each. We’ll also tell you about their benefits and disadvantages so you can make an informed decision.


Why is Mobile So Important?

April 21, 2015, will forever be the day known as Mobilegeddon. It’s the day that Google updated their algorithm and changed the face of mobile search. As a result, websites that don’t provide a good mobile user experience have less chance of being in search results.

Websites that take mobile users into account will rank better in search results. Why? Because more people are searching on their phone than on their desktop and Google tries to provide the best experience to the user.

When you design your website for mobile users, it takes into account Flash usage, text sizing, and spacing. These all affect mobile users experience with your site. It accounts for the different screen sizes users may be using: desktop, tablets, and smartphones.

Websites that don’t account for mobile users take a long time to load and they aren’t easy to navigate. Mobile users dislike long loading times and Google is catering to their needs by giving preference to websites designed for mobile.

In terms of conversions, having a website that considers mobile users will likely bring you more money. In 2013, smartphones represented 44% of Internet time spent on retail. There’s money to make on mobile.

Mobile-Friendly Websites

Think of a mobile-friendly site can as mobile optimized. All the same content you would see on the desktop is available on the mobile site.

Rather than designing the site for mobile, the site functions on mobile without many changes.


Mobile-friendly websites are smaller versions of the website that’s smaller in terms of size, not content. The same functionalities that are on the desktop will be available from a mobile device.

Both smartphone and tablets can access a mobile-friendly site from a web search. These don’t need to have an “m” at the beginning of the URL.

Businesses accessed by desktop rather than mobile can benefit from the low cost and low maintenance of a mobile-friendly website. This allows them to invest more time and money into making their desktop site the best that it can be.


Mobile-friendly websites make it hard to click where you’re supposed to click without zooming in and out. Some of those click-able areas are also not ideal for use on a mobile.

Responsive Websites

Responsive-design websites put the mobile user at the top of the priority list.

As browser sizes change according to the used device, so too do responsive websites. A responsive website adjusts various design elements according to the browser-width available. By adjusting to any layout, everything fits in the space that’s available.

It also changes according to the browser size chosen by the user. If you’re using a desktop to view a responsive website and you make your browser smaller, it will adjust according to the new browser size. The content adjusts itself to fit the browser size in the most optimal way.

On a mobile device, a responsive website checks the size of the device in the background and then arranges the content according to the best possible fit. It’s not made for mobile, it just works in the most optimal way by default.


Responsive websites can be easy to implement. They don’t require as much work as an adaptive website, which we’ll talk about next.

Complex websites that include a lot of e-commerce offerings and clickable items can benefit from responsive design. Otherwise, they risk looking too busy and being too hard to navigate.

Responsive design makes content easy to read and images easy to view without the need to zoom in and out. That allows users to browse quickly and using only one hand when they’re on the go.

One big advantage to responsive sites is that there is are plenty of templates and website builders available to implement them. Discover more about website builders that make it simple to update your site.

Responsive websites are good for users too. Ultimately, this is who you want to please. A responsive site features one single design across all platforms and devices. That uniformity makes your site to navigate across devices and that’s a good experience for returning users.

Another major advantage of responsive design is SEO. Responsive websites are search engine friendly and they’ll help you rank better in search engine results.

Consider that mobile searches were more than 50% of all searches in the first quarter of 2017 and that’s up from 34% the previous year. Making sure you’re doing the most to rank high ensures that those mobile consumers are seeing you before your competition.

Responsive design can also support a lot of browsers. It works on Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.


Because responsive design works on the backend to adapt itself for optimal viewing, designers don’t have much control over the design of each screen.

Responsive design also requires a lot of testing, which takes a lot of time. To make sure that the important elements are being viewed in the best possible way, you’ll have to test the site using many different devices (i.e. different smartphones, tablets, and monitors). You’ll also have to test it when new devices are released.

The time it takes to download will be different between desktop and mobile. Pay attention to the image sizes you use. While something may be viewable on a desktop, it may take more time to view on a mobile device (and could take more of the user’s data).

Adaptive Websites

Similar to a responsive website, an adaptive website will change the elements of the website based on the device and browser size of the user. Rather than all content being dynamic, only certain elements of the design will adapt to different browsing and screen sizes.

Designers design multiple fixed layouts. On the backend, the website figures out how much space is available and selects which layout is most optimal.

This isn’t a dynamic process that adapts itself, the adaptations have been pre-determined


Making an adaptive website is far less costly than a responsive website.

They’re great for user download times, too. Because pre-determined images scale for a smaller browser and don’t have to resize on the backend, they’re far faster to download. A responsive site is anywhere from 2 to 3 times faster than a responsive site.

That saves the users data. It’s also more likely to retain potential customers using mobile. 53% of users will leave a site if it doesn’t load within the first 3 seconds of landing.

Your advertising ability is more sophisticated on an adaptive website. Designing for different browser sizes allows you to access a user’s specific needs. Knowing where they check in creates a profile you can use to deliver targeted advertising.


The current standard number of layouts required for an adaptive site is 6. That’s a lot more work than creating a responsive site and a lot more work in terms of maintenance and updating.

Adaptive sites often don’t account for tablet and notebook users. That leaves an entire portion of the mobile population out of the adaptive loop. Those are potential consumers that adaptive sites often don’t focus on.

An adaptive design isn’t as good for SEO as a responsive site.

Mobile-Only Websites

A fading option, mobile-only is another way of making a website that’s good for mobile use. These have an “m” in the URL.

A standalone mobile site is a completely different website that’s made for mobile use. It’s a site based on the same elements as the desktop site but designed for mobile use.


These sites are completely dedicated to mobile use. They rank well on SEO because they’re designed for mobile only.


Creating a completely different website is a lot of work. It takes more time to design and is less cost-effective.

It requires more maintenance as well. As updates occur to your desktop site, you’ll have to manually make those changes on your mobile site. Lack of uniformity isn’t a good user experience so changes have to be well-managed.

More Tech Goodies

Although they’re often thought to be one in the same, adaptive, responsive and mobile-friendly websites are quite different. The way each work across different devices has different advantages and disadvantages for both a business and a user.

As a mobile user, you use your phone for lots of apps, work, and other goodies. Check out our mobile blog for troubleshooting help, what you should be downloading today and other mobile advice.

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