Clients and agencies often ask us whether they should have a standalone website designed specifically for mobile users, or a responsive website which adapts to show site content according to screen size, and therefore is mobile friendly.
Quite simply, we always recommend a mobile responsive site over a separate mobile site. When a mobile visitor arrives at your URL, it is better to re-skin or modify the layout of the normal desktop content so that it is easy to read and navigate on a mobile device.
Standalone mobile websites originally caused concern within the SEO community that Google might penalise both the main site and the standalone mobile site in the search results for having duplicate content, and that any rankings from links might be split between the two and therefore cause a decrease in rankings. Google has since addressed these issues, but has also come out firmly in favour of mobile responsive sites.
There are a number of sensible reasons for having a mobile friendly website, not least because it is what Google recommends. However it is also far easier to maintain one website, than say three different sites that are each designed for a different user device. Not only are there the additional costs of hosting and marketing those separate sites, but all the content and images would have to be reworked for those specific devices.
If you are stuck without a mobile solution for now, do make sure you avoid these common errors which Google will penalise, and instead follow these guidelines:
1. Do not redirect mobile visitors to a different folder or subdomain that offers different standalone content.
2. Do not show web pages that improperly redirect to a different page when called up on a mobile device (for example do not blanket redirect all mobile visitors to your home page).
And do plan to make your website mobile responsive very soon!
In short, unless there are exceptional reasons, always opt for the responsive website over a standalone mobile site. You’ll have happier visitors and better rankings.