Adaptive or Responsive Web Design – Determine the Better Digital Marketing Strategy

Are you confused about what adaptive and responsive web design mean and whether you should consider one of these marketing strategies for your website? You’re not alone. Many website owners and marketers are perplexed about these strategies and the benefits they offer. Basically, they adjust websites so content displays well in mobile phones, tablets and many other web devices.

Your marketing strategy should include reaching out to these device users so read on to find out how. I’ll also help you explore which website design technique will best serve your Internet marketing needs.

Determine Which Device Users Matter Most to Your Business

Since your current website visitors could be potential or existing customers, you shouldhandheld-devices research their browsing habits to find out how they are viewing your website. Don’t fear, this information isn’t hard to get. Website analytic software will tell you what devices people are using to view your website. If you find a large percentage of visitors favor a particular device or an increasing trend, then use adaptive or responsive web design to improve the website experience you provide on that device.

Don’t forget about your prospects. Seek out research to learn which devices, if any, your prospects are using. Here’s some data to get your started. Pew Internet surveyed 2,200 people in the US and found:

  • One-third of adults owned a smartphone and it was the main source of Internet access for one-quarter of them.
  • Highest smartphone usage came from people earning $75 thousand or more annually; African Americans and Latinos; and people between 25 and 34 years old.

A 2013 Google survey of 1,000 smartphone owners had similar findings with higher usage coming from people between 25 and 34 years old and those earning between $50 and $75 thousand annually. If these demographics match those of your prospects, then it’s time to take the plunge and use adaptive or responsive web design to create a website that serves them well.

Difference Between Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design modifies a single website to view well in all device screen sizes, from large TV size monitors to small mobile phones. Adaptive design targets a specific device screen size, such as a desktop computer monitor or a smartphone. There’s much debate about which strategy is better so I’ll outline some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Responsive Web Design – Pros and Cons


  • Saves time when updating content. You only have to update content and images once because they are repositioned and resized to fit different device screen sizes. This is a responsive website so you can resize your browser to see how the content changes or view this blog post on your mobile device and compare it to the view on your desktop computer. The resize browser demo will not work with Internet Explorer version 8 (or older versions) because those browsers don’t support responsive web design.
  • One URL structure improves the user experience and search engine optimization. Only one URL is used for every web page. This makes it easier for people to share and interact with your site. Let’s say someone sends a link from a web page viewed in a mobile device to a friend who views it on a desktop computer monitor. If the link is from a responsive website, the page will view well. If the link is from a website created specifically for a mobile phone, the recipient will have difficulty viewing the page on a large screen.

Search engines consider social media activity when ranking websites in search results. If sharing your content through social media is part of your search engine and marketing strategy, responsive web design will better fit your needs. Google prefers responsive design because it makes it easier for the engine to discover and index web content.


website-load-speedCan increase website load speed. Extra software is required to adapt web content to different screen sizes. Larger images are often used and scaled down for smaller screens. Loading the extra code and large images means responsive sites usually take longer to load on mobile devices which use data networks that tend to have slower connection speeds. There are some software and image solutions that can ease these burdens on load speed but they aren’t ideal. The web design community is improving these solutions so they will get better over time.

Adaptive Web Design – Pros and Cons


  • Can reduce website load speed for smaller devices. Since a website is built for a specific device, only the resources necessary for that device are loaded in a web browser. With fewer resources, a website will ususlly load faster.
  • Content and functionality can be better customized for a device. Both design strategies offer the ability to customize content and functionality for various screen sizes but adaptive offers more control. The user experience can be fine-tuned when you only design for one screen size. Large news and ecommerce websites benefit from the customized user experience offered by a site designed for a specific screen size, such as a mobile device.


  • Requires more website maintenance. An adaptive approach requires content updates on multiple website templates which utilizes more time and resources.

What’s the best web design technique for your marketing strategy?

Consider your present website audience, prospects and marketing goals to determine which website design technique to use. Websites that see a large percentage of traffic coming from a specific device, sell many products online or want to deliver a highly customized user experience may be better off using an adaptive web design. Responsive may be better suited for bloggers or businesses that want their content shared; websites that deliver information and don’t have complex functionality; and websites that want to offer a better user experience on many devices.

If you found this information useful, please share it with others.

Photo Credits

Lisa Simpson compliments of Steven D. Palmer.
Devices compliments of Nigel Goldsmith.
Stopwatch compliments of Pixaby.

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  1. says

    I’ve actually never heard of the term “adaptive design”, Mary, and now that I have I still think responsive is the way to go.

    I just moved Traffic Generation Café to a responsive theme and loving it.

    • says

      Ana, I think responsive was the right choice for your website because your blog is an important part of your business, and the posts will view well when shared on various devices. I like your new theme. The images and layout look good on mobile phones and tablets. I also noticed on smaller devices you show the content that’s most important to your audience first which is great for usability.