Adaptive design is considered less flexible because a new device with a screen size you didn’t plan for could break your layout. Which means you’ll need to edit an old layout or add a new one. Screen sizes are constantly changing and highly variable.
In the long run, a responsive layout will require less maintenance. Responsive sites are flexible enough to work well on their own by default, even if there’s a new device or screen size in the market. But adaptive websites will need occasional maintenance.
Google recommends and rewards sites that use responsive design. A mobile-friendly website ranks higher on search engine results pages. Adaptive design can be challenging to SEO.
Advantages and disadvantages of responsive design
Let’s look at the pros and cons of responsive design.
Advantages of responsive design
Responsive web design has some obvious advantages:
Regardless of the device type — desktop, mobile, etc. — visitors will get the same, seamless experience. This instills a feeling of familiarity and trust, even as they transition from one device to another.
Fewer maintenance tasks
Because the site uses the same content across all devices, it won’t require much engineering or maintenance time. A responsive design will cut down on the time and effort you spend updating your site. You’ll have more time for essential tasks like A/B testing, marketing, customer service, and content development.
Responsive design is easier to set up and faster to implement because you don’t need an additional mobile site. You can save on development, support, and maintenance costs associated with creating stand-alone mobile sites. Logistically, you can also organize and control all your content in one centralized location.
Improve crawling and indexing efficiency
For responsive websites, a single web crawler agent will crawl your page once, rather than multiple times with different crawler agents to retrieve all versions of the content. Responsive sites don’t need to change for mobile-first indexing, which directly improves the crawling efficiency and indirectly helps search engines index more of your site's content, keeping it appropriately fresh.
More search engine friendly
As we’ve mentioned earlier, Google favors responsive web designs. While there are many ranking factors, Google shows mobile-friendly content first. Make sure your web design tool allows you to identify if you have a mobile-friendly site.
Disadvantages of responsive design
While responsive web design is great, it’s not without drawbacks. Here are the things to watch for when deciding which web design format is best for your requirements and goals:
Slower page loading
One of the biggest concerns of responsive web design is load time. Responsive websites load the information for all devices, not just for the device visitors are viewing your site on.
Difficulty integrating advertisements
Because ads have to accommodate all resolutions, it can be more challenging to integrate them effectively with responsive sites. The website will flow from device to device, so while the site adjust to specific screen sizes, ads may not properly configure.
Advantages and disadvantages of adaptive design
Let's look at the pros and cons of choosing an adaptive web design.
Advantages of adaptive design
When you go with an adaptive website, you can enjoy the following benefits:
Highly targeted for each user
By optimizing the experience for individual devices, you ensure each visitor receives a personalized experience. You can deliver and adjust your content by targeting things like the person’s location and connection speed.
Faster load times
Only the version of the website visitors need will be loaded, which makes page load a little faster. This is especially true for smartphone users — the mobile layout is a more simplified version of its desktop counterpart, using fewer images and easier navigation.
Optimized for advertising
There's an increasing number of designers who are optimizing advertising options in responsive designs. For example, they’re switching 728x90 banners for 468×90 banners to cater to smaller resolutions. But with adaptive sites, designers can optimize advertisements based on user data from smaller screens.
Reusable existing website
Adaptive means your designers won’t need to return to the drawing board and re-code your existing website from the ground up. This is an essential consideration — many complex websites are built with legacy code over time. Starting from scratch isn’t an option.
Disadvantages of adaptive design
Here are some disadvantages to be aware of when it comes to adaptive web design:
Labor-intensive to create
Adaptive design is much more work-intensive because of the number of technical aspects to consider. Normally, it requires several versions of the site to (almost always) be built from scratch. This means each page version is constructed separately.
Harder to maintain
Because you have multiple versions of the website, each version has to be updated individually. Generally, you need to design for the 6 most common screen widths; 320, 480, 760, 960, 1200, and 1600 pixels. And that number keeps growing, making a designer’s job harder and more time consuming when it comes to site maintenance.
Aside from being time-consuming, adaptive web design requires a large team of developers. You’ll incur more expenses to handle the complexity of developing, maintaining, and supporting an adaptive website.
Challenging to optimize for SEO
While adaptive design is a good approach, identical content on different sites can hurt you. Search engines don’t like identical content on multiple sites and they could penalize you by downgrading your ranking.
When to use responsive design
If you’re still in doubt, here’s the final consideration when deciding to go for responsive design:
- Responsive design is perfect for small to medium-sized companies that need to update their existing sites
- Responsive design is ideal for new businesses that need to build a brand-new site
- Responsive design is recommended for service-based industries because they’re primarily made up of text and images
- Responsive design is budget-friendly so you can have a beautiful, fully functional site for a reasonable price
When to use adaptive design
When considering adaptive design, here are some final points to keep in mind:
- Adaptive design is best for existing complex websites that require a mobile version
- Adaptive design is recommended for speed-dependent sites
- Adaptive design is great for a highly targeted experience you can adapt to someone’s location, connection speed, and more
- Adaptive design is perfect for those who need more control over how their site is delivered to different users across different devices
The decision is yours
As more and more devices are introduced to the market, people around the globe are quick to adapt. This makes choosing between responsive and adaptive design more complex.
Responsive web design seems like the safest bet if you’re looking for a cost-effective, convenient way to build a highly functional, seamless user experience. And, in the long run, responsive sites require less upkeep and maintenance. But this is merely a generalization. Adaptive design also comes with great benefits like a more personalized and target user experience.
The key is understanding and planning for your needs, goals, and budget — now and in the future.