Marketingblatt - Marketing Blog


Responsive Design – “mobile first” vs. “mobile only”

W4 | W4 / November 29, 2018

Nowadays, no website is solely built for desktop devices. The ongoing process of digitalization and the changes in the way the internet is used show that a mobile version is absolutely necessary. Mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, are being used more than ever. Customers expect to use fully functional websites and online shops on their respective devices. Regarding the prioritization of mobile devices, the focus constantly shifted between “mobile first” and “mobile only” during the last few years. Not without reason: both options are advantageous, however the usage of any one or the other is dependent on context and required functions.

Table of Content
  1. The context dictates the focus
  2. Mobile first
  3. Mobile only
  4. Is a mobile-only website worth it for your company?
  5. The future stays mobile

The context dictates the focus.

Meanwhile, one thing is certain: the prioritization of devices depends largely on the context of usage. If you want to write a longer text, you will probably use the desktop computer since it is more comfortable. If you want to quickly edit and post a photo on a social network platform, a respective smartphone app is certainly the easier and faster option. Moreover, the location plays a key role in defining which device will be used. If you are on your way home from work, waiting for your train to arrive, the smartphone is surely the right option to pass your time. If you go on a long-distance flight, you probably want to use a tablet instead for watching a movie on a bigger display. Users constantly switch between devices. Some services are better accessed via the smartphone, others are targeted for the use at a desktop computer. However, it is clear that the respective situational context plays a decisive role in the choice of device.

Mobile first.

With the rapid distribution of smartphones, web design also shifted towards responsive design and "mobile first". Online shops as well as websites have consequently enriched their concept by including mobile versions of their pages. This new approach basically describes a prioritization. The correct displaying on mobile devices is of utmost priority when it comes to web development. Desktop versions are still being developed, however their importance only comes second. Developers are facing new challenges: they have to focus on developing an efficient, mobile design in which, for example, short loading time is of great importance. Every byte counts here. Only the essential should be displayed and thus developers cannot copy from already existent websites that have been optimized for desktop usage. Since the importance of mobile internet has rapidly grown during the last few years, developers focused on first creating websites for small devices before working on the desktop version. Considering the fact that many users prefer mobile devices, this seems to be a plausible course of action. In order to meet the expectations of the growing number of these users, it pays off to focus on mobile versions first.

Mobile only

Current numbers of internet usage show that about 60 % of users spend their online time in apps and mobile browsers – mostly in online shop apps. Mobile devices have become the most important source for buying decisions. The majority – which also includes millennials, who by now count as one of the most important target groups – is using the smartphone for browsing products and making up their minds about buying a product. In line with the trends, some companies like snapchat or have developed applications that are exclusively working on mobile devices. In contrast to “mobile first” solutions, “mobile only” products are not realized for desktop computers at all. The functionalities of apps pose a challenge. They have to fulfill the customers’ expectations have regarding online shops. Moreover, they need to be user-oriented, fast, structured and sales-oriented. Developers thus have to re-invent the customer journey in order to meet the expectations and requirements of their mobile buyers.

What is a Mobile ONLY website?

A mobile-only website is a website specifically optimized for viewing on mobile devices. Unlike responsive websites, it is not designed to be viewed on desktop computers. Its main goal is to provide an improved user experience for mobile users by offering content and features specifically optimized for use on smartphones or tablets.

Is a mobile-only website worth it for your company?

A mobile website is optimized for display on smartphones and tablets. A mobile-ONLY website completely dispenses with a desktop version. But when does it make sense to switch to a purely mobile website?

It's worth it for you if:

  1. Your target audience is almost exclusively mobile. Check your website analytics: Is mobile traffic over 80%? If your audience primarily accesses your website via smartphones or tablets, a mobile-only website can improve the user experience.

  2. Your content and functions are primarily optimized for mobile use. Does your website offer easy navigation, fast loading times and responsive elements? If your content, services or products are specifically optimized for mobile users, a dedicated mobile-only website can provide a better user experience.

  3. You want to save resources. Development and maintenance of a mobile-only website can be more cost-effective.
    You want to take on an innovative pioneering role. Mobile-only is future-oriented, but not yet mainstream.

  4. Fast loading times and easy navigation are ensured: A mobile-only website should offer fast loading times and easy navigation to meet the needs of mobile users and increase their satisfaction

  5. You want an additional mobile presence: If you want to build an additional mobile presence alongside your desktop website to better target and reach mobile users, a mobile-only website can be a good option.

However, also consider:

  • Possible limitations for desktop users. Not all target groups only use mobile devices.
  • More complex functions may be limited. Forms or interactive elements require careful optimization.
  • SEO optimization requires adjustments. Search engines prefer responsive websites for overall ranking.


A mobile-ONLY website is suitable for companies with a heavily mobile target group and a focus on content and functions for smartphones. Weigh the advantages against the limitations and, if in doubt, seek advice from an expert!

The future stays mobile

Be it “mobile first” or “mobile only” – one thing is certain: the development of contemporary buying behavior influences design and realization of e-commerce platforms.  Which strategies should be adopted by individual companies largely depends on context and desired functionalities. Both options are applicable but depend on the target audience and the product - these have to be considered in every individual case. Online shops should provide both, an optimized solution for desktop as well as mobile, in order to comply with the current buying behavior: browsing on mobile devices, purchasing at the desktop computer. “Mobile only” makes sense if access to desktop devices is not possible, for example in threshold countries or during field work. Depending on the business model and the mobile marketing strategy, “mobile only” and “mobile first” may both work well. However, companies should never disregard developing solutions for mobile devices if they don’t want to seem out of date and miss the connection to the fast-growing market of mobile internet usage.

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Sarah Wilhelm
Sarah Wilhelm
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