There are a three primary ways to optimize a website for mobile use: mobile sites, responsive websites and mobile applications, or apps. Deciding which one fits best depends on a company’s budget, timeline and the purpose of the platform.

A brief description of each format is as follows:

Mobile sites: Mobile sites are designed with smart device use in mind. It is a separate website from a company’s main domain — usually hosted on a sub-domain (often written in an format) or on a separate domain, altogether.

Mobile site design centers on enlarged buttons, graphics and hypertext to mimic smartphone and tablet apps. Unlike a desktop website, mobile sites usually include a skewed down list of capabilities or function. The sites are accessed through an active Web browser.

Though mobile sites tend to be the least expensive of the mobile options, the designs may not always appear mobile-friendly on user’s devices, since they aren’t actually optimized for mobile device platforms on the backend (or in the computer coding).

Responsive sites: Responsive websites are built using a special framework that is mobile-friendly no matter what device is accessing a website. That means the same site can be viewed on a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop with ease.

The technology works by incorporating percentages on the backend, which allow the information to adjust to any screen size. Responsive sites are often considered “future-proof” because they don’t rely on aligning with the operating systems of smart devices. Unlike mobile sites, responsive web designs are channeled through a company’s native site, thus reducing costs for additional design.

Mobile applications: Mobile applications, or apps, are standalone software programs that are downloaded to a device from its manufacturer’s store. For example, iPhone users access apps at the iTunes App Store, while Android users download apps from the Android Market.

Mobile apps are developed from scratch, although there are several available templates to which companies can base their designs. The benefits of apps include such features as messaging, photo and imaging capabilities, push notifications, GPS and overall high functionality.

The apps are typically low cost, or free to users. However, mobile apps are considered the more costly of mobile options to the host company because they must be created separately, and specifically for each mobile operating system (OS).

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