Traditionally, websites have always been designed for optimum display on a desktop or laptop PC. Usually, as long as a few issues are borne in mind, like avoiding the use of flash and any action which requires a “hover” action to function (a lot of drop down menus used to work this way) a desktop designed website will function well on a tablet device like an ipad too.
However, the last few years have seen an upsurge in the number of people using handheld mobile devices to access websites and, in many cases, what looks great on a standard PC can be hard to use on a mobile – everything looks too small, and you need to scroll left / right as well as up / down which makes it hard to keep track of where you are. Usually the navigation is too small fo normal sized fingers to use unless you enlarge the screen.
Some facts (courtesy of Hubspot)
67% of mobile users who land on a mobile optimized site are more likely to convert than if the page wasn’t mobile optimized, and that 61% of mobile users are likely to move onto a competitor’s site if the page they landed on isn’t mobile optimized.
So, mobile optimised websites are becoming more common, particularly where businesses know that a good proportion of their site visitor use mobile devices. There are two ways to create a website that is usable on a mobile device:
- A separate mobile website, where a redirect script is inserted into your website will redirect users to the mobile version depending on the type of device they are using. This will typically have “m.” in front of the URL, so for example, mysite.com will appear as m.mysite.com to a mobile user.
- A responsively designed site which “responds” to the size of the screen and will re-organise the layout to suit. In this case the URL remains the same, it’s just the way that the information is displayed that changes.
Why consider a separate mobile website?
Because the mobile website is a separate entity, you can elect not to display all of the same information. For example,
- You might have some complex data tables on your desktop site which you don’t think mobile users will want to view, so you could omit those.
- You might want to reduce the number of pages or the amount of content on each page
So you could, design your mobile website to be completely different to your desktop site if you wanted to – to make sure that mobile users can find what they need as quickly and simply as possible.
If you want to display the same content to mobile users, just reorganised for their device, there are some tools available to create the website at fairly low cost. If you want to make more radical changes though, there is a bit more work to do. Either way, the downside to this is that you effectively have two (or more) websites to host and maintain which will increase your ongoing support costs.
There are some other issues connected with Search Engine Optimisation on mobile websites. Here are some of the reasons:
There are so many devices out there (and more coming along all the time), that your mobile site may provide the optimal user experience on all of them. We usually optimise mobile sites for i-phones, which are the most common handheld device currently, and this normally works okay for androids, blackberrys etc. However people using Kindles, ipad minis etc may not see the best display for their device. You could get round this by having a range of different mobile sites, with different sub-domains for different devices – now it all gets quite complicated because every time you change something on the site, you need to change it in several places, and if you add new pages, you need to link them in with the various redirect scripts.
A compromise solution is to have one mobile website which (currently at least) will work for most visitors, but may disappoint some. This decision may need revisiting on a regular basis though, as devices and user behaviours continue to change.
It would be better really to future-proof your website as far as possible by having something which can respond to types of device which haven’t even been introduced yet.
Many people that maintain both a desktop and mobile optimized site don’t follow Google’s best practices for mobile site redirects. The most common problem we see is that the redirect scripts sends all visitors to the mobile website home page, rather than the specific page they were trying to view (e.g. the one which appeared on the Google search results). Assuming that the page does exist on the mobile website, they will be able to navigate to it, but it’s not the best experience. There are ways around this, but you may still have a problem if you’ve decided not to display some of your pages on the mobile version, so you will need to find ways to avoid site visitors from seeing a “404 not found” page – that doesn’t look good! Again, more ongoing maintenance may be needed to keep things working properly.
For this reason, many experts believe that Google prefers responsively designed websites that only access one URL across all devices, so no scripts or redirects are needed and there are no “dead ends”.
Why Consider a responsive website
Responsive design means that you only have just a single domain, e.g. MyWebSite.com. Because you only have one website, you only need to make edits once – as long as the site “skin” has been designed properly, any amended or new pages, should automatically display correctly on every device.
Because a responsive site reacts to the size of the screen it’s being viewed on, rather than the type of device, it can cope with anything from the largest screen size to the smallest and everything in between. So any new devices coming to the market shouldn’t present any problem.
The only downside really is that it costs more to design and build your website, but for many businesses, we believe this is a sensible investment to make to future-proof your website.
How to decide?
Firstly, do you need a mobile website at all?
If your webstats show that very few of your visitors use handheld mobile devices and your website displays well on a tablet device, perhaps you don’t need to worry about this yet. However, do look at your Google Analytics stats if you have them, and you’ll be able to see exactly what types of devices people are using. You could argue that however small the percentage is, if some potential customers can’t view your website, you could be losing business. So we’d recommend it, but you might decide to wait a while.
Do you need a responsive site or a separate mobile site?
This is likely to be a business decision based on the short and long term cost benefit, and also the size of your website and the type of information it has. If you have a fairly small, straightforward website, then a mobile site with the same content, can be low cost, quick solution for the short to medium term.
Alternatively, if you have a very complex site and believe (after research of course!) that your mobile users would like to see something more simple on a mobile device, then a mobile site might be the best option for you.
However, if you want to make sure that your visitors will be able to see all of your content, regardless of the type of device they are using, you should consider having your website rebuilt with a responsive design. In our view a responsive site represents the best long-term solution but it does come at a cost.