Go Mobile or Go Home!

The shift to mobile is well underway…

In an era where wireless devices outnumber the human population, you should be concerned about the appearance of your website on tablets and smart phones. Having a website is the first step in building a mobile strategy. Chances are that your website can already be accessed by any mobile device with a browser.  Now you may be asking yourself, “Well if my site can already be seen on a mobile device, than why am I still reading this?”  The answer is simple, although you have a website, is it really usable by your target customers?

According to Pew Internet (see pie chart above), in 2012, 55% of mobile-phone owners went online and 17% of all mobile-phone owners went online exclusively via their phone. With the ongoing proliferation of browsers and devices that can access your content and e-commerce offerings, your website can be at a huge disadvantage if it isn’t optimized for mobile browsing.

Which Mobile Strategy Best Fits Your Website?

If you want a website that looks great on mobile devices and cell phones, there are two main routes to consider:

1.     Dedicated Mobile Site 

mobile_website

A mobile site is essentially a copy of your website, where the server does the work to deliver an optimized page that’s smaller and easier to navigate. These sites might even be hosted on their own subdomain, like “m.yourcompany.com.” Typically when we consider using this approach, it is to complement an existing website that might be too extensive to redesign responsively or you just might need a section of your site to be accessible for mobile users.  Mobile sites can range between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on existing site functions and the number of pages to be converted.

2.     Responsive Website Design (RWD)  

responsive_website_design

Ethan Marcotte, a well-known web designer and developer coined the term to refer to the concept of a web page “being responsive to any device that accesses it while delivering the appropriate output for the view to be able to interact with that web page.”  Basically, using this more costly yet versatile option, a device will automatically adjust according to a device’s screen size (large or small) and orientation (landscape or portrait). If done correctly, a responsive website will improve the usability and user experience for your target customers.

In this blog, we’ll discuss a few of the advantages and disadvantages of a few of the options available for “going mobile.” (The list is by no means complete.)

Dedicated Mobile Site Pros and Cons 

  • Benefit #1: Easier, faster to implement and less expensive to launch.

With mobile sites, you don’t have to worry about any outdated legacy code from your current site and you can start fresh with modern best practices and it is potentially more cost-effective than responsive design.

  • Benefit #2: Only the most essential information is presented in a streamlined interface.

Mobile sites allow us to customize a completely unique experience for mobile users based on the original website’s most popular and essentials functions.  For example, if your website rates local restaurants, and that the most commonly visited section of your website presents users with the ability to search, view and book restaurant reservations.   You can take advantage of this on mobile and present a single focus highlighting this function rather than converting the entire site to mobile.

  • Drawback #1: A separate silo of content is created that needs to be maintained.

No matter which CMS (content management system) you use, it is more than likely that a number of areas on your site will need to be managed manually between your main site and your mobile site. With this approach, you have to monitor which changes are made in order to keep the content on your main site and mobile site consistent.   Also, if you go the route of using a custom domain or subdomain, your two sources of content (mobile and desktop) might compete for search engine traffic. In order to alleviate this problem from occurring, we label the mobile content as ‘noindex’ with meta tags or using a robots.txt file to limit access to search engine web crawlers.

  • Drawback #2: Usually only targets one screen size.

Typically, when building a mobile site, only the screen size of a smart-phone is considered.    Whereas responsive design generates varied screen sizes, the limiting nature of mobile sites restricts the appearance of the screen size and cannot be adjusted for other screens like tablets.  One option here is to build your mobile site utilizing certain responsive techniques and have it accommodate to different screen sizes.

  • Drawback #3: Could result in higher maintenance costs over time

As mentioned above, creating a mobile site introduces separate silo’s of information that must be maintained.  Increased maintenance costs may arise as both your mobile site and your main site grow in complexity.

Responsive Web Design Pros and Cons  

  • Benefit #1: Use the same code and content throughout

The greatest strength of responsive design is that the same code and content is used for all website layouts.  Unlike dedicated mobile sites, with RWD the mobile and desktop versions of your website will also have the same URLs and your website analytics reports will paint a clearer picture of your site’s usage since the data from the mobile and desktop versions will be consolidated.

  • Benefit #2: Present a custom experience on a wide range of screen sizes

Typically, when we consider a responsive design, we design for phone, tablet and desktop-sized layouts. That alone could cover all your bases, however; we can also code your CSS for as many different layouts types as you need. Our programmers code to ensure that page layouts aren’t pushed off the page and that images will be scaled up, down or switched out in keeping with the proportions of the screen.

  • Drawback #1: Different design variations need to be considered

One possible drawback to responsive design is that for every different layout you want on your site, you need to consider several visual design variations to accommodate each screen size proportionally. It is recommended that these considerations be made prior to the development of the website since it is less efficient and more difficult to introduce responsive design afterwards.  This could present longer lead-times to get a project out the door and cause a hold or pause in the production of a site.

  • Drawback #2: Some duplicated content may be necessary

Because each screen size is unique, some layouts will require content to be rearranged to accommodate their design. Most often, this can be done with CSS, however sometimes, we hide or re-arrange certain sections of content, for example, if a screen is less than 300 pixels wide, which might be the case on a smartphone, the site might display an alternate navigation, like a drop down, that works better on a narrow screen.

As you can see, there are a number of aspects to consider when thinking about your mobile strategy.  If you have a large, existing site and are not able to currently redesign to accommodate mobile users, the mobile site is a step in the right direction. However, if you have a smaller site or are due for a redesign (or don’t have a website at all), a responsive approach is probably a more sensible strategy to fulfill your mobile goals.

We have helped numerous clients work through these difficulties to build the best mobile solutions for their business.  Contact us today for a free site evaluation and extend your existing site to compete in the mobile marketplace.

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Posted: April 10, 2013