You have heard the same, tired story all year:
- Smartphone adoption is on the rise.
- More and more consumers are gathering information, shopping, communicating and sharing content online via their mobile devices.
- Over 1 Billion people rely on mobile as their primary internet access point
- The “desktop version” of your website is difficult to read on a mobile handheld, and websites without mobile-optimized versions are behind the curve.
- Yadda, yadda. Etc. etc. Enough already.
If we can all agree it’s time to build a mobile website, here are some options (and some analogies).
The 3 Types of Mobile Websites
Responsive Design – The Transformer
If you’ve ever seen the Transformer movies or cartoons, you are familiar with a scenario in which an angry alien robot can swiftly transform itself into a freightliner or a jet or a Ford Focus and so on.
Similarly, responsive web design allows for content to change and shift based on the size of the device on which it is viewed. Content quite literally responds to the size of your screen. Web developers place script to determine a visitor’s screen size and the page layout reacts accordingly. Responsive design requires no duplication of content. The content you see on the desktop version of the site is exactly the same as text, images and controls you see on the mobile version. Web developers simply build logic into the site code to modify its appearance for the proper viewing experience.
One web address
No content duplication
Site morphs based on device size
- Easy and inexpensive to maintain. Once the logic that transforms the experience is built and operating properly, there is little else to update other than content.
- Less focus on mobile experience. Since the content is the exact same from desktop to tablet to mobile, the latter can often seem cluttered, overloaded or just plain wonky.
Dynamic Serving – The Convenience Store
Large wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s Club allow shoppers to explore gigantic warehouses teeming with products for sale in bulk. At Costco you can pick up a five-gallon tub of twizzlers, a 48-pack of dental floss, a vat of pickle chips, toilet paper packages the size of small cars and other large volume items. However, stroll into 7-Eleven and you don’t have the same amount of options. You may be able to get a handful of twizzlers or a single roll of T-P, but not enough product to fill a loading dock-sized shopping cart. Why? 7-Eleven is built for convenience. It’s smaller, requires less interaction time and has fewer items for sale.
Mobile sites that incorporate dynamic serving embrace this same notion. When you are on the go, you don’t necessarily need more. You need specific. You don’t have time to kill. You embrace velocity. Dynamic serving mobile sites essentially subtract the added filler and leave the absolutely necessary. They give visitors what they need so they can get in and out. While the desktop version may provide for exploration and discovery, the mobile version focuses on convenient utility.
One web address
No content duplication
Content/experience changes based on device
- Provides a better mobile experience. You can make the argument, that dynamic serving offers the most optimal mobile site as only the most mobile-friendly content is included.
- Technical complexity. Subtracting or hiding only certain content is somewhat difficult to setup. Some companies rely heavily on a) analytics expertise to discern what should stay on mobile and b) professional developers to make it happen on all mobile browser types.
- Can be expensive to maintain. Just as setup is tough, long term maintenance can get messy depending upon the volume and variety of content that is added to the site post launch.
Parallel Mobile Site – Double Impact
In 1991 Jean Claude Van Damme starred in one of the worst movies ever produced, Double Impact. The only thing more disgraceful to the acting profession than one JCVD performance is two in the same film. That’s right – Jean Claude did double duty in this one, playing a set of twin brothers separated at birth. One character, Chad, was raised in LA. His twin, Alex, grew up in Tokyo. Miraculously, both brothers had the same terrible Belgian accent.
Audiences couldn’t really tell who JCVD was playing and chose not to watch (good move). In a similar fashion, when Google indexes two websites that look exactly the same and have similar content, it chooses to not rank them as well as it could. The term for this in the search industry is “duplicate content.” Many businesses who have built a separate but identical site for mobile visitors may fall prey to duplicate content penalties.
Two separate sites: 1 Mobile, 1 Desktop
Visitor is redirected to the mobile site when accessing the URL from a smartphone
- Easy implementation. Building a stand-alone mobile site is akin to creating a small website or microsite.
- Redundant updates. When making one change to content, the parallel site approach requires that you make the update twice – once on the desktop version and once on the mobile version.
- Content duplication risk (a Google no-no). If the content on the mobile site is an exact match to the content on the desktop version, there is potential for a duplicate content penalty from the almighty Google.
Have you employed one of these approaches? What other tips or insights can you provide about any of them?