Are Mobile Websites Necessary?

I used to believe having a mobile version of a website was forward-thinking, advantageous and just all around smart. A year+ later, I’m changing my mind. And I should. Things change. Habits change. Smartphones are pretty smart. I’m now prepared to argue that many websites, can serve audiences well without the aid of a mobile version. In other words, it’s not a “given” that every website needs a mobile version.

What is a mobile website? Not a silly question. You’ve likely encountered mobile sites and not realized it. Mobile sites are pared down versions of a full website. The content on a mobile site represents a small percentage of the content you can find on a full site. The advantages of such a version are listed below, but the main advantage is it is designed specifically for a small screen and on-the-go viewing. Take WestJet’s website and mobile site as an example:

You can see how the mobile version of the site (on the right) simplifies and directs the experience for those on a handheld device. This is an example where a mobile site makes a lot of sense. “Big” websites that are photo-heavy, flash-based, and/or content-jammed may better serve its audiences with a mobile version for mobile visitors.  Websites for festivals and outdoor events would also benefit from a mobile site as the audience is more likely to need to access the website while at the event.

However, in many cases mobile visitors (on tablets, iPads, Androids and iPhones, etc.) can comfortably and easily navigate around a website, expanding on hard-to-read menus and other features without the need for a mobile-designed site. Indeed, some visitors can become annoyed with how limiting mobile sites can be. Take this local bike shop as an example: (Sorry Obsession: Bikes. You’re a terrific shop.)

As you can partially see here on the top image, Obsession: Bikes has a well-branded, fun mobile version of the main website. However, the mobile version only offers ways for visitors to get in touch with, or physically find the shop. Sure, mobile sites should focus the experience, but in this case visitors don’t have the option of clicking through to the main website. That means mobile visitors will not be able to browse through “Stuff We Sell” or “Services”, like they can on the full site (shown on bottom image).

To recap then, there are solid arguments for having a mobile version of your website. Some of those points include:

  1. It can create a better user experience.
  2. A mobile site loads faster than a full size website.
  3. Visitors on a mobile device may spend more time on the site if it’s optimized for the way they’re viewing.
  4. A mobile version of a website may contribute to positive brand perception, as in: going the extra mile.

Then again, the downfalls include:

  1. Mobile versions of websites are (most often) stripped down and simplified, limiting what visitors can see and do.
  2. Because of point #1, mobile sites can look less polished, and sometimes less on-brand.
  3. Having a mobile site in addition to a regular website means managing two sites.
  4. Cost. Some mobile websites incur additional costs, although some programming platforms have plugins available.

The bottom line can be found in web data. If your web analytics point to a surge of mobile visitors, who are bouncing en mass  because you don’t have a mobile site – or are sticking around and converting, because you do – then you have your answer.

What do you think? What have your experiences been like on mobile sites or on websites you felt should have had a mobile version?

Erin

6 comments on “Are Mobile Websites Necessary?

  1. Thank you! Mobile websites drives me NUTS! Why have phones who run full HTML if you get automatically dropped into the limited version of a website? Pet peeves: when a website doesn’t include a Go To Full Site option and that it seems like 80% of mobile websites have never been beta tested and DO NOT work properly. I can see where some websites need a mobile (a small percentage IMO) but at least test the darn thing and make sure it works properly. I also REALLY think there should be an option on tablets to skip mobile sites all together. Just because it is a mobile OS doesn’t mean it needs to get stuck in the mobile site – it’s almost the size of a laptop thankyouverymuch.

  2. When I visit a website on my phone, I usually click on ‘Full Site’ option. If a website doesn’t offer that option, I’m out.

  3. I think most phone now can handle most standand 960px websites. Take ask.fm for an example

  4. We just noticed this article, thanks for the feedback! We are in the works to redesign our website and we found this helpful. All the best!

    -The Obsessed
    Obsession: Bikes

  5. I had a mobile website for a year. The company did not offer the (go to main site) option on my site. I began to notice visitors leave quick. I hate it myself when I can’t see the whole site, I asked many people what they do when they can’t see the whole site. Everyone I asked want the full site or nothing.

    I got rid of mobile site. Most phones handle the pages fine. I think it will be another year before more people realize it.

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