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:
- It can create a better user experience.
- A mobile site loads faster than a full size website.
- Visitors on a mobile device may spend more time on the site if it’s optimized for the way they’re viewing.
- A mobile version of a website may contribute to positive brand perception, as in: going the extra mile.
Then again, the downfalls include:
- Mobile versions of websites are (most often) stripped down and simplified, limiting what visitors can see and do.
- Because of point #1, mobile sites can look less polished, and sometimes less on-brand.
- Having a mobile site in addition to a regular website means managing two sites.
- 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?