Do You Need a Separate Mobile Website?

The short answer is NO. The long answer is NO, but you do need a mobile-friendly website. But wait. Can you have one site that caters to desktop and mobile users? YES, you can.

Just 8 short years ago the trend in web design was to create your website and then to create a mobile version of your website. You could often tell you were on a mobile site because the domain was m.domainname.com rather than www.domainname.com. The mobile sites were indeed optimized for smartphone screens complete with big buttons to help you navigate with your thumb while driving, a-hem I mean pulling off the side of the road and cautiously browsing that website while in park, of course. I digress, mobile sites were not meant to be a replica of the desktop site, but often had a link to ‘Full Site’.

I found mobile sites most common with my customers who had been sucked into the promises of companies claiming guaranteed #1 rankings on search engines. Those who were paying through the roof for website traffic, search rankings and not surprisingly you guessed it, yellow page ads. (Yellow page ads? Is that still a thing?).

The main challenges with a mobile site, from my point of view, are the need to maintain two sites whose content was in competition with each other for search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is enough of a battle field without turning on yourself! And the mobile sites were focused on smartphones during the rise of tablets. Thank goodness we never resorted to a tablet-specific site size. Lastly, mobile site designers felt they knew exactly what information a visitor would need when they visited the site, so mobile sites often limited the sites to functionality they thought you would need while on-the-go, like directions and contact information. The problem is most people were and still are using their phones and tablets like mobile encyclopedias, newpapers and magazines. They are looking for information while standing in line, in the waiting room, on the elevator, walking (ack!), watching TV, eating, laying in bed and other TMI situations. They want ALL the info ALL the time.

Then responsive design came along and changed everything… With the use of Cascading Style Sheets and a little HTML 5, sites are now designed to re-configure depending on the screen size. Eureka! This means web owners can manage ONE SITE for any screen size, a true one-size-fits-all Cinderella story. With responsive design you can build one search-engine friendly site configured to scale up or down depending on the size of the screen being used to browse. Genius! Considering mobile device use surpassed desktop use in 2016, responsive design couldn’t have come at a better time.

Some of the more sophisticated responsive website designs allow for certain features to be ‘turned off’ on mobile screens. For example, the intranet at Harrell’s contains a We’re Growing section that displays # employees, # sales reps and # of locations. It’s one of those cool treatments that actually counts up the #’s while your scrolling down the page. Though very entertaining and interesting on a desktop, not a great effect on a mobile device, so we turned it off for mobile and tablet views. We did the same thing with the social media feeds. For people not on every (or any) SM platform, we stream our feeds on our intranet. This gives our employee-owners a chance to see what our customers and colleagues are saying about us. This is great for employee-owners on desktops, but on a mobile device it can get clunky and well the social media apps are the better place for this content, so we removed the feeds on mobile and table views.

As you’re wading through the hype and fluff of website design for your business, aim to cater to all users and all devices with one SEO-friendly site using responsive design rather than a specific mobile site. Your site visitors will be glad you did!

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