Mobile Sites – Why they are bad

A few days ago I read an interesting post over at Moz regarding guidelines to building a good mobile site for SEO’s. Whilst I found the article interesting, I didn’t necessarily agree with some of the comments and therefore decided to blog about my thoughts on the topic.

Mobile Site?

Just to make sure we are on the same page here, below is a general mobile website description:
An alternative in design to the conventional layout of something you would see on a laptop or desktop PC. The design and content is optimized specifically for mobile screens which can help to prevent or reduce some of the following:

  • Lower bounce rate
  • Improve long loading times on poor 3G strength
  • Non intuitive usability
  • Reduced frustration and unhappy users
  • A good mobile site will also adjust resolutions depending on screen restraints, sounds good

The Problems

Whilst I like that websites are being developed to work on different mediums, a mobile website is not necessarily the best choice.

1. You are making the user think

If you have read ‘Don’t Make Me Think‘ (which I recommend you do if you haven’t) by Krung, you will be familiar with the most important rule which is the title of the book. A great deal of mobile sites are different in usability, looks, and layout when accessed on a mobile. This is certainly a sin in the world of usability principles and quite simply causes frustration due to inconsistencies between the main website layout.

“Where has the navigation gone!”

Take my favorite Computer Hardware retailer Scan for instance, certainly one of the biggest within the UK. The website has no additional support for mobiles or tablets yet it is perfectly usable despite a default width of 1172px. Each sidebar width is based upon percentages so they collapse a little. This is great as the site is exactly the same and I don’t have to re-learn how to find information or products, much better than a different layout.

2. More work & Cost

It will cost more money, developing two layouts is certainly more expensive than one, much of the time the additional cost can’t be justified either. If you already have a website design and simply want a mobile site then yes it could be the inexpensive option, but keep reading.

Mobile sites are typically completely separate entities compared with their sister site, so naturally if you decided to change any ascetic features then both projects will have to be change, repeating this leads more time, more cost, and inconsistencies between the two sites. You could argue that is due to poor project management, but regardless it still happens, and your end user gets the inconsistencies, not good.

3. Not really faster

One consideration you should have regarding browsing sites on a mobile device.

People are willing to wait longer for content to load on mobiles.

Many users are conditioned to wait for websites to load on mobile devices, this could be due to the website, but more likely due to the signal strength. Typically mobile sites usually take around the same time depending upon the site type, the deviation here is approximately between 5% to 10%. As a result unless you’re getting seriously high traffic, there will be barely any difference in bounce rate or conversions.

4. Users don’t care

Simply put, users are not going to exit your website just because it’s not optimized for mobile unless the layout is horribly broken and completely unusable. The only time a user realises they are using a mobile site is due to the differences between the normal website.

5. Responsive design

They are quite a few mixed feeling on responsive web design, but when compared to a mobile site, they do seem like a better option. There may be more initial costs switching an existing design to responsive rather than just building a separate mobile site, but time and money you will save when performing changes within one project, rather than two will make the initial investment worth it and massively reduce inconsistencies.

Final thoughts

If a websites offers quality content, then users will compromise on design, looks, and layout to visit the resource. I haven’t heard of anyone who won’t visit a site because it simply does not look great on their mobile phone or tablet.

Look at your analytics and do some testing, if your websites loads too slowly on a mobile then make it fast, Google offer an awesome tool which I’ve used in the past for this. Browse your website on your mobile and get some feedback from users using mobiles, it might just involve a few minor CSS fixes to make a site behave normally on mobile.

Ash Grennan

I can cook 1 minute rice in 58 seconds, I enjoy coding and sharing things.