So you’ve seen all of the statistics floating around the web about the steady increase in mobile web traffic versus desktop, and you’re sufficiently concerned about how mobile-friendly your website is. Now what? Well, there are many approaches to creating a good mobile experience for your users. Now, many web designers and developers have their preferred methods of dealing with this problem, and I am no exception. But I would like to note, that ALL of these have their pros and cons, and hopefully, this post will help you understand why a wordpress plugin that promises to automatically create a mobile version of your website may not be the best thing for you.
Now, there are three main ways that a mobile experience can be delivered to a user: a responsive website, a dedicated mobile website, or an application. I will further define and list the pros and cons of each below.
Dedicated Mobile Websites:
A dedicated mobile website is separate website that is just for mobile devices. When a user visits your desktop site, it detects what type of device they are using, and if it is a known mobile device, then it redirects them automatically to the mobile site. Usually this located at something like m.yoursitehere.com or mobile.yoursitehere.com. Here’s the pros and cons.
- Experience and content can be more easily tailored to for the mobile user.
- Faster page load times can be achieved.
- Slight advantage in Search Engine Optimization for mobile searches.
- Tends to underdeliver for tablet users.
- Makes updating difficult, because you have to update both desktop and mobile sites.
Responsive websites are single sites built to respond to the screen size of the user, instead of the device. This delivers a consistent content experience across all devices. A responsive website basically contains code that says, “Hey browser, when the screen gets down to this size, rearrange things to look like this, so everything fits on the screen.”
- Consistent experience on all devices and platforms
- Easier to update, because you only have to make updates in one place
- Usually delivers a better experience on tablet.
- Can slow page load times
- Doesn’t get the SEO benefit of the mobile or m. URLs
Mobile applications are not always talked about in the same sentences as mobile websites, but I think it’s worth weighing them in for the fight. Mobile applications are dedicated programs outside of the browser, that are usually bought through an application store like the Android Market or Apple’s App Store. Applications offer the most custom tailored experience of all three strategies. Mobile applications give you access to functionality outside of the mobile browser to more of the device’s functionality. For instance, what if you wanted your users to be able to instantly take and submit a photo of themselves? Well an application could allow your users to access the camera’s phone from within the app. Also, an application could potentially assign functionality to the device’s physical buttons. If your content is such that your users will need to check for updates regularly, and you have the budget (application development tends to be more expensive), then an application might be worth looking into.
- Even More tailored experience
- Access to outside-of-the-browser functionality like physical buttons, camera, etc.
- Little to no load time
- Expensive time-consuming to develop
- Users have to find and download application
- You have to develop applications for each platform you want to target (Andriod, iOS, Windows, Etc.)
In summary, responsive is becoming a more and more popular solution for people seeking a consistent mobile solution without a lot of hassle to update. If you are looking to deliver more content, like perhaps a media rich site (lots of videos, audio streaming, etc.), and have more time / staff to keep things updated, then maybe a dedicated mobile site is the way to go. If on the other hand, you have lots of mobile consistent content, that requires your users to heavily interact or check for updates, and you have the budget and capabilities, then a mobile application may be exactly what you need. So, there is no magic bullet to solve all of your mobile problems. It is up to you to look at your needs, budget, and time to decide which solution is best for you. Hopefully this information will be helpful!