There is no denying that mobile usage will continue to climb. This number from google think is telling: 42% of travelers are more likely to use their smartphone* or tablet for travel- or vacation-related information while on a trip versus 33% in 2012.
That's a 9% jump in just one year. For those in destination marketing, figuring out mobile is very important. Mobile has everyone scratching their head and a common question we hear is: Should I build a separate mobile site, do a responsive site or build an app?
There is no one-size-fits all answer, but let's look at the merits and pitfalls of each:
Responsive Web Design
Let’s face it, Responsive Design is all the rage….and for good reason.
"Responsive Web design (RWD) is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation."
Up to a couple years ago, we would have recommended a separate mobile site, but today our default build starts with responsive design. We often take more of a hybrid approach where we serve up a completely different navigation for smartphones while simplifying layouts and content at the same time. Nonetheless, it's typically our goto.
A responsive design allows you to manage one set of content. Read this as an efficient use of your time. I will note, that this is not a feature solely of responsive site since a separate mobile site can also be setup as one set of content, but often they are setup as a separate website.
Another great feature of RWD is that you are also future-proofing your site for device sizes that haven't been created yet.
The transition from mobile site to desktop site can be disjointed. Consider this scenario: A user checks her email on her phone (insert number here) while at work and follows a link to a mobile site. Later she wants to do more research and visits the desktop site while at home. Because the two sites have separate domains, she has to repeat the search at home. Not ideal.
One common complaint we get about mobile sites is that they force a user to see only the content of the mobile site. The goal is to serve up the content that a mobile user wants, not to punish them. Granted, this can be overcome with a "view full site" link, but how many times have you seen this not work and likely to send them to the full desktop site which is typically not a good user experience on a small phone.
One SEO consideration that I'm not completely sure about is if responsive design is better since you have the same content living at the same url. I know in the past that we had a problem with mobile pages (pages sitting on a m. subdomain) showing up in desktop search and had to explicitly tell google not to index the m. subdomain. Not ideal. I'm hoping some SEO experts will clarify the best practice on this.
Separate Mobile Website
Depending on how this is executed, it is typically a completely different mobile-optimized website or the same content "skinned" in a template optimized for mobile. Common elements include:
- Prioritized or focused content. Give your users what they want. If they are “in destination” then your site should be users the things they need while in destination. This is great time to promote deals, have your phone number front and center, and prioritize the content to what a user needs. We're talking utility here.
- Simplified Navigation. Again, utility is key providing users navigation to what they need.
- Minimal Graphics. Provide only what is necessary.
- Geolocation. What’s nearby? What events are happening near the location I am currently at?
- Contact information. It never ceases to amaze me how many business don't provide hours on their contact page.
Native Mobile App
I've never been a fan of mobile apps. People just aren't going to download a mobile app for every business they go to. Secondly, you have to figure out what operating system you are going to build for. Things can get costly...and yes things like phonegap and appcelerator have helped drive the cost down when building for multiple systems.
So what's the right Answer?
At the heart of all digital strategy is utility and to provide utility you need to focus on the needs of your user. What devices are your users using and what are they doing with them? There is no silver bullet. The reality is that any or even multiple solutions might be right for you. This is for sure, the landscape will continue to evolve and change. Still confused? Contact us for more information.