Is a mobile version a prerequisite for a great website?


iphone picOver the last few days I was thinking about what makes a great website in 2010. Among many things, I thought about a mobile version of your website. Is a mobile version a prerequisite for a great website?

A great website meets the needs of the audience. Is your audience searching your website with mobile devices? To know the answer to this question you need to be measuring traffic to your site. (another thing that makes a great website)

I thought I would share some data from www.gettysburg.edu. Using Google Analytics I looked at mobile traffic in three segments listed below.

November 3, 2009 – December 31, 2009
6,313 visits

January 1, 2010 to Feb 28, 2010
7,520 visits

March 2010
4,364 visits

About 2/3 of the visits are from external addresses and 1/3 are from a campus address.

This data tells me that at least initially that mobile traffic is increasing to the site. However it still only represents about 1% of the total visits to the Gettysburg website. Is that enough to spend resources developing tools for users on mobile devices?

The truth is that I don’t know. Will we someday see 50% of the traffic to Gettysburg from a mobile device? Maybe. Maybe not. But here are a few facts to help you decide:

  • More than 300,000 iPads have been sold in America since last week’s launch
  • CNBC Mobile’s Web traffic has grown more than tenfold since its June launch. The site’s traffic went from 2.7 million monthly page views to more than 30 million monthly page views.
  • Last year, for the first time, notebooks outsold desktop computers

What do you think – are there other links and resources that you would suggest?

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10 Responses to Is a mobile version a prerequisite for a great website?

  1. headchem says:

    Are the numbers low because nobody accesses the site with a mobile phone, or are the numbers low because there isn’t a mobile version of the site?

  2. This a question that we’ve thought about as we continue down our redesign process. Honestly, the amount of mobile traffic is minimal too. Since Nov. 3/09, our mobile traffic has only represented 0.16% of site traffic.

    On a personal note, I do find myself browsing on my Blackberry, and I can’t stand it when I have to do a lot of scrolling because the site is not optimized for mobile devices.

  3. headchem says:

    I’m a web dev with Elon University, and we recently wrestled with these same concepts. You mention an upcoming redesign – we found these resources to be particularly helpful:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/02/a_new_global_visual_language_f.html

    http://webguide.ua.edu/

  4. Paul Redfern says:

    headchem – great question. We do have a mobile version of our website http://www.gettysburg.edu/m

    It didn’t take an incredible amount of time or resources to build and we were able to at least meet the needs of the people visiting via a mobile device.

  5. Related question: If you build a (somewhat) dedicated mobile version of a site (such as the Gettysburg link you just posted), what info are you leaving out?

    As an admissions person, I immediately went to
    http://www.gettysburg.edu/admissions/ and http://www.gettysburg.edu/m/admissions/

    Clearly there are choices being made by someone about what to include and not include, the order of the links presented, etc. Hopefully the dual-maintenance of the two versions is reviewed diligently and frequently, as well.

    If the code sniffs that the device accessing the page is mobile and automatically presents a mobile page, then the choice to exclude certain info is being pre-made for the viewer. Hit up a mobile-optimized college athletics site and it often can be tough to find a team roster, for instance, which is handy to find when watching a game on TV. Roster info is typically excluded from the mobile version of athletics sites, often by the software (such as Sidearm) that runs them.

    I surf the Web daily on an iPod Touch (generally hitting up pages I “bookmarked” with ReadItLater during the workday), and with the snap, scroll, zoom, etc., options of mobile Safari (and increasingly other mobile browsers), I’d generally rather be on the “regular” version of a site than a “mobile” version. For me there are few exceptions to this, and those are pages such as bookmarked news sites, which reasonably have a high number of hits from mobile.

    I like the idea of a dedicated non-“sniffed” mobile page for colleges (links to items such as athletics, events, news, perhaps college Twitter and Facebook pages which have decent mobile versions) that can become a branding connector for daily constituents (current students, faculty-staff, perhaps also marketed out to alumni and applicants), but am less of believer of overall mobile versions of higher ed sites.

    That said, someone on a mobile hitting your home page looking for directions to campus (and perhaps a few other tasks) should be able to find that info easily.

    When a site uses a straightforward column design, I have found browsing on the non-mobile site on a Blackberry and iTouch fairly painless. Admittedly, I haven’t viewed these sites on non-smart phones, though I wonder what percent of the already minimal mobile traffic such phones represent.

  6. DeWayne Purdy says:

    I believe it is a variation of what headchem is saying… I think if you build it, they will come.

  7. Chas Grundy says:

    Rob makes a good point: a mobile version isn’t necessarily just a mobile-friendly version of the same site. It may need content or functionality that are mobile-specific. It might promote or downplay certain areas based on the relevance to a mobile experience.

  8. […] Is a mobile version a prerequisite for a great website? […]

  9. Paul Redfern says:

    Really good comments. At Gettysburg as was pointed out we are making choices about what content is on our mobile pages. I am not sure that the “the dual-maintenance of the two versions is reviewed diligently and frequently” or at least not as well as we would like.

  10. Brian Ferris says:

    Just wondering; what happened to the Gettysburg iPhone app? It hasn’t been up in the app store for a little while (links to it on iTunes from the Gettysburg web site are similarly dead). Did Apple yank it?

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