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Which Mobile Optimized Platform is Right for You?

(Left) A non-mobile website when viewed from a smartphone. (Middle & Right) The same website’s mobile app when viewed from a smartphone. Notice the difference in presentation?

Getting Started

Every marketer/business owner should be aware of the basic options for mobilisation of a website and how to select the right one for their brand.

While it can make very good sense to develop a mobile-only site for today’s marketplace, keep in mind that in most cases a mobile web site isn’t a completely new product — it’s a re-imagination of an existing desktop site.

So it’s very rare that you’ll find yourself approaching a mobile site the way you normally would approach a desktop site — i.e. planning for a completely unique design, content, architecture, and code.

It’s unlikely that you would develop a completely new mobile website from scratch without basing your efforts, at least in part, on something that already exists. So although that may change as mobile becomes a bigger and bigger web channel, our recommendations below are based on the premise that you will be looking to mobilise your current .com desktop site.

Let’s look at the options:

The Fully-Hosted Mobile Site

A fully-hosted site is one in which your content is hosted on a server, separate from your .com site in every way. You provide the content and desired functionality and they develop the page layout and code. Mobile users are redirected from your desktop .com URL to the hosted version.

You have the choice of having a .mobi URL or simply attaching it to your existing URL. These are very popular with brands on a lower budget, since they offer the simplest route to mobilisation.

Benefits of a fully hosted mobile site include:

  • Low initial cost: your brand can have a full site up and running for a very affordable upfront development fee including a yearly hosting charge for the first year and then a moderate hosting fee there after.
  • Low level of effort: you let us access your content and we do the rest — as a rule, no technical resources are required on the brand side whatsoever apart from control panel logins.
  • Fast time to market: as we aren’t doing anything to your .com site except adding the redirection code, a mobile site can be up and running in a matter of days.

If you’re eager to get started with mobile and if you have a site that would be difficult to mobilise in a more organic way — one built in Flash, for example — the fully-hosted, .mobi approach can make a lot of sense.

Or, if you’re looking to create a completely fresh, stand alone mobile site that isn’t based on a desktop site — e.g. for a mobile ad campaign — again, the fully hosted option can be ideal.

Responsive Design

The responsive approach won’t be an option for everyone since, by definition, it involves creating a whole site that flows gracefully across multiple platforms, however does provide a future proof solution for a redesign or new development.

Most brands won’t be in a position to make a radical redesign and re-architecture of their .com site and will simply be looking for a solution to optimise a select portion of their existing content. But, if you are at the point of developing a new site or doing a complete overhaul, the responsive approach deserves your consideration for several reasons.

Benefits of the responsive approach include:

  • Economy of design: you will spend more time up front thinking about how your design progresses from device to device but in the long run, planning out your user experience with an ecosystem of multiple devices in mind will save you time and allow you to respond quickly to new form factors as they arise.
  • Cost: No need for multiple sites, hosting agreements etc its all in one place.
  • SEO:  Having a single URL enables you to benefit from the search equity you’ve built up over time, ensuring optimal visibility across multiple platforms.

But responsive design is not a panacea for mobile — there are still drawbacks.

Worth considering when looking at the responsive approach:

  • Reach: at the moment not every device supports CSS queries — if you want to reach a broad number of devices, the responsive approach alone won’t suffice.
  • Load times: Responsive sites load the full page and modify the layout and images according to device which can lead to extended load times on mobile.
  • Design limitations: you can accomplish a lot with CSS media queries but you can’t achieve the same level of customisation for mobile that you can by developing a specifically mobile site. To create truly customised mobile experiences, you’ll need to layer additional functionality on top of your “base” responsive approach to take advantage of what the mobile device has to offer.

Hopefully this gives you an insight into what options are open to you and will help you decide which is the right path for your brand. Understanding your options is the first step and then it’s worth looking at SEO, analytics etc.

Nick Charles is a Guest Blogger for Branding Personality. He is based in Bristol, UK, a major center for digital marketing and publishing, and grew up in “old reekie,” or Edinburgh, Scotland.
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