Although responsive design sites are becoming increasingly common, separate mobile websites are still commonly used.
Mobile sites can be a great way to improve user experience (UX) if they are utilized correctly. However, poorly designed or functioning mobile sites can end up harming UX by frustrating users and barring them from accessing the pages or content they are looking for.
While there is an extensive list of technical criteria that should be met on a mobile site, two elements, which are particularly important for user experience, should be kept top of mind.
Common Mistake #1: Faulty User Agent Redirects
What Is a User Agent Redirect?
If implemented correctly, a user agent redirect should recognize that a user is on a mobile device and redirect them to the mobile version of the page they are trying to access, assuming such a page exists. However, these redirects are often implemented incorrectly.
How Are They Implemented Incorrectly?
A common mistake developers make when implementing user agent redirects is setting up those that aren’t page specific and send all mobile users to the mobile homepage, regardless of which page they intended to visit. This type of mistake is so common (and so frustrating) that Google recently announced they will be warning users when a page showing up in a search result has a faulty redirect which isn’t pointing to the page they want.
Image via Google Webmaster Tools Blog 6/5/14
Have your developer ensure that all user agent redirects are implemented properly on your site and are page specific. You can also spot check a selection of pages on your site to get a good idea of whether the redirects are set up correctly. If a page does not have a corresponding mobile version, it’s best not to have a user agent redirect on that page at all so users can access the content they want. In a perfect world (mine at least), every page would have responsive design or a corresponding mobile version. However, realistically, this isn’t always possible. In most cases where a page doesn’t have a mobile version, it’s best to let users access the content they want (in a non-mobile optimized format) rather than sending them to a page they did not intend to visit.
Common Mistake #2: Faulty (Or Non-Existent) Cross-Linking
What Is Cross-Linking?
Cross-linking allows users the option to access the full desktop site from their mobile device if they choose, and vice versa. This is particularly important if your mobile site is smaller and contains fewer pages or less content than the corresponding desktop version.
If someone is visiting your site from a mobile device, they may be looking for specific pages or content that don’t exist on the mobile site. Not being able to get to the pages or content they want can frustrate users and drive them away from your site.
Similarly, if someone is on the desktop version of your site, they may want to access the mobile version. This may be true whether they are on a desktop computer, or are on a mobile device and accessing the desktop version of a page.
How Is Cross-Linking Implemented Incorrectly?
When cross-linking isn’t implemented at all, users on a mobile device are effectively blocked from accessing the desktop site. That’s the worst case scenario. However, it can be equally frustrating for your site visitors if the links are there but aren’t working properly. Don’t assume that because a link is there it actually works.
If you have cross-linking implemented on your mobile and desktop sites, check the links on your computer and mobile phone to ensure they are functioning as intended.
If, for example, you have a link to the desktop site on your mobile site, make sure it really sends people to the desktop site when they are on a mobile device, and does not send them back to the mobile site via a user agent redirect.
What It All Comes Down To
Responsive design is really the best way to ensure an optimal mobile viewing experience. Sites that are well-designed and re-size based on the device being used to view them provide a solid user experience across all devices. However, if this is not possible and your website has a separate mobile version, make sure it helps and doesn’t hurt user experience. As the recent announcement about faulty redirects illustrates, Google is becoming increasingly good at punishing sites that don’t keep this in mind. Sending people to pages they don’t want or unintentionally blocking them from accessing content they do want is frustrating and can discourage people from visiting or engaging with your site.