Article

How to Approach Multi-Device Sites for Your Business

the rundown

From smartphones and tablets to laptops and television, 90% of all media interactions today are on a screen. Therefore, businesses that allow users to interact with their brand across all platforms and on all devices are able to generate more engagement. So how do you get started?

Whether someone is using their PC at work, their tablet in the evening on the sofa, or their smartphone while commuting, constant connectivity means that people are going online with many different devices throughout the day. Businesses that allow users to interact with their web presence in all circumstances and on all devices are able to generate more engagement. Here’s how you get started:

1. Understand how customers currently interact with your site
Analyse the traffic on your website, and get an understanding of where your customers come from; at what times they visit your site, what types of content they consume and – especially – what devices they use. A solid analysis will give you a good understanding of the status quo, and will help you to identify what areas to prioritise.

2. Adapt your value proposition to customer needs
An analysis of your current website might give you hints (e.g. what a smartphone user is looking for, compared to a visitor on a computer or a tablet). You might learn that prioritising specific content on the mobile-friendly version of your website will improve conversion rates, and in turn drive incremental revenue for your business. The goal here is to tailor and rearrange content for specific audiences, rather than removing it and offering a stripped down version of your website. Keeping the user in mind when designing device specific content is key to crafting a positive experience for your customers.

3. Decide which implementation option works best for you
There are three approaches commonly used across the web that address multi-device users and allow for content customisation that's based on user context. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and every business has different requirements, available resources and existing technologies. It is recommended to discuss the pros/cons for each option with your webmaster / agency. Here’s a summary of three implementation options:

  • Responsive web design
    Responsive web design (RWD) enables you to optimise your site experience across different screen sizes, without creating multiple websites. With flexible templates, CSS and JavaScript, a responsive site immediately adjusts images, template layouts and content according to the screen size of a device. Using a single URL for a piece of content makes it easier for your users to interact with, share and link to your content. Also, no redirection is needed for users to get to the device-optimised view, which can reduce load time. In order to create a truly great experience with RWD, businesses need to have device specific strategies and design web content with the end user in mind.

  • Dynamically serving different HTML on the same URL
    When a customer visits your website, it’s possible for your webserver to detect what kind of device they are on and then present a custom page (HTML + CSS) on the same URL. These custom pages can be designed for any kind of device – mobile phones, tablets, desktop computers and even Smart TVs. Detecting the user's device and changing the content that you serve requires some customisation (e.g. style sheets) that need to be maintained on a per device basis.

  • Separate mobile URLs
    Another option for customising your site experience based on device type is to build a separate site for mobile traffic, independent of your original desktop site. The browser detects whether a visitor is on a mobile device, and then redirects them to the mobile-optimised version of your site (e.g. mobile.nytimes.com). A dedicated mobile site allows you to tailor the site specifically for mobile users, and is often independently built and hosted.

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4. Avoid common mistakes

  • Limited Content. Tailor your content, don't cripple it. Your customers will want to see a tailored experience based on the device that they use – but they still want a complete experience. Make sure to design for mobile, rather than simply removing content from your desktop site.
  • Multiple Domains. Do not serve your mobile site from a different domain, e.g. example.com versus example.provider.com. Domains have brand identity, and also have implications on search ranking – both typically built over years, and often with a lot of investment.
  • Pop-ups. Pop-ups are generally a bad user experience. Instead, we recommend that you use a simple banner to promote your app in line with the page's content.
  • Unplayable videos. Many videos are not playable on smartphone devices. We recommend using HTML5 standard tags to include videos and avoid content in formats (for example, Flash) that are not supported by all mobile devices.
  • Faulty redirects. If you do have an equivalent smartphone URL, do make sure that you configure the redirection so that users end up on the correct destination page.
  • Load Speed. Sites that load fast generally offer a better user experience. On mobile, users seem even more sensitive to speed and are more likely to give up if the website doesn't load fast enough. Take the PageSpeed test and learn how to optimise your site.

5. Measure, analyse and iterate
You will probably not hit the jackpot right away. Successful website owners have always measured user behaviour in order to optimise content and improve user engagement. The same principle applies to multi-device websites. Most successful businesses with multi-device websites analyse interactions across devices, and continuously improve their web presence.

"Keeping the user in mind when designing device-specific content is key to crafting a positive experience for your customers."