Realizing a Mobile Web Strategy

I remember some years ago seeing a cartoon of a young child looking at his father’s wristwatch and saying “is all it does tell time? How quaint!”. In a world of multi-functional devices and smart watches, that seemed funny at the time, but the irony is that while devices are multi-functional, consumers none-the-less tend to use them in very specific ways. For example, in a previous post, we discussed the fact that tablets, while technically mobile, tend to be used like PCs. Therefore, companies that want to capture the truly mobile market must optimize for smartphones, but many are unsure of the best path forward.

If your organization is still searching for that path, you’re not alone. In fact, in a report entitled Mobility: Fueling the Digital Surge, Accenture revealed that having “surveyed nearly 1,500 C-level executives in 10 industries and 14 countries around the world… Most companies have not made substantial progress toward the mobility priorities that are important to their business.” Accenture has identified, however, mobility leaders whose business practices provide a window to success. Let’s look at a few tips and then we’ll proceed to technical aspects of implementation.

Advice from the Experts

By analyzing the data gathered from its aforementioned survey, Accenture discovered a common theme among mobility leaders as to the weight these leaders gave to specific priorities. The company reported that it “found mobility leaders are more likely than others to:

  • Consider the full range of digital technologies to be among their top five priorities in the next year, and to expect to use those technologies to build an entirely new digital business or service rather than simply improve upon the existing business (35 percent versus 27 percent).
  • Have a formal enterprise-wide mobility strategy (54 percent versus 43 percent) instead of separate strategies for individual business units or functions, and use that strategy to inform their mobile investments (52 percent versus 38 percent).
    Indicate the CEO and the leadership team or board of directors ultimately owns their mobile are highly engaged with the organization’s mobility initiatives.
  • Have aggressively pursued and invested in mobile technologies across their business and consider mobility a key part of their business strategy.
  • Be focusing on creating an enterprise mobile app store or catalog to make it easier for internal users to access them, and have a formal and robust methodology for developing mobile apps that spans development, testing, distribution, and updating.”

The Role of SEO

We can see from the above that integrating SEO with developing a mobile strategy is crucial at every stage, from interfacing with leadership and developing strategy to design, implementation, testing and refinement. As you consider the three distinct approaches below, make sure to identify the necessary cross-functional team members, which in addition to the obvious IT, may also be drawn from marketing, accounting and finance as well as product development.

Realizing your Strategy; Getting Technical

There are three different configurations for creating mobile web designs, each with its respective benefits and drawbacks:

1. Responsive Web Design

This approach seeks to optimize the user experience across a wide array of devices. By detecting the device and responding by delivering content, Javascript and CSS automatically size to fit the screen upon which it is being viewed. Your URL and HTML will be the same across platforms, so if you are a new business just developing a website, or are re-designing an existing site, this could prove to be a cost-effective choice for you. It is also fair to note that Google specifically states that “Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.”

A disadvantage lies with older devices which do not support the version of CSS code requisite to handle media queries and would therefore deliver the desktop site to mobile users. Users might also experience slow page load speeds on older devices, although there are some mobile browsers developing workarounds to this issue.

2. Dynamic Serving

With this approach, user experience can be enhanced with separate HTML to more fully optimize across platforms while maintaining the same URL. Dynamic Serving permits you to optimize for load time on varying devices, and speedy load times are of particular importance to mobile users. The ability to differentiate mobile content with separate HTML can also be a big plus. Moreover, as keywords can be context and location specific, this option can further enhance the mobile experience with search optimized for mobile. As content is re-directed at the server level, confidence is increased that visitors will be served the appropriate content.

The disadvantages lie in the old adage that there is “no free lunch.” While content and search can be more fully optimized, the separate HTML and SEO comes at the cost of staff needed to develop and maintain same. Remember also to incorporate a “Vary HTTP-User Agents” header as well as the fact that your list of user-agent strings must be up-dated in response to the release of new mobile devices.

3. Separate URLs (also known as Dedicated URLs)

In this approach, both URLs and HTML are separate for desktop and mobile, and potentially for tablets as well. This provides maximum flexibility to optimize across all platforms for content, navigation and page loading. Make sure to employ redirect mapping so that mobile, tablet and desktop users experience the site intended for their device. Some companies also choose to use a sub-domain for mobile, such as The separate URL approach can be useful for companies that have thousands or literally millions of pages which would be impractical as well as unnecessary to serve to mobile users or when there is a company policy need to administer mobile and desktop sites separately.

The disadvantages include the cost to develop and maintain separate URLs, HTML, SEO as well as placing additional stresses on your Content Management System and Digital Asset System. Remember to use the “Vary HTTP-User Agents” header.

Developing a mobile strategy clearly requires careful thought, planning and understanding which of the three configurations for creating mobile web designs is right for your business. A strong commitment by staff, along with appropriate resources and budget allocation lays a foundation for success.

Now that we’ve begun our discussion of strategizing for the smaller screen of smartphones, I can’t help but think of that wrist watch we were talking about, and its successor, the smartwatch… but that will be a blog for another day.


Homepage image via Shutterstock

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