Prepare to go mobile
Your multi-screen strategy should fit the needs of your customers and
your business. What you offer users, what they expect from you, and what
they can achieve at your site should all fit together.
Understand what multi-screen users see and want on your current site.
What you learn here will be the foundation of your new multi-screen
blueprint. If your data shows that smartphone users visit one specific
content area of your site, you may want to put it front and center on
your mobile site. On the other hand, if parts of your site have high
mobile bounce rates (users who arrive and then leave immediately), you’ll
want to try to fix that in your new design.
Here are some ways to focus on your value proposition while keeping all
your multi-screen users happy:
Create a familiar experience
People who are used to desktop screens want to find the same basic
content and user experience on other screens, too. Your balancing act
is to preserve those familiar functions while creating an experience
that works on mobile screens and tablets.
Think about the user’s context
Consider what customers will want from your site when they’re on each
kind of device. A user on the go with a smartphone may want a store
locator or phone number. Can they find one easily on your mobile site?
Another user might even be in your store, looking for reviews. Can you
Use the full power of mobile
Ask your team: how can we support our value proposition with
device-specific features? A movie theater chain may want to offer
nearby locations and upcoming showtimes based on the GPS location of a
user’s smartphone. A pro sports team might want to help fans upload
ballpark videos from camera phones. Make the most of the power of
mobile — your customers will appreciate it!
Choose a technology
There are many ways to configure a website for all screens. Factors to
think about include the cost, time to build, your available human
resources and infrastructure, and the needs of your customers.
Whatever configuration you choose, as an underlying principle we strongly
recommend that you serve all your sites from a single
domain, like example.com. In particular, if your
desktop site is hosted on example.com, don’t put your mobile
site on a separate domain, like a.com/example.
Stay with a single domain and you’ll build brand and URL equity with your
users. With that principle in mind, let’s look at the three basic ways
you can build a mobile-friendly website: responsive
design, dynamic serving, and a fully
separate mobile site.
Responsive web design (RWD for short) is a clever design
technique that uses a single HTML code base for all platforms.
That is, all viewing devices read from the same code on the same
URL. The content resizes itself to fit the screen being
used, based on pre-defined breakpoints and fluid grids.
RWD requires solid up-front planning. Costs can be high at first,
but once the device-specific strategy is set, maintenance can be
One URL for all content. Using a single URL
for a piece of content makes it easier for your users to
interact with, share, and link to your content. It’s also
easier for search engines to discover and index your content.
A streamlined user experience. Presentation of
all content is customized, and device-specific features can
still be used.
Flexible orientation. RWD naturally allows for
landscape or portrait device orientation changes by users.
No redirects. Load time is reduced and
Careful planning required. Since all HTML is
shared here, careful planning is a must to develop a truly
custom and robust experience with optimal performance for each
device and user.
Common mistakes to avoid:
Data bloat. Don’t let mobile users download
full-size images meant for big screens and fast speeds. Try to
visible content first and defer everything else.
Who it’s for:
Businesses that are focused on offering a consistent experience
and can plan holistically for all devices with a single web team.
(Starbucks.com, BostonGlobe.com and Time.com all use this
approach.) RWD can be expanded to fit new devices as they emerge,
and the single URL is good for linking and sharing articles
without confusion or redirects.
In this method, the web server detects the type of device a
visitor is using, then presents a custom page designed just for
that device. Custom pages can be designed for any device type,
from mobile phones and tablets to smart TVs.
A custom user experience. Each user gets
content and layout created just for their device.
Easier changes. Adjust content or layout for
one screen size without having to touch other versions.
Faster loading. Your team can streamline
content for optimal load times on each device.
Single URL. As with Responsive Design, Dynamic
Serving keeps all your users on a single URL.
Content forking. Multiple custom pages mean
multiple sets of the same content. Unless you have a
sophisticated CMS in place, keeping content up to date on all
device-specific pages can be challenging.
Faulty device detection. Your servers will
need to run scripts to recognize all available devices. This
step prevents problems like the server sending a
mobile-optimized site to tablet users. Your webmaster will need
to keep the directory up-to-date and running smoothly to avoid
bad detection or gaps in service. Another common mistake is
that the server assumes a device orientation, most commonly
portrait, but the user may be holding the device in a different
orientation (ie landscape).
Changing experiences: Users will be confused
if you have multiple sites and they appear radically different.
While it’s important to customize for each screen size, your
brand look and feel should be recognizable in all formats.
Who it’s for:
Dynamic serving is a resource-intensive solution for companies
that make frequent changes to their website, and who often need
to adjust display for one device, such as tweaking only their
mobile site. A capable IT staff (or vendor) is a must to manage
the different and possibly complex sets of website code required.
A Separate Mobile Site
A third option is to simply create a mobile site that’s separate
from your original desktop site. Your system detects mobile
visitors and redirects them to your mobile-optimized site (often
using a sub-domain like m.yourname.com).
Only mobile users will see the separate mobile site. Users of
tablets, Web-enabled TVs or other devices will still see your
original desktop site.
A custom user experience. This gives you the
most freedom to create a separate mobile site that is designed
only for mobile users.
Easier changes. Content or design changes can
be limited to the mobile version of the site, with no effect on
Multiple URLs. Sharing a web page requires
careful redirects and integration between your mobile and
non-mobile sites. Redirects also lead to longer page load
Content forking. Keeping two different sets of
content can make data management more complex.
Faulty redirects. When a mobile user lands on
a deep desktop page, make sure they aren’t redirected to your
generic mobile homepage. Also important: avoid smartphone-only
errors, where a desktop URL redirects to a non-existent mobile
Missing annotations. The two-way
(“bidirectional”) annotation helps Googlebot discover your
content and helps our algorithms understand the relationship
between your desktop and mobile pages and treat them correctly.
Inconsistent user experience: People who look
at your smartphone site should recognize it as the same
business they see on your desktop site. This prevents confusion
and a bad overall user experience.
Who it’s for:
Businesses that for any reason need to manage their mobile site
independently. For instance, some businesses may want to use a
different vendor for mobile, or may want a mobile structure that
simply wouldn’t be possible with RWD. Since setup is relatively
easy and can be quite cost-effective, a separate mobile site can
be good for small businesses with more basic site needs.
Build a great user experience
Beyond basic setup and configuration, a great mobile user experience has
three parts: layout, content, and
speed. The best way to engage and keep your users
is to make sure all three legs of this tripod are sturdy.
Be touch-friendly. For the human finger, 48 dp
(density-independent pixels) is the minimum recommended touch
target, with at least 8 dp between targets. Too-small targets,
and the click mistakes that result, are a fast way to turn off
a mobile user.
Pick the right font. Your minimum font size
should be 12 pixels; anything smaller and users will be
squinting. Be sure to choose a typeface that is clean and easy
to read. If possible, avoid use of image-based text.
Set the right width. Most web users are used
to scrolling vertically up and down a page, but being forced to
scroll sideways makes for a bad user experience. Your users
will think your site wasn’t built to help them on the smaller
Avoid mouse-overs. On a desktop screen, the
mouse-over is a great way to uncover hidden content. But
mouseovers require a mouse. On touch screens like tablets or
smartphones, users’ fingers can’t hover like a mouse. So avoid
the mouse-overs. Instead, use buttons that users can tap to
display deeper menus.
Don’t use pop-ups. They’re irritating on
desktop sites, and they’re just as irritating on mobile sites.
And instead of using interstitials to drive app downloads,
embed the prompt into your site.
Do use descriptive
buttons. Don’t make customers guess where a click will
take them. Label your buttons clearly, then use bread crumbs
and clear category names (such as "Step 2: Payment") to help
them as they navigate.
Don’t overload users. On mobile, more isn’t
necessarily better. Avoid the urge to squeeze in every last bit
of your desktop page, only smaller. But…
Customize, don’t cut. Mobile and tablet users
expect the same core functionality you offer desktop users,
whether that means being able to watch videos or buy office
supplies. Instead of cutting core content, restructure it to
fit the mobile screen.
Don’t hide key actions. Be sure to give users
quick access to all the key functions they'll expect on your
site. If you’re a retailer, that means things like product
search and the shopping cart (and mobile-friendly tools like a
store locator) should be front and center. Include a link to
your full site for mobile users who simply prefer that
Double-check media files. Flash video, for
instance, won’t play on many mobile devices. Make sure that the
media files on your multi-screen sites will really work on the
screens they’re meant for.
Simplify checkout. It's hard to fill out
lengthy forms on mobile, thumb-typing full addresses and other
data over multiple steps. To increase your conversion rates,
simplify the payment process however you can. Enable Google
Wallet Instant Buy or other services that allow customers
to check out quickly with payment and shipping details
auto-generated from the cloud.
There’s really one thing to say here: speed it up.
Optimizing your site speed is a sure way to improve user
experience – especially on mobile, where users are on the go and
data networks can be slow. Speed typically boosts visitor
engagement, retention and conversions. Not only is it a ranking
signal for Google Search, but many businesses who invested in
page speed improvements saw a positive effect directly on their
Here are three common mistakes to avoid:
Too many HTTP requests. While mobile users may
try to do the same things as desktop users, their processing
power is limited. Their bandwidth may be unreliable. To help
them go faster, cut down the on-page elements that drive extra
Image overload. As smartphone displays get
better, it’s tempting to serve the largest possible image and
let the device downsize it to fit. Bad choice! This wastes time
and processing power. Serve the right image sizes to each
snippets and CSS styles are helpful for mobile users. Too much
compress your code where possible and consider reorganizing
your CSS altogether. Make sure assets are being cached by the
browser so that the visitors don’t have to re-fetch them on
every page load.
For more details, and for tools that can help you optimize your site’s
performance, visit Google’s “Make the Web Faster” page at developers.google.com/speed.
Measure your success
It’s important to track analytics reports and run A/B tests on your
content and flow. Both will help you answer questions like these about
your site and your strategy:
Who are your mobile visitors? (A mobile report will
What are they looking for? (Check the content they
visit and site search queries.)
Are they having trouble finding it? (See bounce rates
and average time on page.)
Are some ad campaigns or pages better for mobile
users? (Check mobile vs. desktop conversions.)
Is your site structure mobile-friendly? (Run reports
on site search, goal flow, page depth and site speed.)
Does your site load fast enough to keep users from
bouncing? (Test site speed.)
Is your site easy to navigate on a hand-held device?
(Try the landing page bounce rate.)
Do your desktop calls-to-action work on mobile? (Check
mobile vs. desktop conversions and try responsive click tracking.)
As with desktop sites, it’s a good idea to keep testing, analyzing and
adjusting your mobile site to match new devices and new user viewing