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Best Mobile Design May Be No Mobile Design

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A Web site with rising mobile traffic may lead someone to think that the site should have a separate design for mobile users.

It is understandable to think that way because mobile traffic worldwide is skyrocketing.

Any site with mobile analytics will probably see that its own mobile visitors have grown at a much faster pace than visitors using desktop computers.

But producing a mobile design presents several challenges:

  • It costs time if someone on the staff does it.
  • It costs money if it’s outsourced.
  • It may not pay for itself for a long time.

At a recent Google AdSense workshop, the presenters enthusiastically supported the idea that all sites should have a mobile design.

But do the numbers really support such an idea?

Mobile Analytics


he largest sites where I have access to the audience analytics now receive about 20 to 25 percent of their total audience from mobile devices.

“Screen size clearly has an impact on user pages per visit.”

That sounds like a significant amount, but a closer look at the numbers over a recent three-month period provides some interesting insights.

Nearly half of the total “mobile” users are using Apple iPads or similar-sized devices from other manufacturers such as Samsung. The 1024×768 resolution is the same as many desktop resolutions.

The number of iPad users was only slightly less than the top source of mobile visits, which was iPhone users.

The iPad users averaged 2.0 pages per visit while the iPhone users averaged 1.6 pages per visit.

Another large site showed 2.6 pages per visit for the iPad and 2.1 for the iPhone.

It may be a coincidence, but both sites show that pages per visit for iPhones is about 20 percent lower than iPads.

Screen size clearly has an impact on user pages per visit.

The Advertising Perspective


ational remnant CPMs for this site were $3.40 for the iPad and $1.41 for the iPhone. That’s a decline for the iPhone of nearly 60 percent.

“The question is whether the effort put into a mobile design will pay for itself…”

The iPad CPM is about equal to the overall site CPM. That means there is little benefit from creating a mobile design for iPad users.

The second site showed a 36 percent decline in CPMs for the iPhone.

One possible explanation for why the second site has a smaller decline in CPMs is that it’s average page load time of 3.5 seconds is quite a bit better than the 5.2 seconds for the first site.

The question is whether the effort put into a mobile design will pay for itself in the form of advertising revenue or some other benefit.

If the pages per visit for an iPhone can be increased from 1.6 to 2.0 in our first example and the CPM can be increased from $1.41 to $3.40, the monthly revenue increase is … about $20 for a site that gets 200,000 visits a month.

Maybe It’s Better to Wait


his brings the matter to an important point: The size of the site should determine whether the best mobile site design is no design at all.

The labor of a mobile design is largely a fixed cost regardless of the size of the site.

A small site is not likely to cover the cost for a long, long time. A medium site may need several years. A large site could do it in months.

Most sites would be better off designing their existing sites to make them more user friendly for mobile visitors, specifically visitors with smart phones.

Design Principles for Site without a Mobile Design

Designing an existing site for a small screen requires only a few basic principles for implementation.

1) Keep the width of the site to 1024 pixels. This width accommodates iPad and other tablet users, makes it easier for smartphone users to view the content and appeals to desktop users with a 1024 resolution.

2) Avoid deep pages that require a great deal of scrolling. Limiting the width to 1024 helps with scrolling side to side. Limiting the depth helps with scrolling from top to bottom. Besides, analytics show that even desktop users don’t scroll down very much.

3) Make the site quicker to download. Bandwidth for smartphones on the move is less consistent than desktops located nearly strong wifi signals.

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