Why Should You Make A Separate Mobile Website for your Canadian Business?

Whether you have an existing business or planning to put up a start-up company, you most likely would have to consider adapting to mobile technology in this day and age.

Websites are virtually a requisite to creating a business and subsequently building its credibility, flexibility, and growth prospects. It used to be fundamental to only eCommerce, online businesses, and big brands, but the rule now seems to encompass even brick-and-mortar—all business big or small, new or old, that have any intention to strive and flourish in this fast-changing global marketplace. And now, increasingly, the mobile web factors into all of this, creating conversations and debates online: Should you make a separate mobile website for your business, or not?

Now we’ve talked about Responsive Design. Our discussions of HTML5 mainly revolve on the theme of cross-browser, cross-platform functionality and standardization. Picking up from those, the natural advice would probably be to have a single website and make it work for both desktop and mobile viewing. And not without some good reasons, too.

Making separate websites mean that you have two websites for your business—one for the desktop, and one for the mobile web—with different designs and contents. The main argument in support of this strategy is that mobile and desktop users have different needs. This also probably means that one customer has a different purpose and circumstance when he accesses your website on his laptop and when he accesses it on his Smartphone. The thing is, identifying the specific needs of both consumer types are easier said than done. We have almost no problem regarding desktop or laptop users, but we mentioned before that a basic and fundamental step in mobile web design is understanding your mobile consumer types and knowing what they need when they access your website on their mobile device. Recalling the basics of mobile web design, the objective then, is to streamline your web content so that mobile users can navigate through your mobile website with convenience and efficiency. This could be tricky and poses the danger of leaving out certain contents that other, possibly a minority, of consumers might be looking for.

To maintain a single website for both types of users and platforms means retaining the same content that you have on your traditional website and optimizing it to be viewed on mobile devices. Creating just one website that can be accessed cross-platform and cross-browser requires Responsive Design.

But why should you make separate mobile websites for your Canadian businesses?

Mobile Web Use in Canada

Susan Ward talks about the Best Business Opportunities in Canada in 2012 and says that, “Ever increasing numbers of consumers are researching, shopping and buying with their mobile devices.” Ecommerce is definitely on the list of businesses to venture into. But for existing businesses in Canada, even those that do not utilize online transactions, the crossover into mobile web is also inevitable as many Canadians now use smartphones to browse the Internet.

ComScore reports as of December 2011: “Smartphone penetration has reached 45% of the Canadian mobile market, reflecting the growing need to be connected on-the-go” and furthermore, expects that smartphone adoption will “eclipse the 50 percent mark of Canadian mobile subscribers in 2012”

Advantages of a Separate Mobile Website

For one, creating a separate mobile website for your business can be cheaper than revamping your current desktop website with a responsive design which would also entail auditing and editing your current web content. Next, responsive design may optimize your design for the mobile web, but not your content. In most cases, desktop viewers have the luxury of time and screen size to browse through many details and pages, but not mobile users. Mobile users definitely want to be able to browse your website faster and find what they are looking for with ease. This means cutting down on ads, graphics, and videos that are not exactly necessary. Of course what is necessary would depend on the business that you have.

One could argue that, if it isn’t necessary, then why put it on the desktop website in the first place? Well, possibly, they are there to enhance the desktop user’s web experience (which should be the case, right?), but might not achieve the same effect for the mobile web user.

Let’s not forget that mobile web design should address bandwidth issues and constraints brought about by very limited screen sizes in addition to the wide range of mobile devices available on the smartphone market alone. The iPhone and the Blackberry, for example, two of the top 4 mobile devices used in Canada, as of ComScore’s 2011 report, are two mobile platforms that give the users significantly different viewing experiences. These are issues that are not relevant for the desktop website and your desktop web content.

As for the risk of not being able to correctly pinpoint your mobile user’s needs and thereby leaving out certain content that some of them could be looking for, it is best to allow mobile users to be able to access the full version of the website instead if they want to, through a link.

Usability expert, Jakob Nielse wrote guidelines on creating a separate mobile website which was met with a lot of criticism and disagreement from the industry. Most of the rebuttals saying that you should not make separate mobile websites for your business argue that creating two websites create some kind of information disparity especially for those who access the web through only mobile browsers—a population which is purportedly significant and growing

Nielsen responds to criticism by saying,

“the multi-site strategy should only be pursued by those companies that do substantial business with both desktop and mobile users. Many companies and government agencies have products and information that don’t speak much to the mobile use case, and they can usually get away with having a single website that’s optimized for desktop use but with some adaptations to make it reasonably accessible on mobile devices.”

Which is to say that it really depends on your business and model. And the amount of money that you have or make: “All of this is really a matter of budgets relative to the expected profits from serving customers better by optimizing the user interface to their specific circumstances.” Definitely, if you make a lot of money from your customers, make a separate website for different platforms to ensure that you enhance your consumer’s experience.

Furthermore, single websites may be best where a population have only a single device for their Internet consumption—either a mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc) or a desktop or laptop. Separate mobile websites in these places may cause a digital divide with mobile users getting less than desktop users since they don’t have access to the “full version” of the website. But in Canada, this is hardly the case. Canadians have historically spent the most time on the Internet than other countries, and even though web access through different means such as mobile devices, TVs, and tablets has been growing, this is basically just an extension of their web use

In this article, Bryan Segal, vice president of ComScore, says,

I don’t think interaction with digital is plateauing, I think it’s just extending across different platforms and devices… And I think we’re still in our infancy of mobile. We’re going to be reaching the epicentre (of the trend) in 2012 and the beginning of 2013.

What’s happening is that mobile web use isn’t really replacing desktop web usage, but rather increasing total web usage because of the availability of additional platforms. Needless to say, this increases the opportunities for any business to reach its customers at different places and circumstances—and having a separate mobile website gives you the power to address the corresponding needs accordingly.

By Elaine Latonio