Are Agencies Really Flunking Mobile Test?

Jack Marshall’s “Many Agencies Flunk Mobile Test” got me thinking about something that, in the words of the great Peter Griffin, really grinds my gears.

Too often, it seems like the primary measure of competence in digital specialties is presence. If you don’t have a mobile site, a tablet site, and a branded agency app for every platform, you don’t get mobile. If you aren’t on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pintrest, you don’t get social.

Presence isn’t the right litmus test. Showing up is the easy part. The trick is knowing what to do and why you are doing it. And, often equally importantly, finding cost effective ways to play across the entire ecosystem. Developing completely custom experiences for each and every platform, device and form factor isn’t always necessary — and it’s more effort to maintain.

Granted, there are tons of situations where customized experiences are incredibly useful, if not mandatory, on the mobile web: bank sites, travel sites, email services, shopping sites, for example. But there are also many situations where a custom mobile web experience that differs from the desktop web experience isn’t necessary or particularly helpful. Sometimes the best approach is an experience that works well across multiple devices and platforms.

Many of the test’s “flunkies” delivered great experiences that worked well in both desktop and mobile formats. (Full disclosure, in re-reviewing our website after reading the article, I noticed a recent update had broken our video player in iPhone…so we’re fixing that). Could we all do more to deliver better tailored, more relevant, simpler experiences to mobile visitors? Absolutely. But is the lack of a mobile-specific website necessarily mean a bad mobile Web experience? Absolutely not.

In fact, at times it seems a focus on delivering mobile-specific experiences, without considering all implications, leads to really bad choices and incredibly frustrating user experiences. Let’s say someone emails you a link, which you click on from your smartphone. The site in question notices you are visiting from a mobile browser and re-routes you to the mobile website’s home page. You try to outsmart the site by clicking “access desktop site”, exiting back to your email and trying the link again. Not so. This is insanely frustrating for users. Depending on the type of site, this use case could represent a significant chunk of the traffic.

There are, of course, lots of ways to design around the above problem and deliver an awesome mobile-specific site experience (complete with deep linking). But that’s just one example of how building a mobile-specific experience, without understanding all the ways users interact with the site via mobile leads to problems. In lots of situations, a single website, with minor amounts of responsive design, works really well for both desktop and mobile.

The point isn’t just to show up. And the true mobile test, not just for agencies, but for anyone, isn’t is there a mobile-specific website” but instead “does the mobile experience meet the needs of the user in mobile contexts?” A yes may or may not lean on a customized mobile Web experience.

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