Mobile Vs. Desktop: How Much Content Should You Have?

Mobile Vs. Desktop: How Much Content Should You Have?
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Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations and listened to several podcasts where people have opined on how content should be assembled for a company mobile website vs. a desktop website. There was a recurring theme that went something like this:

When creating your website, start by writing/creating the content for your mobile site first. Chances are when you come up with the important content you need for your mobile site, you’ll realize you don’t need any more content for your desktop site.

Ok, so let’s break that down into two parts.

The first part, “start with your mobile content first”, makes sense to me. The second part, “stop when you have put together your mobile content” does not.

Here’s why…

Start With Mobile Content First

Starting with mobile in mind first makes sense on two fronts; content delivery and graphics.

When putting together your content for a mobile audience you have the challenge of pushing data over to devices that don’t have the bandwidth or processing power of desktop computers. Publishing the right content succinctly is critical. The idea of fleshing out your minimal priority content allows you to publish the important stuff in a compact way.

Similarly, your graphics need to be compact and speedy. Larger graphics mean bigger file sizes; that’s obvious to most people. But what isn’t obvious is that if you take a large graphic and artificially reduce it to fit on a small screen, it’s still the same size even though the graphic looks smaller.

To get around this, developers can create alternate versions of graphics that can be used for different scenarios. On the desktop, you get the big, full-screen graphic. On mobile you get a smaller iteration of the graphic. This methodology ensures that your mobile audience only gets what it needs and no more.

To be clear, while this ideology makes sense, there is nothing wrong with working in the opposite direction – from desktop to mobile. I’m not suggesting that one way is correct and the other is not. I’m simply proposing that both methods are perfectly reasonable.

What I don’t agree with is…

Once You Have Your Mobile Content, You Don’t Need Any More

No.

No. No. No.

And again. No.

The folks who favor this idea have a reasonable argument; if you sit down and think really hard about your site’s content needs and produce the most streamlined and elegant version of your content for your mobile website, then that content should be strong enough for your desktop users.

It makes sense. In theory. But in practice, your mobile users aren’t your only users. On top of that, your mobile users will also likely be your desktop users at some point.

The reason we even have a discussion about the creation of mobile content is because of limitations – or some might say “the features” – of mobile devices. That should not preempt the capabilities of desktop devices. So here are some things to consider when creating your mobile content and debating whether you should create different content for your desktop.

Incentivize Your Mobile Customers To Come Back To Your Desktop Site

While your mobile content may be great, you may have more to say. Don’t hide it. Tell your mobile users that there is more to discover on your desktop site. And if that mobile user is willing, give them a link to your desktop site. This may present technical challenges depending on how your site is created, but new methods such as Responsive Design do a lot to mitigate the problems.

Remember The Infrequently Asked Questions

FAQs are great, but only for the people who have those specific questions. Dedicating space to questions that aren’t frequent will be helpful to those users who have different needs than the majority of your customers. Remember that to each individual, their question is the most important regardless of how you rank it.

You may or may not want to present these IAQs to your mobile audience but having them on your desktop site doesn’t have any down side.

Give Desktop Users Deeper Content

Mobile users typically want small pieces of information very fast. That’s not necessarily true of desktop users. A mobile user may be satisfied with a single paragraph of content that is distilled down to its essence, but the same user on a desktop may want to research deeper.

Video Is A Different Experience On Mobile And Desktop

Mobile devices that are capable of playing video face the challenge of bandwidth and power. If the device is on WiFi, then video may work fine; otherwise streaming video may present a challenge. In either scenario, video streaming will drain the battery quickly.

Creating small, highly compressed videos may be ideal for those mobile devices, but the quality would not be suitable for desktop playback.

Unless you are using some homegrown method, some of these video challenges can be mitigated by using a streaming service such as YouTube that automatically scales depending on the playback device.

But consider that you may want to produce shorter videos for mobile and longer, more detailed videos for desktop users. And don’t forget to…

Check Your Stats

When you first launch your site, it’s hard to make decisions about how to distinguish your mobile content from your desktop content. Once your site starts accumulating traffic statistics, you can use that information to make decisions about how to sculpt your content for mobile and desktop use.

Also, gauge the communications from your customers. If your customers are asking questions about content that is on your desktop site, but not your mobile site, then that is a loud indicator that that content should be on your mobile site as well.

Give Your Mobile Users Power To Manage Their Experience

Twitter has a series of features related to mobile use. For example, I can set my account to text my phone every time my wife tweets or every time someone retweets my tweets. It’s a very good feature.

But every once in a while, I am in a meeting or in an environment where I don’t want to hear the dinging of the texts from Twitter, but guess what? Twitter’s mobile interface does not allow you to manage your mobile settings.

The Twitter app has no option for managing texts. The Twitter site (when viewed on a mobile device) does not allow you to manage your mobile features. The only way to manage your mobile features is to log on to Twitter’s desktop interface. This is remarkably shortsighted. It would stand to reason that while I am on a mobile device, I would want to tweak how Twitter interacts with my mobile device.

Give Your Mobile Users The Same Key Features As Your Desktop Users

If you have an important or high-demand feature make sure to include it on both your desktop and mobile environment. One of my favorite training sites is Lynda.com. When you have a membership, you can watch training lessons on double speed. I do this if I want a refresher on a topic. I have the Lynda.com app on my iPad, but the double speed feature is not available.

I would probably consume more of their products and services if I was able to consume their content the same way on my mobile device.

Don’t Undermine Your Desktop Users To Satisfy Your Mobile Users And Visa Versa

Figure out how to create the best experience for all of your users. Find the nexus between your mobile users and desktop users and consider that your sweet spot, but don’t ignore anything outside of your sweet spot. If you don’t know what Response Design is, you owe it to yourself and your business to have at least a elementary understanding because it is the future of content delivery on the Internet.

Do you have your own thoughts on mobile versus desktop content? Let me know in the comments.

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Ralph M. Rivera

Ralph M. Rivera

Ralph M. Rivera is a web developer and co-founder of Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company based in Holmdel, New Jersey. Ralph began his career in visual effects for feature films and corporate media and has been in the business of marketing, media, and technology for nearly a quarter century. And yes, saying that makes him feel old. As Lead Developer at Rahvalor Interactive, he oversees Rahvalor's team of programmers and developers. As TechnoGeek-In-Chief at {Web.Search.Social}, an online marketing magazine, Ralph oversees all of the day-to-day technology matters as well as contributing regular articles on his experience in the marketing world. Ralph also teaches Web Development at Manhattan College in New York City and acts as advisor and trainer to the faculty of the Communication Department at Manhattan College on emerging technologies. Ralph is married with two cats and spends his spare time trying to build a real life Flux Capacitor.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera
  • http://www.wonderoftech.com Carolyn Nicander Mohr

    Hi Ralph, Great advice. You’re right, mobile is growing exponentially and the potential to alienate readers with content that isn’t optimized for mobile is huge.

    I don’t like mobile-ready plugins because they don’t give the features that the full site gives. Mobile is a very different beast when viewed on an iPhone vs. an iPad for example. On an iPad, I can see an entire site without problems, but on the iPhone, I might have more difficulties.

    Pop-ups can sometimes block my access to a site on mobile. Also I have had difficulties leaving comments on Disqus and Live Fyre using mobile.

    The easier we can make our sites for our mobile readers, the more they will want to come back for another visit.

    • http://www.rahvalor.com Ralph M. Rivera

      As browsers and technologies (e.g. HTML5 ) evolve, those plugins will become better and better. Eventually everything will be “responsive”.

  • Adrienne

    Hi Ralph,

    Excuse me for sounding ignorant, but how do you differentiate the two? I mean for instance let’s say this blog post. Do you write this post twice and one is for mobile viewing and the other is for desktop viewing?

    I understand that when accessing information via a mobile device that as Carolyn mentioned it may not always come up the same. Because of the load times and connections even though I don’t use mobile devices for this. I’m way behind the times so I’m one of those who doesn’t quite understand how you set those apart.

    See, I still have a lot of learning to do in this area. I know this is going to come back to bite me in the future if I don’t start understanding it now.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    ~Adrienne

    • http://www.rahvalor.com Ralph M. Rivera

      That’s a great question. In the “old days” you may have had to keep a counterpart desktop or mobile site. Nowadays, there are technologies to help use the same content, but deliver it in different ways. WordPress has a number of plugins that can be customized to allow for sites to be optimized for desktops and mobile devices. Then there are newer techniques such as “responsive design” that capitalize on the fact that browsers are getting smarter. The browser can “intelligently” push the same content presented in different ways depending on the visitor’s device. The core idea that is evolving is that content should only be created once, but adaptable to different environments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donna.merrill Donna Merrill

    Hi Ralph,
    You have addressed an issue that has been on my mind. As more and more people are using mobile devices, I wanted to be able to connect with them. But I do understand pictures and videos may take a long while to download, if at all.

    I am trying to understand it all, with plug-ins, etc. because I don’t want to miss a beat. I feel like mobile users don’t have the time for things to download and our message has to be short and sweet. And of course consistent.

    I just didn’t get the hang of it yet, but your post has enlightened me. I do need to learn more about it before I get lost in the shuffle!

    I appreciate it.
    Donna

    • http://www.rahvalor.com Ralph M. Rivera

      If you are using WordPress, the short term fix would be a plugin such as WPTouch. A longer term solution is to use a theme that is responsive from the ground up.

  • http://twitter.com/SylvianeNuccio Sylviane Nuccio

    Hi Ralph,

    Well, as I was reading I had the same question Adrienne had, but I see that you answered her question, so that helps me understand the thing. I know that I have installed a code on my blog that is supposed to make my content visible from a mobile device, but since I don’t use one, (yes, still very basic old fashion) I never checked if it works or not.

    Great information here, Thanks :)

    • http://www.rahvalor.com Ralph M. Rivera

      See my comment to Donna about plug-in vs. responsive theme in WordPress.

  • http://suejprice.com Sue Price

    Hi Ralph
    Thanks for this article as I am like Adrienne and Sylviane and have not addressed this issue. I understand I need to but as I sit on my laptop all day I forget others do not.
    Thanks for the information and the reminder.

    Sue

    • http://www.rahvalor.com Ralph M. Rivera

      I’m currently researching a responsive theme for this site. I want to be able to display the site in a really nice way without having to use a plug in like WPTouch which is not very pretty on small mobile devices. I’m thinking of writing up a piece on my findings.