This isn’t a technical post on how to redirect users to a mobile version of your website. There are numerous articles that cover that topic in great detail. Rather, this post will cover the user experience implications of mobile redirects and what not to do if you want to keep visitors happy.
Mobile Redirect Options:
- Redirect to mobile version of website and provide an opt-out to full version of site
- No redirect and provide an opt-in to mobile version of site
- Provide an interstitial page asking the visitor what version of the website they want to see
Cookie duration can provide additional customization options.
My Preference for Mobile Redirects
In most cases, I’m a fan of automatically redirecting visitors to the mobile version of the site and providing an opt-out to the full website. I think this provides the best experience (assuming your mobile site has the same functionality as your main website) as it doesn’t force the user to think. Obviously, there may be situations where this isn’t the correct method, but I think for most websites it works best.
The second option (not redirecting users to the mobile site and providing an opt-in) usually gets lost in the details. Often the design of the website causes the opt-in link to be small enough to go unnoticed. And if it does get noticed, the user is forced to reload the page.
The third option (interstitial page) is my least favorite option. It places too much pressure on the user; how should they know what version of your website to use, they haven’t even seen it yet!
Even though I believe one method is better than the rest, any of the three options can provide a good experience if implemented correctly. Unfortunately, since all websites are different, selecting the wrong method for your site can destroy the user experience.
Examples of what not to do
OK! Magazine automatically redirects mobile visitors to the mobile site and they also check to see if the content is available via the mobile design – Great!…except, this is where things start to go down hill.
If the content isn’t available, they provide you with an interstitial page that supposedly redirects you to the full version of the site, which would be great except the redirect overrides your ability to access the full version. So clicking the link simply reloads the same 404 page. Boo!
TMZ chooses to automatically redirect all mobile users to their homepage. For someone reaching the website through search, this adds zero value as most likely they are interested in a specific page and could care less about the homepage story (Justin Bieber’s alleged baby mama!)
What they should do:
You’ll notice in both examples the website used my preferred method of redirect (automatic), however, it was implemented poorly and therefore ruined the experience. Both sites would have been better off simply loading the full version of the site as the content wasn’t accessible via the mobile design.
Having a mobile site is not enough and handling redirects poorly is worse than not having a mobile site at all.