A mobile website is designed and optimized for browsing on a smartphone – the likes of iPhone, Nexus S, Z10. They come in various flavours: sometimes there are different desktop and mobile versions, other times they are the same. The focus of this article is on those websites that are specifically designed for “enhancing the mobile user experience“, although more often than not, it has the exact opposite effect.
The sins presented in this article are so common that you should be able to relate to them. The most common complaints people have – or the 7 Deadly Sins of Mobile Websites – are *drumroll*:
- Slow to load
- Cluttered with text (Happy talk, Me Talk)
- Crappy navigation (Small buttons)
- Different content/theme from the Desktop version? (“Honey, where did the categories go?”)
- Auto Redirect
- Advertisements and Banners
The 1st deadly sin: Slow to Load
I have decided not to sound like a broken record. Instead I will leave you with this rather fine point to ponder: A percentage (*1) of users browsing mobile websites are using slower connections like EDGE or 3G, not the fast Wifi we have in our homes and offices. So while a website may take 4 seconds to load on desktop, it might take longer than that to load on the mobile.
The 2nd deadly sin: Cluttered with Text
Websites guilty of this vice try to cram too much
un-necessary text to look busy, put happy talk (“Welcome to my sweet, lovely website“) or what I like to call “me” talk (“We are very happy to receive the elusive Greatness-Trophy thanks to the hard work and dedication of our CEO“). The average user who arrived on Acme Widget’s website to check hours of operation don’t give a fat f*ck about their head of marketing’s epiphanies .
In real life, we like people who are articulate. They speak fluently, coherently and get their thoughts across in a concise manner. Why should websites be any different? The Great Leonidas, couldn’t have been more more clear in delivering his message to the Persians.
In three word response: “THIS IS SPARTA” followed by an epic kick into the bottomless well (*2) in the movie 300, he gave the most kick-ass message of all time.
In my next post, I will discuss some of the ways to avoid this.
The 3rd deadly sin: Crappy Navigation
Hidden menus, hover objects, small buttons, small radio buttons, buttons that are too close to each other, the list goes on. Imagine, you’re travelling in municipal bus which is jerking you around like no roller coaster would while you are trying to post a comment to the just-posted wise meme. But you can’t seem to click on the “Post Comment” button. Every time you try, it opens the link besides that button – every link left or right seems to work and no matter how hard you try, you just cannot press the damn button. And who do you blame for your misery – there’s only one culprit – your. fat. finger.
In fact, the fat finger syndrome is so prevalent, that people with fat fingers have started an organization to protest this and have equal rights when it comes to web accessibility as everyone else. The organization is aptly named “The Association of People with Fat Fingers” or APFF.
The 4th deadly sin: Different Content/Theme from the Desktop Version
Often times, the mobile website looks so different from the desktop version that users start wondering if they are on the right website. Worse still, if the mobile website has a very different layout and content, it’s like asking users to go over another learning curve. No thanks.
The 5th deadly sin: Popups
Ah, the joy of having a huge box in front of my face telling me how good the App is and I should get it from the App Store. The irony: already have the steaming pile of sh*t app installed and much rather use the website. How about I just leave instead?
Chris Lake makes some compelling points against the Popup Syndrome, summarized in this fantastic statement:
A link should be a promise: you click one to be taken to a specific page. That’s just how it is, and it’s what every web user expects (unless programmed to expect something different, e.g. Forbes, which I no longer visit). Websites that lead you down the garden path before fulfilling the promise only serve to disappoint users.
Need I say more? Popups are so bad on mobile websites they should be banned altogether and erased from existence. JQuery’s author should be forced to take a oath at gun point to stop supporting these or else…? Exactly.
The 6th deadly sin: Auto Redirect
At first, it sounds like a novel idea: redirect users to mobile optimized or iPad optimized website based on the type of device/browser they are using. If done right, that is, you have a great mobile website e.g. Boston Globe, BBC, it’s a great idea. The problem is when the mobile website sucks (guilty of 7 sins), users who want to use desktop version will get agitated if they don’t get what they want. They will get very annoyed if even if they are asked to make the very important decision to choose between “The Mobile Version”, “The Desktop Version”, or “Get the App” every single time.
But what makes auto redirect an absolute sin is faulty redirects. As Yoshikiyo Kato writes in this post:
A faulty redirect is when a desktop page redirects smartphone users to an irrelevant page on the smartphone-optimized website. A typical example is when all pages on the desktop site redirect smartphone users to the homepage of the smartphone-optimized site. For example, in the figure below, the redirects shown as red arrows are considered faulty:
In fact, faulty redirection is so bad that there are reports suggesting that Google penalizes websites guilty of this sin in terms of their page rank.
Oh, and faulty redirection also makes private browsing inconvenient.
The 7th deadly sin: Advertisement & Banner Ads
How could anyone ever even think about jamming in bunch of advertisement even with that much limited screen real-estate? Some people think putting banners on websites is a wise idea. News Flash – Banner ads are trouble. This is 2013, not 1999.
Banner ads suck say guys who invented banner ads. Nuff said.
There you go folks – That’s all. If you know someone who is guilty of committing any one or more of these cardinal sins, may be it’s time to chastise them and show them the light.
Dec 27, 2013 – Matt Welsh disagreed that vast majority of users access mobile sites via cellular network. I’m not sure but since I cannot find any data, the original comment is posted below for you to decide.
“This is a nice article, but I disagree with the statement that “most of the time”, users are accessing the mobile web via cellular (not WiFi) networks. The data that I have seen on this is that the vast majority of mobile web usage is via WiFi – more than 70-80% of mobile pageloads occur on WiFi networks. (Context: I run the mobile web performance team at Google, part of Chrome.) This is in part because web usage is higher on tablets than on phones, but even on phones we see WiFi being the most commonly used network by far. This is not to say that cellular performance isn’t important, but this skew might be somewhat surprising to people working in this area.”
*1 = See Updates (Matt Welsh) *2 = Yes, I know it wasn't bottomless since Leonidas clearly said "Earth and Water, you'll find plenty of both down there".