Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mobile Website Traffic

I recently wrote a mobile website for my library using jQuery Mobile. While building the site was simple thanks to the straightforward framework, I'm taking much more time to contemplate how we will push mobile traffic onto the mobile site. As I see it, there are three options:

A link on the main site, no redirect

Essentially the "do nothing" solution, because obviously I'll put up a link no matter what, but users will have to opt-in to the mobile site. Savvy users might know enough to append "mobile" to their search terms when they're looking for the library site, or to "save to home page" the site for repeated use.

Example: the University of Illinois


  • Doesn't force users onto a particular site
  • Takes a second to do, zero maintenance (this is huge!)


  • Least effective in terms of driving traffic to the site
  • Users might never notice the mobile site exists
  • Slow experience because desktop page still has to load
  • Especially hard to see & select single line of text when using a mobile device on our desktop site, frustrating intial experience

Redirect Mobile Devices to Mobile Site

using a script such as Detect Mobile Browsers, push users over to the mobile site without any prompting.

Example: North Caronlina State University


  • Best in terms of increasing traffic on the mobile site
  • Most efficient, least resources downloaded to user's device
  • Fills in gaps in marketing, users who don't know about the site still end up using it
  • Seamless experience; users can search for our regular site & still end up on the optimized verison


  • Maintenance: the user agent list of mobile devices is only growing & would need constant updating
  • Relies on user agent sniffing, flawed approach for many reasons
  • Mobile site doesn't recreate all functionality of the full site so users lose out
  • Need a hard link back to the full site somehow without being redirected back to mobile version. I actually had trouble implementing something like this on my resume website using PHP's $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'] value but it's probably not too hard to figure out.
  • Could a user permanently opt out of the redirect if they so desired?

Pop-up Prompt

A compromise between the two above, a script detects a mobile device user agent & then offers a prompt (either a JavaScript dialog or an HTML element placed on top of the regular site) telling users about the mobile site. Ideally, users could close out the dialog such that the script would remember their choice & not repeat the prompt during subsequent visits.

Example: ??? I don't know of any library examples but I'd love to see one, so let me know if you find a site that does the above.


  • Pushes users towards the mobile site without forcing them onto it
  • Users who want to access to desktop site on their mobile device wouldn't face any additional hassle
  • No need to bookmark the mobile site or search specifically for it


  • Same maintenance & user agent sniffing concerns as a hard redirect
  • Some devices might slip through the cracks & users would still be unaware of the mobile site
  • While not as obnoxious as a redirect, users seeking the full site would still be annoyed
  • Slow experience because desktop page still has to load

What do you prefer on your mobile device? Do you like the convenience of being automatically redirected, or is it more often a nuisance? Another option, of course, would be & see how effective they are. Traffic figures could easily show which methods work the best, while feedback can speak to the UX.


  1. The library mobile site I made is similar to the second option - an auto-detect script. We do have a link to the full site at the very top for anyone who wants to the full version. I think that works the best, because pop ups on a mobile device are annoyingly hard to press for some reason!

  2. Cool, maybe I'll try that. I hate all the uncertainties involved in user agent sniffing (new devices might not be listed, what to do with tablets that might be better suited to the full site, continual maintenance) but it seems unavoidable.

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  4. As an update: looking through Bohyun Kim's presentation on library mobile sites I see that the FIU Medical Library has implemented the second 3rd method I list (Pop-Up Prompt). It works well though the native JavaScript prompt in iOS does look a little weird.