The Importance of Doing Mobile Right - And the Sites That Are Failing Miserably at It

November 2, 2013 | By: Dave.Foster | 2 min read

Since late 2012, we at Terralever have seen an overwhelming shift in mobile expectations for websites.  A year ago, clients were telling us that mobile was a nice little something to have.  Now, some sort of mobile readiness is a core requirement for every client that passes through our doors.  This made us wonder:

Mobile is popular, but what does it look like in the real world?

To answer this question, we looked at an expansive group of sites we expected to be mobile browser friendly - those of top U.S. colleges and universities.  And what we found was surprising. Despite having big money and and a youthful, affluent audience, their mobile friendliness was generally dismal, with only 41% of the sites offering any kind of mobile optimized experience at all.

<<insert infographic for 41%, maybe a piechart showing 16% mobile-targeted and 25% responsive with a slight overlap of those two slices because one site actually does both)>>

There are two dominant approaches to serving mobile devices of both Apple and Android. The first approach is to create an entirely separate version of the web site that is sent to people who try to connect using a mobile device.  We often call this the "M-Dot" approach because these specialized sites are often accessed by adding "m." to the front of the URL (e.g.  Usually M-Dot sites provide only a small fraction of the capabilities and content of the full site, but what information they do present is specifically tailored to work well on smaller screens using touch interfaces.  The other approach is to create a "responsive" site which shrinks, wraps, and reorganizes itself in response to varying screen sizes.  Responsive sites often have access to nearly all of the functionality and content seen on a desktop, but they often compromise layout and usability.

Of these two approaches, the major universities seemed to prefer the responsive approach, with 25% serving a responsive page from their main homepage. Less common, 16% of universities were automatically serving an M-Dot experience from their main homepage. Interesting enough, and for now we'll leave it to you to speculate why that is.

So obviously, America's top colleges and universities aren't really cutting it in the realm of mobile. Instead, we decided to take a look at some of the weakest mobile experiences out there:

<<insert screenshots of desktop view and iphone view:  ,, or one of the many others>>.

You can tell at a glance that the user experience is incredibly awkward. These are reasonably poor sites that are likely to be used only by those who really, really need some information right now. These are not the sites that mobile users will browse casually.

We also took a look at some of the M-Dot sites to see how they fared:

<< show desktop and iphone view for a few sites: , ,>>.

M-Dot can be an effective approach in some circumstances, but is often it is so devoid of content that they tend to get little traffic and high bounce rates.

So, what can a marketer can draw from this?

In short, for most industries there is likely to still be an advantage in providing a decent mobile experience to web visitors. Furthermore, if you're going to go mobile, right now responsive is the dominant approach.

Up next: How do you go forward to create a responsive website while leveraging the investment you've already made in your existing site?

Stay tuned for our next post!

We examined the root domain homepage for 200+ universities taken from the US News and World Reports ranking of top US Colleges and Universities ( ).  We used a simple algorithm to determine if they were serving a mobile-targeted version of their primary domain homepage (e.g. fewer images, reduced functionality, simplified layout) or if they were serving a responsive version of their website (e.g. scaled and adapted to suite a mobile phone sized browser).

Higher Education In 2020 - Marketing To Non-Traditional Students

Download Whitepaper