How to approach multi-device sites for your business?

May 2013

From smartphones and tablets to laptops and television, 90% of all media interactions today are on a screen, and businesses that allow users to interact with their brand across all platforms and on all devices are able to generate more engagement. So how do you get started?

Whether someone is using their PC at work, their tablet in the evening on the couch, or their smartphone during commute hours, constant connectivity means that people are going online on many different devices throughout the day. Businesses that allow users to interact with their web presence in all circumstances and on all devices are able to generate more engagement. Here's how you get started:

1. Understand how customers currently interact with your site Analyze the traffic on your website and get an understanding of where your customers come from; at what times they visit your site, what types of content they consume and especially what devices they use. A solid analysis will give you a good understanding of the status quo and will help you identify what areas to prioritize.

2. Adapt your value proposition to customer needs An analysis of your current website might give you hints — e.g. what a smartphone user is looking for versus a visitor on a computer or a tablet. You might learn that prioritizing specific content on the mobile-friendly version of your website will improve conversion rates and drive incremental revenue for your business. The goal here is to tailor and rearrange content for specific audiences rather than removing it and offer a stripped down version of your website. Keeping the user in mind when designing device specific content is key to crafting a positive experience for your customers.

3. Decide which implementation option works best for you There are three approaches commonly used across the web that address multi-device users and allow for content customization based on user context. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and every business has different requirements, available resources and existing technologies. It is recommended to discuss the pros/cons for each option with your webmaster / agency. Here's a summary of three implementation options:

  • Responsive web design
    Responsive web design (RWD) enables you to optimize your site experience across different screen sizes without creating multiple websites. With flexible templates, CSS and JavaScript, a responsive site immediately adjusts images, template layouts and content according to the screen size of a device. Using a single URL for a piece of content makes it easier for your users to interact with, share, and link to your content. Also, no redirection is needed for users to get to the device-optimized view, which can reduce load time. In order to create a truly great experience with RWD businesses need to have device specific strategies and design web content with the end user in mind.
  • Dynamically serving different HTML on the same URL
    When a customer visits your website, it's possible for your webserver to detect what kind of device they are on and present a custom page (HTML + CSS) on the same URL. These custom pages can be designed for any kind of device — mobile phones, tablets, desktop computers and even Smart TVs. Detecting the user's device and changing the content you serve requires some customization (e.g. style sheets) that need to be maintained on a per device basis.
  • Separate mobile URLs
    Another option to customize your site experience based on device type is to build a separate site for mobile traffic, independent of your original desktop site. The browser detects if a visitor is on a mobile device and redirects them to the mobile-optimized version of your site (e.g. A dedicated mobile site allows you to tailor the site specifically for mobile users and is often independently built and hosted.
Keeping the user in mind when designing device-specific content is key to crafting a positive experience for your customers.

4. Avoid common mistakes

    • Limited Content. Tailor your content, don't cripple it. Your customers will want to see a tailored experience based on the device they use - but they still want a complete experience. Make sure to design for mobile, rather than simply removing content from your desktop site.
    • Multiple Domains. Do not serve your mobile site from a different domain, e.g. versus Domains have brand identity, and have implications on search ranking, both typically built over years, and often with a lot of investment.


    Pop-ups are generally a bad user experience. Instead, we recommend using a simple banner to promote your app inline with the page's content.
  • Unplayable videos. Many videos are not playable on smartphone devices. We recommend using HTML5 standard tags to include videos and avoid content in formats, such as Flash, that are not supported by all mobile devices.
  • Faulty redirects. If you do have an equivalent smartphone URL, make sure to configure the redirection so that users end up on the correct destination page.
  • Load Speed. Sites that load fast generally offer a better user experience. On mobile, users seem even more sensitive to speed and more likely to give up if the website doesn't load fast. Take the PageSpeed test and learn how to optimize your site.

5. Measure, analyze and iterate You will likely not hit the jackpot right from the start. Successful website owners have always measured user behavior to optimize content and improve user engagement. The same principle applies to multi-device websites. Most successful businesses with multi-device websites analyze interactions across devices and continuously improve their web presence.

The Update: How Google creates human-first mobile experiences