Resounding Questions

There's so Much to Know

How Many Mobile Visitors Do You Have?

As commutes go, mine is pretty good. An hour door to door, including about 25 minutes of walking, but that does mean I get a solid 2 hours of podcasts in every day. Newish to me, but totally worth it is The Web Ahead, hosted by Jen Simmons. Jen is a rockstar designer/developer, and has on her shows lots of equally excellent folk like Jeremy Keith, Ethan Marcotte and Karen McGrane. If you’re interested in the web from a development (backend or frontend) or design point of view, you should do yourself a favour and trawl through some of the past shows to learn something new, or get a different take on what you’re already doing. I wanted to quickly share something with you that I got from the podcast last week.

What to do about Mobile?

At work, we’ve been thinking more strongly and concretely about what our approach is to design for mobile devices. We currently have a few specialised ‘mobile’ site versions for some e-commerce sites, as well as some responsive designs built into small web applications (graph and report viewers). I could happily write for hours about what building those sites has meant to us, what the differences have been design-wise, cost-wise and results-wise for us and our customers, but right now the important thing was that we still didn’t have a strong story to tell about what we recommended as an approach to customers.

As we discuss internally if we should start up a responsive design by default for practice, or go mobile first with the designs for our customers, the thinking for our new strategy has been guided by numbers of visitors to our clients’ sites that having some type of non-desktop experience. As a percentage of overall visitors, this has been gaining ground steadily. Even if we know that for some of our sites the existing designs work well on larger mobile screens like tablets, the number of smaller screen sizes is certainly on the rise.

Counting Visitors

Listening to Jason Grigsby on the Web Ahead made me think we were even further behind on this than I had first imagined. Why? Because no matter what you think the number of mobile visitors you are tracking to your sites is, the real number is certainly higher than what you’re recording. Again why? Because the vast majority of mobile phones are not smart phones, unless your audience is in one of two very developed mobile markets: Japan or South Korea. In all other markets, feature phones dominate. The majority browser on feature phones is Opera Mini, which is incredibly powerful, but doesn’t run Javascript. Other browsers on feature phones also don’t run Javascript. Without Javascript, web analytics based on Javascript won’t track the visit, so you lose site of those visitors. Most analytics packages will allow you to insert an image beacon instead of the JS in your page, but unless you are already doing this (and are willing to give up the benefits of the fine granularity JS gives you) you won’t have site of all those visits.

Keep Thinking

That’s just one of the though provoking things Jen and Jason talked about during the podcast. Really, you should listen to the whole thing, and then to everything else in the feed. Keeping in mind what we don’t know about our clients’ visitors, we’ve spent more time thinking about what we want to achieve with our site designs for mobile, and how fast. There’s so much to think about from mobile context to bandwidth concerns when we think about how we treat and design systems for all these non-desktop devices, but even taking the first step and just considering them as first class citizens of the web is important.