As content strategist Erin Kissane (@kissane) explains in this interview (and elsewhere), an essential part of any content strategy is matching the content you create with what your user wants and needs. One thing more and more customers demand from an organization is access to content from any device they choose, raising the contentious issue of whether single or multiple channels are developed.

The big question

The desire of customers to access your content from any device has important consequences for your content strategy. Firstly, you should find out what devices your customers use to access your website. Once you have gained this insight, it is time to ask the big question: What do we need to do with our content to provide an excellent user experience on any device?

Former Yahoo! design VP Luke Wroblewski (@lukew) and others have made it clear that the arrival of the mobile phone as an access point to your content forces organizations to redesign their websites with a mobile user in mind. Content-heavy desktop sites create big usability issues on small screens and sometimes narrow bandwidths.

Mobile first

Wroblewski’s ideas have led to the extreme standpoint that any website design should start with the mobile version. Whatever is good for a mobile website is also good for the desktop (“mobile first“).

Recently, forefront content strategists have begun to challenge this view. Debate flamed up again this month after usability guru Jakob Nielsen suggested organizations should create separate websites for every device, the idea being that a desktop site never works well on a mobile phone. According to Nielsen, “For the vast majority of tasks, mobile users will get a vastly better user experience from a well-designed mobile site than from the full site.

Three major problems

Content strategist Karen McGrane and mobile expert Brad Frost see three major problems with offering a separate mobile website next to the desktop version:

  1. A quarter of all people with internet access in the US only access websites through their mobile phone. If organizations do not make an effort to make all useful content available on any device, these customers never get the user experience they deserve.
  2. A website for every device means a maintenance nightmare. It is easy to lose track of content and consistency leading to an inferior user experience.
  3. Separate mobile websites give problems when people use a search engine on their mobile phone. If a page only exists on the desktop version, customers are often redirected to the homepage of the mobile website, effectively denying the user access to the sought-after content.

Furthermore, McGrane and Frost find it difficult to understand why Nielsen doesn’t make any mention of responsive design as a tool to make an organization’s website accessible in a user-friendly way on as many devices as possible.

Three responses

Jakob Nielsen has responded to the criticism:

  1. He believes a mobile phone is always a specific use case. Nielsen believes it is impossible for a mobile user to effectively use a desktop site visited on their mobile phone. Therefore, he believes organizations should not bother to adapt the same set of content to different use cases.
  2. He also agrees that there will be maintenance challenges. But ultimately, he believes “(…) all of this is really a matter of budgets relative to the expected profits from serving customers better by optimising the user interface to their specific circumstances.”
  3. Lastly, he agrees with the search challenges and suggests a redirect should only happen for material that’s actually available in a mobile format.

Regarding responsive design, Jakob Nielsen terms this “implementation”. Using modern design ideas to create and centrally maintain content for separate devices simply does not appear a realistic scenario to him.

Design for optimal customer experience

We believe it will become harder and harder to predict what device your customers use to access your content. There are also many different browsers to take into account.

It is a very costly operation to design, build and maintain separate websites for each of these devices. And having so many variations of the same concept living next to each other, you run a real risk of losing consistency – an important ingredient of a content strategy.

So it makes sense to design a centrally-maintained website that offers relevant content to all of your customers and adapts to the device the user is holding. This is the customer experience your users will expect from any organization.