Mobile Tour Locations

Mobile TourSomething that has bothered us since the beginning of the redesign was the fact that the large feature images displayed on tablet/desktop devices did not have a similar feature for mobiles. We chose not to include it in the mobile experience because the idea of showing large feature images didn’t translate well to the mobile experience. In an attempt to maintain feature parity, we have been working on ways to bring the tour locations as presented on desktops to mobiles, but to do so in a way that lends itself to the strengths of mobile devices.

To that end, we just released a beta feature for your testing pleasure. If you visit on a mobile device, you will see a button labeled “Campus Tour Locations”. Tapping that button will result in one of two scenarios.

You are currently off campus and/or deny to share your location

This will result in two random tour locations being displayed with the options to show the location on and to view more information.

You are currently on campus AND approve the sharing of your location

This will result in the display of the two tour locations that are nearest to your current location. You will also be provided with information showing which direction and how far. Also included are options for more information and walking directions. The feature will be limited by the accuracy of your device and the location it provides us.

Next Steps

We will continue to improve on this feature over the coming months. Of particular concern is that on occasion, especially when on wifi, your location may be placed far from where you really are on campus (the network seems to like placing people at Geddes Hall whether they’re there or not). We’ll be looking for ways to improve on this behavior. If you have any issues or have specific feedback on the feature, please let us know.

Removing the mobile redirect

On April 22 we removed the automatic redirect from to our mobile site ( So how has this affected traffic to the mobile portal? I’m glad you asked. Total traffic to has essentially decreased by half. This is not a surprising number since it’s likely a lot of redirected traffic simply wanted to get to the “real” homepage anyway. Following are some stats that I find particularly interesting:

The Numbers

    1. Bounce rate (visitors leaving the site) from the home-screen has decreased by 16%.
    2. The average time-on-site and pages per visit have increased.
    3. Return visits have increased by 28%.
    4. Traffic to the number one visited section (Food) has increased.

These numbers suggest to me that the traffic to the mobile portal consists of more quality traffic from users who intend to go there. Even though we’re not directing mobile users automatically, we still provide quick access to the mobile portal from every page on the primary site. It’s not perfect, in my opinion, but the numbers suggest it’s working.

What’s Next

Removing the redirect is a change we have been considering since we began using responsive design. When we first launched the mobile portal at the end of 2009, the concept of a mobile-specific site made a lot of sense. But now that we have tools such as RWD and RESS and the comfort to work with a mobile-first mindset, redirects suddenly become much less necessary. The problem we’re faced with is that our long-time visitors have come to appreciate, and to some extent, depend on the tools we’ve built into our mobile portals. But that’s where I think we need to change our mobile vs desktop mentality.

Presently the most popular sections on are Food, Webcams, Athletics, Map and Events. Of these top five, four are available at different urls, be it our main site, or sub-sites. Some of these (such as Map and Webcams) are also very mobile friendly, and the others could, and will, be made mobile friendly soon. Food however, easily the top trafficked section (during the school year), would be useful to non-mobile users as well. If we build all of our sites “right”, which these days means mobile friendly (both in usability and responsiveness), then there’s no reason to keep these mobile portals around.

We need to take what we’ve learned from this exercise and carry it into future iterations of our primary site. We need to give ALL users access to these handy resources that they can access quickly on ANY device and present them with an optimal experience. Case in point, 9 percent of the traffic to the Food section is from non-mobile devices. In the current setup, we don’t provide an easy way for non-mobile devices to access it short of typing in the direct url, or clicking through the About page. That tells me that there are users who really want access to this information on their “not-mobiles”.

In my opinion, it’s time we roll our mobile portals into our primary sites. This can be done initially by skinning our “m dots” and primary sites to share a visual identity. This would require us to re-think the mobile sites a little and re-work their interfaces to be responsive as well, since a lot of the visual elements we’ve adopted come from iOS and Android. Then we work the navigation for the mobile portal into each primary site’s navigation. Over time, we can move the functionality out of the mobile platform and into the same platform as the primary.

I’m not sure yet what we should call this collection of mobile tools. I do know that “mobile” should not be in the name. Tools. Resources. Utilities. I don’t know. We’ll need to do some research to find out what would make sense in the mind of the typical user. What I do know is that we shouldn’t stop creating these simple, easy-to-use features. Users want them. And not just those on mobile devices.

A lighter load for mobile

One of the goals for this redesign is to keep the homepage as light as possible for mobile devices. To accomplish this, we’re doing some server-side detection to determine if the visitor is a mobile device, and if so, we won’t load all the content that we would for desktop/tablet users. Now some might think we’re taking away content or giving mobiles a lesser experience. I prefer to think of it as giving our mobile visitors a springboard to get to the content they want quickly. All of the content we’re not loading is available with a single click/touch on the homepage (see circled items in the screenshot). Compare it to the site on your non-mobile device to see the differences.

To test this functionality, I’d like our readers to visit on their mobile phones/devices (no, I’m not counting tablets as mobile devices at this time). If you are not seeing content similar to the screenshot, please fill out this form and let me know. If you have any questions or concerns about how we’re loading content in this way, let us know using the same form.

Browser Testing and Supported Browsers

Work is progressing quickly on the redesign. We have not yet started the browser testing portion of our program, but will be shortly. To determine which browsers to support and focus our attention in this process, we look at current browser stats. Below are the browser versions and their current overall traffic percentage for March 2012.

  • IE7 – 10%
  • IE 8 – 19%
  • IE 9 – 13%
  • Safari 5+ – 22%
  • Firefox 10+ – 12%
  • Chrome 17+ – 11%

If you don’t see your browser of choice in this list, now might be a good time to update.

Mobile First

We will be building in what is known as “mobile first.” That means that the initial styles and layout are going to be formatted for small screens first; then we’ll be adding functionality and layout for larger devices (tablets, laptops, etc.) as we progressively add more and more features. We do this to provide our mobile users the best experience possible while assuring full access to all content.

What this means to you, the reader, is that if you’re checking out the beta site fairly early in the process and it looks odd to you, you will need to try scaling down the width of your browser. Then look at the content as a small-screen device will render it. Well, that or just look at the site on your mobile phone.

As we get closer to launch, you will start seeing what you would consider a “normal looking site” start to take shape.