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‘View Full Site’ Must Die

by Jared M. Spool

Three words. Three harmless words. Sitting there at the bottom of the mobile site’s page.

“View Full Site”

When these words first started appearing, they made perfect sense. It was a great CYA design maneuver. If our mobile-optimized design missed something our user needed, these three words came to the rescue. But now, it could be doing more harm than good.

The M Dot

“View Full Site” lives in its own special world — a segmented web site known as the M Dot. The pages of an M Dot site are where the mobile-optimized functionality lives.

This same functionality also lives on the full site, but on the M Dot, it’s been tailored to the world of a small screen. Simplified content and easier-to-use capabilities are what lives here.

The thinking is there’s a subset of the full site’s functionality that users would most likely want when they’re out and about. When they’re away from their desk, users probably wouldn’t read the CEO’s blog or visit a site’s about page. Site designers would divide the functionality into things a user would want on the road and things they wouldn’t. The stuff they most likely want goes in the M Dot.

It Started with WAP

The idea of reduced functionality for mobile users started before smart phones existed. The Wireless Access Protocol, also known as WAP, was a simplified interface for feature phones to have something similar to web page capability.

A browser with limited display capabilities let people who didn’t have a smart phone interact with basic site functionality. Popular in Europe and Asia, users could view train schedules, read an article on a news site, or see the day’s weather. WAP made all this functionality available on your phone.

The Pain of Pinch and Zoom

In 2007, Apple put their fully functional Safari browser in their first release of the iPhone. The user now could see and interact with sites designed for the desktop.

However, iPhone’s browsing interaction was clumsy. The sites, designed for much bigger screens, were impossible to read at the low resolutions of the phone’s screens. While the user could pinch and zoom to make portions of the screen bigger, it was hard to deal with the simplest of screens.

Add to that the slow rendering times because of slow graphics processors and modem speeds, and you end up with a very awkward user experience. If the site included any Flash components, it broke the experience.

M Dot sites were natural extensions of WAP. They were a perfect solution to overcome the pain of pinch and zoom, slow page rendering, and missing components. Provide the user with a simply designed page, optimized for the size of the screen, and you were golden.

Providing an Escape Hatch

“But sometimes I want to have access to ‘everything’.” Our desktop sites, which have evolved over years, have a rich set of functionality. The M Dot can’t have all that capability. Therefore, we need the escape hatch.

By providing “View Full Site,” we give our users a way to escape the confines of the M Dot. They can have access to everything with a click on a single link.

We provide the escape hatch because the M Dot’s experience isn’t complete. The M Dot site can’t have what the users need, because we’ve intentionally crippled it.

Yet when the user takes the leap through the escape hatch by clicking on the “View Full Site” link, they are brought back into the world of unusable desktop sites. Pinch and zoom are the only ways to survive.

“View Full Site” is a promise of a better world that can’t be met. What the user hopes for is an easy way to access the functionality missing from the M Dot. But returning them to the world of pinch and zoom isn’t the solution. What is the better solution? Responsive design.

Case Study: Capital One

For years, Capital One had provided an M Dot site for their customers. It garnered a small amount of traffic, serving up a subset of the site’s marketing content. They had a special team to maintain it, working hard to keep the content up to date with changes to their full site.

Yet when users would end up on the full site, they’d leave almost immediately. Staying less than a minute, they’d barely explore any of the full site’s functionality.

The full site team watched their site statistics closely. Ninety-four percent of users coming to the full site from mobile devices were leaving as soon as they arrived. The team wanted to see what they could do to get more people to stick around. They believed a responsive design would get them a reduction in the drop-off.

Starting With a Design System

Before they started working on a responsive design, the Capital One team needed to move away from their old model of page templates. These page templates were built for a specific size of screen. That won’t work when you are dealing with a plethora of devices, all with different size screens.

They built out a design system that was similar to Brad Frost’s Atomic Design system. Breaking down what was on each page into reusable components, which they could place into containers. The containers could be rearranged on the page depending on the available screen size.

The team also built a new CMS to separate their content from its presentation. Having the content in one place gave them a platform for re-use and control.

They did all this before working on their responsive site. They used the new design system and CMS to create the desktop experience they wanted.

Yet because the team was thinking about a responsive future, they it made it easy to go in that direction when the time came. Once everything was in place, it took them only two months from project kickoff to the launch of their 2500-page responsive web site.

Solid Results

Within 24 hours of the launch, the Capital One team saw a 15% reduction in the mobile drop-off numbers. Within a few months, the number of folks visiting the full site on mobile jumped from 5% to 44%. Repeat mobile visits were up over tenfold what they were before they made the jump to responsive. Mobile users were now staying more than five minutes, up from 45 seconds.

More importantly, they saw an increase in product conversions from their mobile users. Within the first two months, they saw an 8% increase in conversions from mobile devices. Users with tablets were now converting 17% higher.

The move to a responsive design not only created a better experience for users, it produced higher revenue from their mobile users. The project was a huge success.

Letting the M Dot Die

The significant increase in revenues and traffic to the full site generated by mobile users caught the attention of Capital One’s senior management. Even though the content and layout of the desktop site hadn’t changed, making it responsive had a strong affect on the business’s bottom line.

In it’s entire lifetime, the M Dot site had never produced these kind of results. It was clear to Capital One’s management where future investments needed to go.

The design team didn’t explicitly kill off the M Dot site. Instead, they cleverly wrote some code that stored a cookie every time someone used the “View Full Site” link. On future visits, those users automatically went back to the responsive full site, making the M Dot site invisible.

The M Dot site and its “View Full Site” link eventually died on its own from lack of attention. But it was a responsive full site that helped kill it.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is the founder of User Interface Engineering. He spends his time working with the research teams at the company and helps clients understand how to solve their design problems. You can follow Jared on Twitter at @jmspool.