Can My Mobile Site Be Different From My Main Website?

Written by Tom Greenwood - June 25, 2012

The number of people using mobile devices to browse the internet is rapidly growing and it is only a matter of time before they overtake desktop/laptop broswers as the most popular devices.  So unless you target market consists entirely of people living in locations with no mobile phone infrastructure, you’re going to need to ensure that your website is easy to access and navigate on smartphones and tablets.

For some people, your existing website might work perfectly well on mobile devices, especially if you already have a responsive web design, but many people are going to need to make special modifications for mobile users.

So this presents a question – Can my mobile site be different from my desktop website?

The short answer to this is YES!

Although it is not always necessary for the mobile and desktop sites to be different, there are many cases where mobile users and desktop users can be served better if they are presented with a site designed specifically for their type of device.

But what can and should be different on the mobile site?

Can the design be different?

Absolutely YES!  The main reason for creating a mobile site is so that the content is easier to read on a small screen and so that the navigation is easy to use with your fingers, which however elegant your digits might be, can never be as precise as a mouse pointer.

So you can create a dedicated mobile style sheet that will take your existing content and serve it up in a pretty, mobile friendly layout.

The easiest way to do this in WordPress is to install a mobile specific theme and a theme switcher plugin such as MobilePress that will detect mobile users and automatically show them the mobile theme.

Can the content be different?

Yes it can.  In most cases you probably want your website content to be the same for all users, but there might be cases where certain pages of your desktop site are simply too detailed.  This is particularly true for sales related pages, where you want to make the content appear short and snappy on the mobile site, which has minimal space for lengthy text.

An example of this can be seen on our own mobile website.  If you visit on a smartphone, you’ll see that the homepage has significantly less text than on our main website.  Scan the QR code with your phone to visit our mobile site.

One important thing to think about here however is that some people on mobile devices might get frustrated that they cannot see the same content that is available on the desktop version.  You can decide whether this is important o not for each page of your website, and of course you should always include a ‘View full website’ link on the mobile site so that users can manually choose to view the full site if they prefer.

You can configure this in WordPress so that you have a specific mobile content are inside the editor for each page/post.  If you add content to the mobile editor, it will be displayed on mobile browsers instead of the normal content.  If you leave it blank, then the normal content will be shown as usual.

Once you’ve got it setup it gives you a super easy way to manage the user experience between mobile and desktop users.

Can the URLs be different?

Again, the answer is YES.  However, there is a growing argument to suggest that mobile sites should have the same urls as the main website, rather than a dedicated mobile domain such as

Here are some reasons to keep the same URL:

  1. If someone links to a page on your site, both the desktop and mobile sites will receive some SEO juice, since they are on the same domain
  2. If someone shares a link to a page/post on your site, it doesn’t matter what device they are using to visit that link.  The site will detect their device and show the appropriate interface.  On the other hand, if you share the link and someone tries to visit it on a desktop device, they’ll be visiting the mobile site, which is not what you want
  3. If you have the same content on the desktop and mobile site, then using the same URL will avoid duplicate content issues.  Having a seperate mobile domain is like creating a clone of your own website, which is not what you want
  4. Google visits your site as both a desktop and mobile visitor and indexes both versions seperately, so it can tell the difference between the two versions of your site even if they use the same URL

Ultimately, there is no one size fits all solution to mobile web design.  The devices are rapidly changing and each business has unique challenges that it must overcomng in presenting its content on these widely differing devices.  Hopefully the above information is useful and helps you decide what solution will work best for you.

If you have any suggestions or would like to share you mobile site and explain what solution you used, please feel free to leave a comment.