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The BBC announced this week that all mobile users who visit its news site would automatically be routed to the mobile optimised version.

The site has been live since March though, until now, many users had found themselves the trying to navigate the desktop version.

Creation of the mobile site was driven by consumer demand, as in an average week 13.3m users worldwide use their mobile or tablet to visit the BBC News site and apps - around one-third of total visitors to BBC News Online.

Like any good developer team should, the BBC’s techies have updated the site in recent months in response to user feedback so it now includes video clips and new personalisation options for local news and weather.

We've been keen followers of the Beeb's mobile strategy, including the launch of a new iPlayer Radio app. So to coincide with the latest announcement, we thought we’d see what the BBC News site looks like...

The homepage 

The homepage largely mirrors the desktop site. It displays the same stories and is very easy to navigate as you simply have to scroll down to view more story options.

At the top of the page there is a separate tab that pulls through the ‘Most Read’ stories, which is useful for mobile users that just want to see the most popular or interesting content.

You can also access the rest of the BBC’s news content by clicking the ‘Sections’ icon at the top of the page.

                 

One quite noticeable problem is that the thumbnail photos on the homepage are quite blurry, possibly because they are not correctly optimised for mobile.

Usability could also be improved by using clickable icons rather than text links, although the use of responsive design may mean this isn’t possible.

Story pages

The story pages use a very simple design and don’t appear to suffer from any rendering issues.

The video content looks great, but it does take a while to load using 3G. Also, you have to click the play button twice – once to load the content and once to start the video – which is a bit of a pain as it isn’t made obvious.

                      

At the bottom of the page you can access links to other stories and large CTAs promote sharing through Facebook or Twitter.

Local news and weather

A small GPS icon under the news stories allows you to personalise the local news and weather information to your current location in just two clicks.

It’s a really useful tool and shows that the BBC has been taking user data into account when developing the site.

There is a slight issue though – if you click on the weather tab for a more detailed forecast it links you to a desktop site.

                      

In conclusion...

The BBC News site renders extremely well on mobile and is very easy to use, though there are a few small tweaks that could be made such as the quality of the images and use of text links.

However these are minor points, and the fact that the BBC now automatically routes smartphones to the mobile site should encourage further growth in its mobile traffic.

The local news and weather options are a really useful addition and hopefully we’ll see more updates as the BBC continues to monitor user feedback.

David Moth

Published 24 October, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1690 more posts from this author

Comments (16)

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Mat Diss

I think the headline for this story is misleading - the BBC mobile site is a separate mobile site and doesn't use responsive design (in the media query sense).

about 4 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

@Mat. The BBC's blog post on the new site says:

"This is the latest stage in the ongoing work by our News product team on responsive design - a way of presenting our content to you in the most suitable way by detecting the type of device you are using and displaying the format best adapted for it. We are doing similar work to optimise the site for tablet users too."

about 4 years ago

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Mat Diss

@David - It's an interesting topic - most people use the term responsive design to refer to having media query links in the page which means that the page adapts to different size screens - there are a number of posts on forums which say people should use responsive design instead of having a mobile specific site. In this case responsive design is a technique for doing this.
The BBC site does use responsive design, but with a different meaning - they do not use media queries and are effectively saying that the site responds to different devices by being mobile specific. This is very different to the traditional meaning of responsive design.
We see a lot of confusion over this when we speak to clients and it is really confusing the market.

about 4 years ago

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Andy Shield

Nope, it's an adaptive strategy rather than a responsive one, hence the m. prefix.

Incidentally, one down side of this approach is having to maintain multiple sets of code.

However, it does give you more flexibility.

PS - nice one BBC by the way :)

about 4 years ago

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Chris Turner, Director at Oomph Agency

On first use, I'm not a fan. I have got used to the site being rendered in my iPhone screen just like the desktop site and I like them being the same as they share a common navigation system. It is not problematic, even with big fingers like mine and in portrait format. With screens getting bigger and clearer, the need for separate sites lessens. This new site would look very boring indeed on a tablet. Editorially there are issues too as the new site is effectively a list of stories prioritised to reflect the BBC's view of their importance. Overall, the new BBC site looks very much like the Guardian App when it launched 2-3 years ago. Is that progress ?

about 4 years ago

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Luke Hally

I agree with Matt here.

The BBC site seems more adaptive than responsive. It may seem like an an argument in semantics, but it is not.

I am under the impression, RWD responds to the screen size, whether it is because of the device or the user resizes their window.

This means the design responds to its environment, it doesn't detect the device and redirect to a mobile version.

I'll plug my responsive tool, it lets you test your site for responsiveness digitalgeek.com.au/responsive_website_design/

about 4 years ago

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Martin Kuplens-Ewart

It most certainly is using responsive design – you'll note elements and layout shift to present content as appropriate for portrait/landscape displays – but instead of hiding 90% of the page (as they would have to if they were doing a single template for desktop -> phone), they've separated desktop from mobile and focussed on using responsive techniques to optimise their mobile content.

Whether iPad has been excluded due to its screen size/density is an intriguing question – I don't have a smaller (~7") tablet to test with.

This approach makes for an effective and far more efficient mobile site experience, as mobile visitors aren't penalised for their small display through data transfers for hidden content or excessively high-resolution graphics; and it also helps the BBC by reducing their bandwidth spend.

Although it's tempting to tell clients that mobile is 'solved' with single-template Responsive techniques, in reality it's a far more complex matter, one that is often best addressed through a combination of approaches, such as the one in use by the BBC.

about 4 years ago

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Luke Hally

Martin, moving elements don't necessarily mean it's responsive, fluid design does this.

I agree with your points about loading hidden content though. I guess a decision has to be made about load time vs upkeep of multiple sites.

I wonder if we'll move past responsive vs adaptive to just calling it a multi device website

about 4 years ago

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Jon Hobbs-Smith

The site is not "responsive" in the sense we normally talk about, a phrase coined by Ethan Marcote to mean a specific technique. Responsive design serves you the same content (html) with different styling (css, determined by media queries), which is an important distinction.

The BBC should know better and so should Econsultancy.

The BBC have also committed the cardinal sin of detecting I'm on a mobile device and redirecting me to a cut down version of the site without asking me. Luckily, Chrome on Android Jelly Bean allows me to override the user agent string meaning I can still see the normal version. Others may not be so lucky.

about 4 years ago

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Richard Tidman

I agree totally, responsive web design is all about delivering one content item per URL and using HTML/CSS to tailor the UI to the device. Delivering a flexible front end solution on an m. site does go some way to address the problem of differing mobile/tablet devices viewports, but seems a rather short sighted strategy from the Beeb.

One of the main arguments to adopt a fully responsive solution is the search engine's desire for an Internet with one URL per content item. By outputting only one URL for the same content, as opposed to multiple versions of a page or website for different devices (usually delivered via an ‘m.’ sub-domain, or a .mobi root domain), it’s far easier (and more cost effective in the long term) for the search engines to identify the nature and authority of your content if there’s just one URL per content item.

Google have gone on record saying this is how they prefer websites to be built, and Bing have recently announced they feel the same. How long before this becomes a ranking factor and penalises the BBC's shiny new site?

about 4 years ago

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Gavin Parkinson, Marketing and Sales Manager at Hitch Marketing Ltd

Hurray for the BBC, though they clearly don't see Weather as an important news element. So, when will eConsultancy follow suit? I'd be much more likely to read more on my commute if you did!

about 4 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Use of m. is already a ranking factor, and of course .mobi is even worse!

Best practice is to use .com/m for the best possible SEO authority contribution. Check out toyota.co.uk/m/gt86 for a good example

about 4 years ago

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Matt Gibson

Whilst the BBC define this design as responsive; I would argue that by having a separate mobile website that is specifically tailored to deliver a better user experience for mobile users is actually an adaptive design. This is because you are adapting what you deliver based on the context of the user; performance is optimised for the mobile context; location specific content is delivered; user interfaces are more tailored for touch. David Moth's comment taken from the BBC blog essentially says this, it is about detecting the type of device (and more importantly the capabilities of it) and adapting what is delivered accordingly. This is a truly mobile first approach as the more capabilities the device has (such as GPS, ability to load/play video) the design becomes enhanced.

As for the significance of SEO (in response to Richard above), I would imagine for large brands like the BBC, they will be more concerned about their user's experience and loading times rather than Google rankings.

To find out more about the differences between responsive and adaptive, there is a great article on the UXMag website which was written earlier this month. It should help you choose which option is best for your online strategy. http://uxmag.com/articles/combining-responsive-and-adaptive-strategies-to-solve-mobile-design-challenges

about 4 years ago

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Jim

This seems like just another new front in the battle between SEO and designers. It is not an SEO-friendly responsive design but it seems only a responsive design created by developers and designers with no input from the SEO team (if BBC even has an SEO team).

about 4 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

As I understand it the BBC site carries ads if you view it internationally (i.e. non-license fee payers)? So has anyone checked to see if the mobile version carries ads and, if so, what format etc?

about 4 years ago

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Chris Reynolds, Online Marketing Engagement Manager at Adecco management & consulting

@Ashley - nope no ads that I can see from Switzerland.

about 4 years ago

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