It’s amazing how much we can accomplish these days with a click of a button or a swipe of a finger. Get in touch with an old friend, make plane reservations, film your kid at his soccer game and then show it to the world.

The same can be said in web design and development. In some cases, you no longer need a head full of complicated code and expensive software to create a website.

Between the do it yourself web site builders and site hosts offering all types of automatic features, it can seem like child’s play to get your site up and running and then make changes whenever you want with a few clicks of the mouse.

But be careful what you click. While many features that your host or ecommerce platform offers will do great things for your site, there are some that may have unexpected adverse effects.  

The following case falls under the old “too good to be true” adage, demontrating how important it is to do your homework before committing to that click.

A Mobile Meltdown

A client of ours uses Volusion for his online store – a company that provides an all-in-one ecommerce website complete with shopping cart and hosting. Logging on to his site’s administrative dashboard one day he saw that Volusion was offering a new feature – a mobile version of his site, pre-designed and ready to launch with one click of the mouse – On or Off.

With 20% of the site’s traffic coming through mobile devices and rising steadily every year, the click to “On” seemed like a no brainer. Two weeks later we witnessed the repercussions of this action:

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is just what it sounds like. It occurs when two different URLs contain identical or very similar information. “DC” is a big no-no if you want your site’s pages to rank well in search engines. (A simple explanation for why can be found in this article on Moz.com.)

When this site’s mobile feature was enabled, 81 pages duplicate to the desktop version of the site were created in a domain subfolder called /mobile, which were then subsequently indexed by Google. To add insult to injury, the site’s owner was not given any control over these pages to be able to edit the title tags, meta descriptions, page copy or any other content to make them more unique.

Disappearing Traffic

As all smart site owners should, our client had made sure that Google Analytics tracking code was on every page of his site to see how traffic was doing and what could be done to make it better. But hold up!

When we checked the mobile pages to make sure they also had this code, we were gobsmacked to discover the GA code had pulled a disappearing act – it was NOT PRESENT on any of the mobile version pages, rendering the traffic to these pages 100% untrackable.  To make matters worse, there was no way for the client to add the code.

Reappearing Products

Like most online stores, there are going to be times when an owner wants to temporarily take a product off the site, whether it’s out of stock, a seasonal item or for other reasons.

Many ecommerce platforms such as Volusion offer a nice feature that allows you to “hide” a product from the site, without having to delete all record of it so that the store owner has the option to make it available in the future.

A nasty little side effect of Volusion’s mobile version is that all those products that were hidden were again made visible for reasons unknown. 

Mobile Ready? Not So Much…

This last issue is a literal head shaker. We wanted to see what the site’s mobile version looked like on an actual mobile device. I pulled out the trusty iPhone and Googled the clients company name. I clicked on the first search result to his site. Where did my visit land? On the desktop version!! No mobile version in sight.

That’s right, there was no redirect in place to detect that I was using an iPhone and send me on my way to where I was supposed to go, which essentially rendered having the mobile version at all completely moot. Go ahead, stop reading and spend the next few minutes wagging your head back and forth in disbelief – I did.

What Can We Learn from this Series of Unfortunate Events?

Needless to say, after discovering all of this we quickly advised the client to turn off the mobile feature. Luckily the problem was caught relatively early, but how many site owners out there aren’t aware of damage being done to their rankings from something so seemingly harmless? 

If you’re about to make changes to your site or add a new feature, take the time to do the research – ask the host questions, consult with your web designer or SEO team if you have one, visit forums or read articles by others who’ve done a similar change. A little preparation and knowledge can save you a big headache later.

Chameleon illustration courtesy of Taylor Stone Illustration