In July of last year, Michael and I were lucky to get to travel around for a couple months. Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Belgium, England, and even around 'merica. We had collected a bunch of junk in our suitcases and were in Switzerland getting ready for an international fight with a large American airline. We were both worried that our luggage was too heavy and that we wouldn't be able to get on the flight. "I'll just look it up on my phone!" I said with smug confidence, knowing that my phone had some Euros on it from France and that I might be able to use up my remaining data balance. "I'm sure I can load a page or two!" First, I googled "[anonymous airline] baggage allowance." Bam! Google did it right away. The first link pointed to "Baggage Information" and was at http://[anonymousair].com/web/en-US/content/travel/baggage/default.aspx
I clicked. I waited. It loaded. I saw the page for a second, I was about to start reading when -
The page disappeared. I was sent to the bare-bones mobile-specific homepage. It listed "Flight Check-in" and other common mobile tasks, but I had lost the page I was going to! Why send me to the mobile home-page?! I already knew where on the site I wanted to be.
I clicked on the "Return to Desktop" link on the mobile site, hoping that it would bring me to the original link I clicked on. Nope. My link was totally gone. I got sent to the full (graphic-intensive) corporate homepage asking me what country I was in. Argh!
Even worse, I ran out of data at that point and couldn't find out the limits. We got a nasty surprise at the airport that we were over the limit and had to be one of those poor souls opening suitcases in the middle of the airport transferring between bags. Other travellers attempted to avert their eyes as our toothbrushes spilled out onto the floor of the airport. It's embarrassing and could have been avoided if this airline hadn't had such a terrible mobile experience. I'm still kind of mad about it!
I declare link breakage an unforgivable mobile sin.
The truth is that the links to and from your website are a contract. If a user has bookmarked page X, then they expect that link to keep working. Even if you are just making changes to your desktop site, it's critical that your links remain backwards compatible. I'm a convert. In fact, my blog still honors link structures from a decade ago! Why? Because there are blog entries and twitter links and documentation and bookmarks people have made to those URLs and I won't dare break my contract with them.
Those inbound links to a particular page are as close to direct money for your company as possible. If someone blogs about a great product on your site and a mobile user clicks on the link to view that product, you have just met your most valuable customer. That customer was most likely intending to purchase, and instead when given your mobile homepage will most likely put down their phone and walk away. Consider broken links to be money hemorrhaging from your organization!
Mobile is supposed to make life easier. It should ensure your users have a fantastic experience. Instead, sites that have broken inbound links are just annoying customers hour by hour. Minute by minute people are having bad brand experiences. And even worse, they aren't the kind of experience that you end up calling Customer Support about. They are the kind of experience that internalize and change your perception of a brand in a way that is hard to recover easily.
When validating a mobile architecture, ask yourself whether every single link to your desktop site works automatically. If the answer is "maybe", then keep your contract with your users and find a better mobile solution. (Hint, hint. Of course the tech stack I built supports this out of the box.. I wouldn't have built anything else.)