If the majority of Americans are not using their smartphones and tablets as the primary device to surf the web, look up information, and make online purchases, they soon will be. We also know that people have always been fickle with websites: If visitors don’t think the website serves their purpose in a second or two, they’re off to the next website. The same is true if a website doesn’t function well in mobile devices.
Are you ready for the mobile world?
I like to think of websites that are well prepared for visitors using mobile devices as “mobile friendly.” They have prepared to be seen and used on multiple devices. But what happens with a website that wasn’t designed with mobile in mind?
If your website is an older website, developed “back in the day” before these new devices…or if your website just wasn’t made with these devices in mind, chances are your website isn’t “broken.” It will probably work in mobile devices even if it isn’t really mobile friendly. What usually happens is that your website will shrink to fit inside the device’s screen. So if someone is viewing your site on a handheld phone, it will display all of three inches wide (or whatever the width of the screen is). The user will need to zoom in to read and use your site.
Mobile-friendly websites, however, think of these users and make sure that the user experience for the website is easy and efficient. Having to zoom, for example, should not be necessary to use the website in most cases.
There are typically two different kinds of mobile-friendly websites: mobile websites and responsive websites.
Mobile websites were the first popular way to deal with mobile devices. Simply put, they are separate websites designed just for smartphones and tablets. When users go to a web address, some behind-the-scenes code determines that they are using a mobile device and directs them to the mobile version of the website. You can usually tell that it is a different website because it’s often simple with big buttons and some text. Other parts of the website have been stripped out.
They are sometimes easy to make if you’re using a platform like WordPress or an ecommerce service and you can install a simple plugin to make a mobile website for you. But they’re not without their problems, which is why I don’t generally recommend mobile websites as an option.
Basically, the main challenge comes from that there are really two versions of the same website. This can be a problem for SEO as content, links, and visitors can get split between two websites when you really want them on one. Furthermore, mobile websites can frustrate users when they don’t have access to all the information available on the main website, or if they follow a link to a particular page, but the website bumps them to the mobile version’s home page. Both do more harm than help to mobile visitors.
Responsive websites, on the other hand, use only the main website. Like the name implies, these websites respond to the device being used. For example, a responsive website may change a horizontal menu into a dropdown menu if it can’t fit in the screen. Sidebars can also be moved to underneath the main content. There aren’t SEO problems because there’s only one website, and generally, users have access to any content they need on the website whether they’re on a computer or a smartphone. My website is an example of responsiveness in action.
Where do you go?
If it’s time for you to make your website mobile friendly, it will take time and effort to do it right. Of course, you could just use a plugin or ask a developer to just make it responsive, but you wouldn’t know how beneficial your site is to your target audience.
Instead, it’s a perfect opportunity to revisit the purpose of your website and the action you want your visitors to take (buy, subscribe, call, etc.). Since mobile screens are smaller, you need your purpose and call-to-action to shine. Think about how that needs to be conveyed, and work with your developer to plan your site with a mobile-first approach. The rest is just icing on the cake!