Maureen Wright of WSI Bestnetsites explains what difference a mobile-compatible website could make to your business and what options you have when designing one…
You probably know from your own experience that searching the internet has become the most popular way to find products and services. In business we’re all likely to carry out searches on people, companies, products and services well before we decide to meet face to face to secure a deal. That’s why an effective website is imperative for most businesses.
However, what businesses now need to consider is the rising proportion of internet searches that take place on mobile phones and other hand held devices. According to the Walker Sands Quarterly Mobile Traffic Report, visits from mobile devices accounted for 28 per cent of total website traffic in Q3 2013, up 67 per cent since Q3 2012, and other surveys put the figure much higher.
So how does that affect you?
If you’ve ever tried looking at a website on a mobile phone, you’ll know that it’s quite difficult to do for many websites – traditionally, websites were designed for PCs, so they’re simply too big! When using a mobile phone, you have the choice of looking at really tiny images and font, or enlarging the display, in which case you can’t see everything without scrolling up and down and side to side which makes it quite difficult to read and understand. Also, unless you have really tiny fingers, it can be impossible to ‘click’ the navigation links. And they’re often very slow to use, for example because they include large image files.
If mobile users can’t find the information they need on your website – whether on a desk top PC or a mobile – they’re not that likely to make an enquiry, are they?
You may be in an industry where very few of your customers search the internet using mobile phones – but if that’s the case, you are in the minority. You might be surprised to know how many of your site visits use mobiles and you can find out by looking at your Google Analytics data. I’m currently seeing 30-40% mobile usage on some of my clients’ websites, but even if mobile visits account for only, say, 10% of your total, that’s still 10 per cent of potential customers that you’re unlikely to sell to.
What can you do about it
To make your website content useable on mobile phones, it typically needs to be arranged in a different way, which will fit the device and only require vertical scrolling, not horizontal. It will also need bigger buttons for navigation, and click to call phone numbers so that users can call you directly from the website.
You could create a separate mobile website to display to specified users based on the type of device they are using. This might, for example, have an ‘m.’ in front of the URL, so for example, mysite.com will appear as m.mysite.com to a mobile user.
Alternatively, a responsively designed site will respond to the size of the screen and will automatically re-organise the layout to suit the device being used.
Let’s look at the two options in more detail.
Stand-alone mobile websites
These are separate websites which are displayed to users of mobile devices through the application of some scripting in your website code.
You can have a mobile website built to run alongside your standard one, and because the mobile website is a separate entity, you can elect not to display all of the same information. For example:
- You might have some complex data tables on your desktop site which you don’t think mobile users will want to view, so you could omit those.
- You might want to reduce the number of pages or the amount of content on each page so that it’s more targeted to what your mobile users are likely to need.
So there’s some work involved here, in assessing what your mobile users need, than in building a new website to cater for that. You could choose to display the same content to mobile users, just organised differently, and there are some tools available to create a mobile website this way, at fairly low cost. If you want to make more radical changes though, there is a bit more work to do. Either way, the downside to this is that you effectively have two websites to host and maintain which will increase your ongoing support costs.
The main drawback to this approach is that because there are so many devices available (and new ones coming along all the time) your mobile site may not provide the optimal user experience on all of them. For example a website designed for use on an i-phone may not look its best on an i-pad mini. You could get round this by having several different mobile sites, for different devices – but that really complicates things because every time you change something on the site, you need to change it in several places, and if you add new pages, you need to link them in with the various redirect scripts.
A compromise solution is to have one mobile website which (currently at least) will work for most visitors, but may disappoint some – probably not a long-term solution as mobile usage, and the range of devices available, continues to increase.
Responsively designed websites
This is a better approach to future-proof your website, making it compatible with all types of device, even those which aren’t yet on the market.
With a responsively designed website, you have just a single domain, e.g. MyWebSite.com and because the website changes automatically based on the size of screen used to view it, rather than the type of device, it will always display in an appropriate format for the user.
And as long as the site “skin” has been designed properly, any amended or new pages, should automatically display correctly on every device, so you will only have one website to maintain.
This may mean that your existing website needs to be rebuilt, but in my view it’s a sensible investment to make to ensure that your website can be accessed and understood by all potential customers.
Search Engine Optimisation benefits
So far in this article, we’ve looked at usability of your website on mobile devices, but the key benefit from having a mobile-friendly website is that it is likely to perform better in the search engine results, so more people will find it.
Google has said that it gives preference in the mobile search results to websites which are optimised for mobile use, so getting your mobile offering sorted out now could give you a real advantage over your competitors. We already know that Google doesn’t display paid ads on mobile phones unless the website is mobile friendly, and we expect that this will apply to organic search too, in the near future.
So if you don’t go mobile, the chances are that people using mobile devices to search will never find out about you.
In my view, going mobile should be at the top of every business’s internet marketing plan. In our Derbyshire office, we work with a range of companies in varied sectors, and most of them are planning a responsive website development for 2014.
Whichever way you choose to do it – make this the year you go mobile. It’s not just my expert opinion that suggests this is the right route; it’s the view of many of our clients too.