A Moveable Feast: Making Sites Mobile-Friendly
Aug 17, 2012 5:00 AM PT
A few years ago, Dave Getty and his wife went on a road trip through Texas. They didn't bring a laptop, so they relied solely on their smartphones to surf the Web. They quickly realized how important it is for sites to be mobile-friendly.
"It was an eye-opening experience," Getty, a spokesperson for One World Hosting, told the E-Commerce Times.
"We found out how many websites were just not made to be user-friendly for smartphones," he said, and "that the typical things smartphone users look to websites for are just not conveniently located on traditional websites. We spent too much time searching, squeezing and pinching, and hunting for 'when are they open?' and 'where can we park?'"
When he returned home, Getty began looking for a better solution and testing ideas with his colleagues at One World Hosting. Out of that experience came GetGoMobi.com, a service the company has offered for more than a year.
"It's very easy to use for even the least tech-savvy," he said. It's "very inexpensive, free to try -- and most importantly, it gives the visitors to the mobile site quick access to the things typical mobile users will be looking for quickly."
Mobile-friendly sites are key to the success of any online enterprise.
"It's important for businesses to build an experience specifically made for the mobile Web to grow and retain business," Dennis Mink, chief marketing officer with DudaMobile, told the E-Commerce Times.
More than 50 percent of U.S. consumers now use smartphones, he noted.
"A very large percentage of these people are searching and browsing the Web from their phones," Mink pointed out. "There is a significant revenue opportunity for businesses who offer a mobile-friendly website experience."
Sites designed solely for a computer screen -- particularly those with a lot of graphics or Flash content -- simply don't cut it on the small screens of smartphones and tablets.
"Desktop websites were never intended to be viewed on a small, mobile screen," said Mink. "When a visitor visits a desktop site that is not optimized for their mobile phones, they must pinch and zoom their way through the site, scrolling left to right then up and down. It makes for a poor user experience."
And that poor user experience means, essentially, a loss of business.
Forty percent of consumers who have a poor mobile website experience with a business will visit a competitor's site instead, recent research from Compuware indicates.
On the other hand, a well-designed, mobile-friendly site is both easy to navigate and to download onto a mobile device.
"A good mobile-friendly site makes it easy to read, browse, and find the most relevant information when accessed on a phone," noted Mink.
How to Do It
A variety of hosting and design companies provide help with making sites mobile-friendly. DudaMobile, for instance, allows users to analyze the mobile-friendliness of their sites and automatically transform them so they work better on small screens.
"DudaMobile allows a business to auto-convert their desktop website into a mobile-friendly version simply by entering their URL," said Mink. "Our software reads the site structure, content, colors, functionality, and images on the desktop site and auto-generates a mobile-friendly version of the site. With the Duda site editor, the user can then customize their mobile website using drag-and-drop features."
The process syncs the mobile version with the desktop one, simplifying the maintenance of both versions.
They also have mobile site analytics -- "so the business owner can track visits, phone calls, and leads coming in from their mobile site," explained Mink.
It's important to have a service that automatically redirects mobile users to a mobile-friendly version of sites.
"It's easy to see how in the near future mobile sites will be as essential a part of an Internet strategy for businesses as having a domain name and email addresses," said Getty.
Template It In
A variety of Web design templates now have mobile-friendly versions built in, so it's just a matter of activating the mobile version alongside the regular site.
"With browsing on tablets and smartphones on the rise, we're seeing a lot of newer templates use responsive design techniques to make them adaptable to a variety of screen sizes," Doni Ronquillo, founder of FreeWebTemplates.com, told the E-Commerce Times. "We're also seeing more HTML5 and CSS3 as all major browsers, including Internet Explorer, now have adequate support for both."
Mobile sites are fundamentally different from traditional sites. In addition to being succinct and easy to navigate, they need to allow consumers to do the things they need to do when they're on the road.
"Typically, users access a mobile site to 'do' something while websites oftentimes are more heavy in content, functionality and information," Eric Mason, director of communications for Wix, told the E-Commerce Times.
"More and more customers are turning to the Web while they are away from their desktops," said Mason, "and counting on their smartphones to get quick information from mobile sites."