Mo­bile-Friendly Web­sites

With mo­bile de­vices now in more fre­quent use than desk-bound com­put­ers or lap­tops, op­ti­mis­ing your Web­site so it’s eas­ier to use on the go is an ab­so­lute pri­or­ity. Rose­mary Ann Ogilvie pro­vides some ad­vice.

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It’s a mo­bile world, so the need to make your Web­site more user-friendly on smart­phones or tablets is, to quote our busi­ness writer Rose­mary Ann Ogilvie, “ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal”.

When we looked at the is­sue of mo­bile-friendly Web­sites a few years ago, it was more-or-less an op­tional ex­tra. To­day, it’s ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal, fol­low­ing Google’s de­ci­sion to pri­ori­tise mo­bile-friendly Web­sites in any searches con­ducted on mo­bile de­vices from April last year.

And the de­ci­sion is quite un­der­stand­able given that, in Aus­tralia alone, 8.9 mil­lion peo­ple with an in­ter­net-en­abled mo­bile phone down­loaded a mo­bile app in the six months to May 2013, with 4.3 mil­lion down­load­ing a bank­ing and fi­nance app, and 2.9 mil­lion down­load­ing a shop­ping app, ac­cord­ing to ACMA re­search. All these stats will have cer­tainly in­creased over the last two years.

Es­sen­tially, the Google change has meant that mo­bile-un­friendly sites are pushed to the bot­tom of the pile when you do a search on any mo­bile de­vice (searches on a desk­top or lap­top aren’t af­fected. That’s some­thing you se­ri­ously don’t want in these days of fleet­ing at­ten­tion spans where peo­ple won’t waste time search­ing too deeply. The good news, though, is that mo­bile-friendly Web­sites will achieve im­proved rank­ings.

De­ter­min­ing the mo­bile friend­li­ness or oth­er­wise of your site couldn’t be eas­ier. Go to www.google.com/web­mas­ters/ tools/mo­bile-friendly (or sim­ply Google the words “mo­bile friendly”) and type in your Web­site ad­dress. Google runs an anal­y­sis, and re­ports back with an ‘awe­some’ if it passes, and if it fails, pro­vides point­ers as the where it falls down.

For ex­am­ple, it may say:

Take these com­ments on board, even if you don’t agree with them. It’s what Google sees and this in­flu­ences how your Web­site is ranked, end of story. Call up your Web­site on your smart­phone and check the ap­pear­ance your­self… chances are you’ll find Google’s com­ments are spot on. Check out your com­peti­tors’ sites while you’re there, to see how they stack up.

Friendly Op­tions

The old mo­bile-friendly op­tion was to ei­ther use plug-ins to cre­ate a sep­a­rate,

mo­bile-friendly site, or to build a com­pletely sep­a­rate site – which then in­volved the ad­di­tional work­load of keep­ing two sites up­dated. These mo­bile ver­sions tend to have the ‘.m’ sub­do­main – and the risk now is that search en­gines may not be able to find a site that has a sec­ond URL. Google ad­vo­cates a sin­gle URL, both for find­abil­ity and for search en­gine op­ti­mi­sa­tion (SEO).

Adap­tive ver­sus mo­bile

These days, adap­tive de­sign is the high-end of Web de­sign. Used by ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions for max­i­mum reach, adap­tive de­sign de­tects and iden­ti­fies the user’s de­vice and then gen­er­ates pages tai­lored to the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of that spe­cific de­vice.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can hire a pro­fes­sional de­signer to cre­ate a cus­tom web­site: just be sure they un­der­stand the term ‘Re­spon­sive Web De­sign’ (RWD) be­fore sign­ing on, be­cause for the ma­jor­ity of SMEs, RWD is the most cost-ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive for build­ing mo­bile friend­li­ness – and it’s what Google rec­om­mends.

RWD is not the same as mo­bile de­sign which, as men­tioned, in­volves cre­at­ing an en­tirely new Web­site or Web app with con­tent specif­i­cally cre­ated for the mo­bile ex­pe­ri­ence. In­stead, RWD re­tains the same do­main and con­tent, but the Web­site is laid out and coded in a way that of­fers the flex­i­bil­ity to pro­vide an op­ti­mal view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence across a wide range of de­vices. An RWD site, on the other hand, re­sponds au­to­mat­i­cally to the size of the par­tic­u­lar screen, whether desk­top mon­i­tor, note­book, mo­bile or tablet. This elim­i­nates the need for a user to pinch the text or scroll from side-to-side to have all con­tent vis­i­ble and read­able, thereby en­sur­ing an eas­ier brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Cer­tainly, mo­bile de­vice users are well ac­cus­tomed to swip­ing, but do­ing it con­stantly on a sin­gle Web­site be­comes an­noy­ing.

For DIY-ers, plat­forms such as the highly pop­u­lar Word­Press (https://word­press.com) and GoDaddy (https://au.godaddy.com) of­fer de­signs that suit a range of screen sizes. Once again, look for the word ‘re­spon­sive’ when choos­ing a theme. How­ever, if your ex­ist­ing site is based on a non-re­spon­sive theme you’re happy with, or that would be dif­fi­cult to change, you or your Web de­signer can make it re­spon­sive by adding code to your CSS file. Check out the tu­to­rial (http://col­or­lab­spro­ject.com/tu­to­ri­als/make-your-word­press­theme-re­spon­sive) which shows how to trans­form Word­Press’s non-re­spon­sive Twenty Ten theme into a re­spon­sive one.

A num­ber of cost-ef­fec­tive online mo­bile site cre­ators en­able you to con­vert your cur­rent Web­site into a mo­bile-friendly ver­sion. You’ll find a com­pre­hen­sive list­ing at www.mobyaf­fil­i­ates.com/blog/the-best-mo­bile-web­site-and-app-build­ing-tools/

Do your due dili­gence be­fore com­mit­ting. Take out a month’s trial where of­fered, en­sure it suits your level of ex­per­tise and pro­duces the re­sults you re­quire, and check user re­view sites. While this is not a rec­om­men­da­tion, it is worth men­tion­ing that Fid­dle­fly (http://fid­dle­fly.com), which is suit­able for novice users, ap­pears to be an ex­tremely pop­u­lar op­tion with a good rep­u­ta­tion.

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