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.
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.
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.