The growth of mobile computing
You can hardly fail to have noticed the proliferation of mobile devices in recent years. Netbooks started the trend, although ultimately seem to have been crushed by the subsequent onslaught of iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets.
These days it’s not unusual for someone to own a smartphone, a tablet computer and a laptop, with maybe a PC sitting at home for the family to use for games, homework and general browsing.
Convenience is the key
Of course, once you have access to mobile devices, you tend to use them. The great efforts that Apple in particular have expended in order to make them as friendly and intuitive as possible means that if, for instance, we want to carry out a quick internet search then we are more likely to use the phone or tablet next to us, which is effectively always on and (hopefully) very responsive, rather than fire up the laptop than may be in another room anyway.
From there, it’s obvious that the devices will start to be used for email, social media, games and anything else that you need – as long as a decent app exists, of course. I’m finding that out myself with the Asus Transformer that I bought a little while ago.
Such a fundamental shift in habits is bound to have a huge impact for any business with an website. Of course, some will be impacted more than others depending on the profile of their typical users, but there is a general trend towards more mobile devices being used for browsing.
Whilst it’s understandable that consumers will use such devices more, they are also making inroads into the business arena too. More and more companies are equipping their staff with smartphones and tablet devices, with the implication that they will be used outside normal office hours.
Does your website work on mobile?
Given that a percentage of the people coming to your website will be using a smartphone or tablet, what can you do?
- Don’t panic!
- Look at your website yourself using a smartphone and tablet. Try out the navigation in particular, as hover menus often don’t work so well on mobile devices.
- Work out how big an issue it is. If you already have website analytics, look closely at the figures for mobile devices over time and see if there’s a trend. Also, have a look at such metrics as as bounce rate and time on site for mobile and non-mobile users. If you have a high percentage of mobile users, and they only view one page then leave immediately, you probably need to take action.
- Examine your options. We’ll look at these in more detail in a minute.
- Put a plan together. Work out what you need to do, when you want it done, and how much it will cost. If the cost is high will it be offset by increased custom from mobile users?
- Take action!
Ways you can make your site mobile-friendly
There are a couple of approaches you can take, depending on how your current site has been constructed.
By static, I mean sites constructed without an underlying Content Management System such as WordPress. Changes to these sites often have to be carried out by a web developer, even if it’s only a case of adding a few words or images.
If you are not yet ready to replace your site, your best option would be to create a second, mobile friendly site. Often these can be accessed by replacing the www. in the website address with m. (e.g. m.bbc.co.uk). Your web developer can also but a bit of logic in front of your ‘regular’ site to automatically re-direct mobile visitors to the mobile site.
This isn’t a great solution for small businesses, as you end up needing to maintain two websites, and make sure that they are in sync so that someone visiting a particular page on your regular site is redirected to the same page on the mobile site.
Content Managed Sites
If you site uses a CMS like WordPress then you have a couple of excellent options.
With WordPress it is possible to install a plugin that will present a mobile-friendly version of your site to appropriate visitors. Other CMS’s may have a similar option.
This is a relatively quick and painless solution to the problem, particularly as all the content is pulled from the same database, so you don’t have to maintain two copies.
The downside is that the look and feel of the site is totally replaced by the typically very bland design offered by the plugin. Whilst this might be preferable for basic smartphones, it looks pretty clunky on the typical tablet device.
As a stopgap measure, though, this approach can be a very attractive option.
Recently, in the world of WordPress, there has been a big move towards producing ‘Responsive’ themes. These are designs that automatically resize and redistribute all the elements on a web page depending on the device browsing. Usually the screen resolution is used as the basis for what to display.
Personally I think this is a great approach, as your site doesn’t lose much of it’s look and feel even if displayed on a smartphone. As with the WordPress plugin option, you are still maintaining a single copy of all the content too. If you’re considering a new site, or a migration from static to content managed, then it’s definitely worth looking as responsive designs.
Of course, applying a new theme to your WordPress site is a pretty major exercise, albeit not as bad as a completely new site. Usually very few content changes are needed, but a total review of existing imagery will be required, and you may need to revamp the menus and other structural elements.
So hopefully you will start keeping an eye on your analytics to see if there’s an increasing trend of mobile visitors to your site, if you’re not doing so already. If you are concerned about the figures, then please do get in touch for a no-obligation chat.
Image courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano