Bonus Content

Screen Test: Making Your Website Mobile Friendly

 

By Carolyn Heinze

A recent study by EMA Contractors (a division of the communications
and market research firm Eric Mower + Associates) shows that when it
comes to mobile devices, electrical contractors and electricians are all
about them. Last year, 48 percent of electrical contractors used their
smartphones to purchase products, and 66 percent of electricians use
their smartphones on the job. The use of tablets in 2013 jumped 54
percent, and 68 percent of those surveyed said they would be increasing
their online business transactions this year by anywhere from five to 25
percent. Why? Sixty-four percent of the respondents said that
smartphones and tablets make it easier to stay connected with
distributors and 44 percent said that the use of these devices makes it
easier to work with distributors.

But do we really need these stats? Think about it: When was the last
time you reached for your iPhone or iPad to check something out on
Google? And, when you found the site you wanted, how easy or difficult
was it to find the information you were seeking?

So what about your own company’s website? Is it mobile friendly?

“One of the misconceptions that a lot of people have is that just
because I can open your website on my iPhone means it’s mobile
friendly,” said Janine Warner (www.jcwarner.com),
a digital designer and consultant based in Los Angeles, Calif., and
author of “Mobile Web Design For Dummies,” and many other titles. “A lot
of sites that are built for a desktop will open just fine on the
iPhone—Apple’s been really smart about making that possible.” But then
there are those sites that require mobile visitors to pinch, zoom, and
run their fingers back and forth on the display just to read what’s on
the screen—which isn’t mobile friendly at all, she says. “Good mobile
strategy means that when I open your website, it’s not only easy to read
on a mobile device; you’re also ideally thinking about the kind of
information I’m most likely looking for.”

There are two main approaches to mobile website development: adaptive
design and responsive design. Adaptive design detects which specific
device (brand, model, etc.) that is accessing the server and delivers a
version of the website based on that. Warner explains that this can get
complicated: “You need a very smart program on the server that’s
constantly being updated with a database of devices,” she said,
underlining that there are hundreds of different mobile devices on the
market today. “If your approach is detecting devices, you’ve set
yourself up for a complexity that most people don’t need to manage.”

These days, for most organizations—especially small to mid-sized
businesses—developers tend to favor responsive design because while
nothing is future-proof, it best addresses the future. “[Responsive
design] is not just about designing for mobile devices; it’s about
designing websites that work on all of the different screen sizes that
exist in the world today,” as well as those that may not even be on the
market yet, Warner explained. In essence, a responsive website does
exactly as the term suggests: it responds to the screen that’s visiting
it (anything from displays on a smartphone or a tablet, to a
television), and configures its size and shape accordingly. “We need a
design approach that, from the beginning, is adaptable and flexible, and
based not on the device but on the size of the screen.”

Jody Resnick, CEO at Trighton Interactive (www.trighton.com),
a digital agency based in Orlando, Fla., counsels businesses against
replicating their existing sites entirely when developing mobile
websites. “It’s essential that you keep in mind what the visitor is
trying to accomplish when they’re accessing your site on a mobile
device, and ensure that it’s very simple for them to find, and that the
calls to action are clear,” he said. This probably means that a mobile
version of your website won’t need your company history, or bios of all
of your staff members. If your website visitors are in the field, they
may want to be able to purchase a product, or look up your phone number.
“Be mindful of what all of those use cases are, and then map out the
design or functionality according to the visitors’ priorities, and what
the company wants to accomplish through the mobile site. A lot of times,
in looking at the analytics of the current website, you can draw a lot
from it in terms of what’s going to be valuable on a mobile site because
you can see where the majority of people are going.”

Unless you have the human talent with the tech know-how in–house,
it’s likely that you will seek the services of a firm that specializes
in mobile website design. How much do they charge? Much like it was back
in the early days of websites, the answer is: it depends. “It’s kind of
like asking how much it costs to build a house—it depends on whether
you want a marble staircase or a swimming pool,” Warner said.  “There
are so many variables.” She encourages her clients to establish a
budget, and then work with a Web developer to figure out what that money
can buy, in terms of the scope of the site. And instead of revamping an
existing site, for many organizations it’s often easier and more
cost-effective to build a brand new website from scratch, but one that
takes mobile into consideration.

For those who are addicted to the App Store, the tendency is to want
to jump straight from mobile websites to apps—not usually the best
solution for most organizations. “For a business, especially a local
business or a small to medium-sized business, building an app is very
expensive, it’s not very scalable, and it really demands a lot of
resources and time—something that a lot of these companies don’t have,”
said Vinny La Barbera, founder and CEO of imFORZA (www.imforza.com),
an Internet marketing agency based in Segundo, Calif. The starting
price for an app can also be steep: upwards of $50,000. “After we start
asking questions and understanding what the objectives are, almost every
time—and I can say this with confidence—it’s not an actual app they
need. They just need to make their website mobile friendly, or they need
to create a user friendly experience for their customers that are on
mobile devices.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at carolynheinze@free.fr.

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