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Are you a mobile user? Do you own an iPhone, Android, iPad or some other mobile device? I want you to think honestly for a moment about how often you use your mobile device to access websites. I bet it’s more often than you think.
My husband likes to make fun of me for having my phone “glued to my palm” and I like to roll my eyes and insist it’s not.
But it is. And it has nothing to do with the phone. In fact, the thing I’m least likely to do with my iPhone is make an actual phone call. I text, SMS, tweet, post, research, write, listen to podcasts and music, watch video – who needs a phone?
We’re so used to our mobile devices that we forget we’re using them. My phone is not so much glued to my palm as an actual extension of my palm. Who knows, maybe the next evolution of human beings will have an instant tweet button on their left thumbs. But I never thought of myself a “mobile user” and maybe you don’t either.
Yet all evidence points to the fact that mobile is a way of life for many of us and consciously or not, we are interacting with, judging and choosing websites and companies to do business with based, perhaps solely, on mobile experiences.
Statistics That Make You Go “Hm…”
Think you don’t need a mobile-friendly website? Or maybe it’s just not a priority? Are you still assuming that most people, or even just “your target audience”, are using desktops or laptops? Check these stats out and then tell me that again.
There are over 1 billion smart phone users worldwide, with more than 90 million of those in the United States alone. (Want a piece of that? I do!)
About half of all smart phone users are between the ages of 25-45. (Sound like your demographic?)
84% of people with smart phones use them to browse the web. (Are you reconsidering that mobile site yet?)
25% of all mobile users in the United States use mobile almost exclusively – that means no desktops or laptops. (How would you like to add another 25% to your profit potential? Hm…)
Are you convinced yet that your site must be mobile-friendly? If not, I hope you’re at least reasonably uncomfortable that you could be missing out on a huge opportunity.
Go Mobile: How To Tap Into That Market With Some Simple Considerations
In the early days of mobile, it was common for developers to build multiple versions of websites, one for each mobile device. Imagine how time-consuming and expensive that can be! One website for your desktop, one for iPhones, one for Blackberries… get out your checkbooks, kids.
Having multiple versions of a site is still one way to skin the mobile cat but if you’re like the rest of us, you want the easiest, least expensive way to make sure your site is accessible to all those mobile people.
And you also want one that you can adapt, because what happens next year when there’s another phone, another device, another browser? Do you want to keep building and maintaining more and more versions of one website? Say it with me: heck, no!
The good news is that you don’t have to. If you plan carefully and take some simple factors into consideration, you can move your site closer to mobile-friendly with each little tweak.
Sacrifice The Bells ‘N Whistles
At some point, we added an image carousel to our site. It looked way cool and had some nifty effects. We spent hours creating screen shots and setting it up and as a result we became sort of attached to it. But it really messed up the mobile site. It took up way too much space and you couldn’t really get the effect of it anyway.
So we had to make a decision: did we love the carousel so much that we were willing to let it interfere with our mobile users’ experience, or should we kill it?
As you may be able to tell from a noticeable absence of carousels on this site, we opted to kill it.
If you find yourself in this situation, my suggestion is to take out the knife and do it fast. You may love your animations, popups, intros, carousels or other little snazzy bits, but ask yourself what you want more: the snazzy bit or the 25% of the population you’re missing?
Some of the things that can wreck a mobile experience include:
- Popups. Whether they’re ads or opt-ins, disable them on your mobile site. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to leave a site without reading what I wanted because the little “close” X was off-screen and I simply could not close that popup.
- Tabs, dropdown menus and carousels. As I mentioned, carousels take up valuable real estate and sometimes don’t work anyway. Tabs and dropdowns can be even worse, because sometimes they don’t work at all on mobile, and if you’re using them for navigation, you’ve just prevented your site visitor from getting past page one of your site.
- Flash. Don’t even get me started. It’s still a fascination to me that restaurants, the one business that you’d think would be all about mobile-friendly, still build websites in Flash. You know what that means to iPhone and iPad users, right? There are probably dozens of restaurants out there I might have visited, if only I could have brought their websites up as I passed through town looking for someplace to stop for lunch. Even if you’re not running a restaurant, please get your site out of Flash. In this day and age with all the technologies available to us, there is just no excuse.
Tweak Your Content
This one is too easy not to do. Remember, mobile devices tend to be small, and it’s bad enough reading through gigantic blocks of text on a regular monitor, let alone on those tiny screens.
Pinch, zoom, scroll scroll scroll…
The less of this you ask your users to do, the better chance you’ll have of keeping them on your site. Take a look at the content on your site and make a few tweaks to mobile it up:
- Use headings. “Scanability” is even more important on a small device. Segment your content with big, clear headings and give people a chance to figure out what the page is about at-a-glance without all that pinching and zooming.
- Chop up your paragraphs. You may be disinclined to write a single sentence and call it a paragraph, but a single sentence still takes up a pretty decent chunk of space on a smart phone screen. If your paragraphs are more than a few sentences long, find a place or two to insert a break.
- Use lists and other formatting. Bulleted lists, bold and other basic formatting can make your text more scanable, can make important points stand out and make it easier to read – on any device.
- Limit the “junk” on a page. Sometimes mobile sites are a mess because the desktop sites are a mess, too, it’s just less obvious when you have a wide screen monitor to spread it out. Things like ads, opt-in boxes, photos, calls-to-action, sidebars, multiple sidebars, social share icons – all these things add “stuff” to your page. Make some hard calls about what you can live without. There’s no point in having a share button if nobody is going to use it because they can’t read your site in the first place.
Make It Zip
Speed is so important on a mobile device. According to Google, mobile users expect a site to load in less than 3 seconds. If your site is too slow it could cost you visitors right out of the gate, even if you’ve done everything else right.
Speed can usually be improved tremendously just by getting rid of the junk.
Install A Mobile Plugins
If you’re using a platform like WordPress, it’s easy to create a mobile version of your site. There are plugins like WPTouch that let you do it with a click. In fact, if you view this website on your iPhone you’ll get an entirely different layout.
We sometimes fret internally that it’s not as pretty, not as “designed”. But the bottom line is: do we want people to think it’s pretty or do we want people to read our content?
Use Responsive Design
This is a great option if you’re ready for a redesign and are planning a rebuild anyway. Responsive design simply means that your website adapts to whatever device and screen size it is being viewed on. You decide on your priorities and show only the most relevant, vital information depending on what the screen can accommodate. Smashing Magazine is a good example of this.
View it on your widescreen monitor and you’ll get a full-width experience. Shrink your browser a bit and you’ll notice the navigation pops to the top. (Seems important – you want your visitors to get around, don’t you?) Shrink it more and the ads disappear. (Makes sense – better to show content than a page of ads.)
Responsive design is not for the faint of heart or the do-it-yourselfers (unless you’re a designer and coder). But the result can be not only beautiful but beautifully fluid.
The Proof Is In The Pudding: Test Your Site
There is only one way to know precisely what your site looks like and how it works on mobile devices: test it. This is easier said than done. I doubt many of us own every conceivable version of every mobile device on the market today. But surely you own at least one.
If you’re sitting at your desk, building your site, and it never occured to you to pick up your phone and see what it looks like there –– – slapslap!! Consider yourself reprimanded.
You should know how your site works on at least one mobile device. And if your spouse, friend, mother or colleague owns another, you should be calling that person and offering to buy him or her a double fudge sundae in exchange for viewing your site and giving you feedback.
You can also try a simple service like GoMo, which lets you enter your website address, answer a few simple questions about the purpose of your site, and get feedback on how well it works on mobile. It’s free and you don’t need an account, so it gives you an easy place to start.
It’s getting harder and harder not only to keep people’s attention but to get it in the first place. If your site is mobile friendly, you’ve got a better chance of doing both. Is there anything else you’d suggest for making a site mobile friendly? Anything that drives you nuts when you try to access another site via your phone? Share your thoughts so we can all benefit!