Five important reasons why you need to redesign your website for the mobile web

We’ve heard the projections that the mobile space will overtake the desktop in the coming years, or that tablets will outsell desktop PCs.

You may have even read some research validating these opinions. For example, a Deloitte report revealed that “in 2013, [PC industry] sales declined by 12 percent to under $200 billion” and that the sale of mobile devices this year will exceed $750 billion.

Also, according to a breakdown by Gartner last April, while worldwide shipments (measured in thousands of units) of PCs in 2014 will settle down to 302,315. The numbers for that of mobile devices, which include ultramobile, tablet, and mobile phone, will swell to 2,254,140. The world’s leading tech research company maintains that these numbers are “a reflection of a long-term change in user behavior.”

Emarkerter echoes these predictions, estimating that “time spent with mobile phones and tablets, excluding voice calls, has risen from 13.4% of all media time last year, and has nearly tripled since 2011.”

With such compelling evidence that we’re experiencing the largest shift in computing since, well, the Internet itself, there seems to be a lack of action from many business leaders to take the mobile experience seriously.

Too often, “mobile” is a concept that is lumped in with other marketing buzzwords such as “social” or “local.” But, I challenge you to view mobile technologies as a competitive advantage. In many industries, your mobile strategy could be the reason why you win more business today and in the coming years.

Pick a Starting Point

If a mobile strategy is, and I say politely, non-existent, then, as a business leader, your first decision is to choose between a mobile app and mobile site. Dedicated mobile apps are built for Apple’s iOS or Google Android devices and are made available from their corresponding AppStores. Cost is a consideration, as is ensuring that you have the right skill set in-house to both build and then support the applications. Your other option is to build a mobile version of your website. A few years ago, it was relatively common to find “m.” sites, where the mobile version of a site could be located at m.yourbusiness.com.

Recognize the Challenges with Standalone Mobile Sites

While good in theory, there are a myriad of challenges with the approach of a standalone mobile website. For starters, you’ll have two websites to maintain. That means that for every change you make on your main site, you’ll have to remember to also update on your mobile site. This applies to product, pricing, and contact information changes. Anticipate doubling your website maintenance.

Then, there’s the fact that you’ll have to deploy technology to redirect customers using mobile devices to your mobile version. This is referred to as browser detection software and frankly, needs to be constantly updated every time there is a new browser version or operating system update. Lastly, there is the issue of duplicate content. Having exact copies of the content from your main site onto your mobile site has been known to create issues with search engines. We certainly wouldn’t want to upset those valuable sources of website traffic.

Take a Better Approach to Modern Web Design

Modern web development requires designing a website that looks great on a variety of Internet-enabled devices. Just think of all the ways you access the web today: your mobile phone, a tablet, e-reader, netbook, laptop, desktop and maybe even an HD-TV.

An approach that we’ve found to be exceptionally effective is called responsive web design. Instead of designing for a single screen size, we are now designing for multiple screen sizes, from smartphones to tablets to desktops.

Learn About Responsive Web Design

Recently, our company, Voices.com, launched a re-imagined website using a modern development technique, known as “Responsive Web Design,” or RWD for short. Responsive web design allows the content on a page to gracefully adapt to the dimensions of the browser. Broadly speaking, these dimensions fall into three categories: mobile, tablet, and desktop.

Know If It’s Time For You To Pursue Responsive Web Design

Let’s make this decision simple. By answering 5 questions, you’ll know if now is the time for you to redo your site using responsive web design techniques:

  1. You built a standalone mobile site and you now spend twice the amount of website maintenance time that you used to. Now you have to update your regular website and your mobile site.

  2. When you visit your own website, you find yourself pinching the screen to constantly zoom in-and-out to read the content. Your visitors are likely doing the same thing. That is, if they have the same level of patience that you have.

  3. You have a mobile site, but it’s a scaled down, limited version of your main site.  Consequently, your visitors get a less-than-ideal experience and end up clicking on the “Go To Main Site” link to end the mobile misery.

  4. You spent over $25,000 last year duplicating efforts across your mobile site and your main site.

  5. You don’t have a mobile site, per se, but more than 15% of your regular website visitors are coming from mobile devices. Check your website analytics package for a mobile traffic report. Divide the mobile traffic into your overall web traffic for the exact percentage.

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, it’s probably time for a change.

With responsive web design, you have a single code base and a single version of your website. The difference is that the content automatically reformats to fit the screen size and dimension of any device.

Getting Started with Responsive Web Design

Your first step is to get inspired by seeing other sites that have done it well. Do some searches on the subject and look for examples. A few favorites are the Awwwards, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and the technology news site, The Next Web. There are also several case studies [PDF] that describe the process, as well as quick-start templates, which are ideal if your website is built on WordPress.

Whether now is the time, or perhaps your audience hasn’t yet made the transition, you’ve now got a handy checklist that you can reference to know if the timing is right.

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