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Mobile-Friendly Websites: Why You Need One Now

Wednesday, Jul. 18th 2012

I’m not an early adopter. My preference is to land on other lemmings when I finally leap off the cliff – I just like padding, I guess! So my first iPad was version 2 and my first iPhone was version 4. I will happily agree that mobile devices have come a long way since my 1996 Motorola StarTAC — but is mobile browsing really here?

After 17 years in business, I’m not really a web designer. There are too many other components to my job. One role is as an advisor to the small business community. They rely on me to sell fairly — not oversell — Cold Spring’s services. While we could have jumped on the mobile bandwagon 5 years ago, it wouldn’t have served our clients. The return on investment for developing a typical mobile website 5 years ago would have been horrendous. Not only were touch screens just starting to emerge, websites didn’t adapt to the medium well enough. Browsing was a nightmare.Cartoon: Surprised smartphone actually contains a phone

So why now?

Why am I now advising all our clients to consider mobile browsing? It’s the combination of easy-to-use mobile devices and Responsive Web Design (RWD).

Smartphones and tablets are everywhere. We’ve all either got them or seen them… But when it comes down to my job as an advisor, I need numbers to back up my reading and observations. How about this? That’s the percentage of Internet browsing that’s being done via mobile devices:

  • May 2009: 0.86% mobile.
  • May 2010: 2.32% mobile.
  • May 2011: 5.75% mobile.
  • May 2012: 10.11% mobile.

Do the math. Looks like it’s approaching 20% by the end of next year. Disregarding 1% or 5% of your market might be considered good business, depending on the costs associated. Disregarding a market share of 20% and growing? Er, no. Not if you like your job.

Responsive Web Design

That being said, there are various methods for handling mobile content, so why RWD? When you don’t have the time or budget to have a truly mobile-first design, RWD will make your site mobile-friendly. It’s the difference between being mobile-optimized vs. mobile-ready. And, heck, if Google recommends it…

RWD allows you to build one website (as opposed to the two in typical mobile design, a desktop version and a mobile version) that will resize, or respond, to the browser size of whatever device you are using to view it. An oft-cited example of responsive design is the Boston Globe’s website. As you narrow the browser window, the less important content (like the ad) moves to the periphery, gets smaller or is hidden altogether. The font and the photos also resize.

Boston Globe Responsive Design Example

Within RWD, there are varying degrees of adaptation. In fully responsive or fluid sites, like the Boston Globe’s, the layout adjusts to the width of the device screen or browser window. Try resizing your browser window while looking at the Boston Globe site; notice how smoothly the layout changes. Some sites are only partially responsive, or adaptive, meaning the layout rearranges only at specific, pre-defined widths, known as break points. Try resizing the browser window you’re looking at right now. See how the menu only changes when you reach a certain narrowness? No degree of RWD is right for every website. Sometimes the degree of adaptation is budget-driven, and sometimes it’s content-driven. We can work with you to determine which is the appopriate approach for your site.

People are conducting more and more business on mobile devices, both personally and professionally, and if they cannot get what they want from your site, they will go to a competitor. According to this study on mobile web use, “Mobile users do not have much patience for retrying a website or application that is not functioning initially — a third will go to a competitor’s site instead. The majority of mobile web users are only willing to retry a website (78%) or application (80%) two times or less if it does not work initially.” While their biggest concern is loading speed, they will also be turned off by content that fails to load properly, is difficult to read in mobile format, or contains widgets that don’t work. RWD is a cost-effective way to mitigate these problems.

What’s the cost?

How well do you want it to work? Again, we’re pragmatists. Telling businesses with $100K in annual revenue to spend an extra $10K on a website is just silly. We start responsive design around $1500 and move up from there, depending on the amount of custom work that has to be done. The size and navigation of the site has a lot to do with the cost as well.

If you’re interested in learning more, let’s talk. Let’s see how we can get you to the front of the mobile browsing revolution and have it improve your profit line.

Posted by Jeff Lerman | in ROI, Web Design, Web/Business Consulting | Comments Off on Mobile-Friendly Websites: Why You Need One Now
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