A lot of talk is going on about the Mobile Web and how your website should be “responsive” to it. This comes across as confusing to some clients who are still simply hoping that they are not being left in the dust by their competitors who are already using the hottest social media trend. Why also worry about mobile? First, please don’t worry about missing out on social – not every business is right for every “hot” social media upstart. Second, let’s try to deconstruct the mobile web and why it is important for your business website.
The mobile web is basically the web as it is displayed on a mobile device. The mobile device might be a cell phone, like an iPhone or Android device. But it might also be an iPad or Android tablet, or even a Nook. Each of these devices has browsers that allow its users to view websites. So the question is, how does your website look when viewed through those browsers? Is it functional? Does it allow the users to achieve the goals that you hope they achieve on your website?
Some websites look terrible on these mobile devices, whose browsers are much smaller than their desktop brethren. Some are OK if you are zoomed in to the main content, but users might miss some of the intended functionality of the site when zoomed. Beyond how they look and function nags another question: will I need to redesign my website every time the technology changes how users view it?
The ideal response today is to re-develop your website from scratch and focus primarily on a mobile user. But, let the website “respond” to viewers on larger devices, incrementally increasing its functionality and design to the browser size increases. So you serve users a website that matches their device.
This seems like a a lot of work! Well, it can be, especially if you go ahead and design different websites for each different device. But there is an easier way. Design a “smart” website that inherently understands what device is looking at it and “responds” by flexibly displaying an appropriate amount of design and functionality. This is called “responsive design.”
This is quite a difference from how websites were developed just a few years ago; then, the primary target for development was a desktop-based PC monitor. Users had 21″+ monitors at their disposal. Businesses had their websites designed to match these sizes, and it waas reasonable to do so.
Today, though, since more and more users are visiting websites on mobile devices, we need to design websites to match these current needs. Mobile devices obviously have much less screen real estate than the 21″ monitors do. Just hold your iPhone up next to your desktop monitor to see what I mean.
OK, so you accept the concept of building a responsive website for mobile. But why is mobile a stepping stone? It is a stepping stone because mobile is just the first in what will be a long line of devices that we will use to browse the web. Some devices will not even let users browse the web, but they will access the web on their owner’s behalf as they perform tasks invisible to their owner (like geo-locate the nearest dry cleaner who have 4-star or higher ratings and then simply display the results).
Whatever the devices are and whatever they are doing online, our business websites will need to be able to speak to them. Considering that most users only browse a website for 15 seconds (maximum under optimal conditions on their biggest monitor at home), how much less time will users give to a website when they are in a hurry and using their mobile device?
So, is your website mobile ready? And if you think it is mobile ready because you checked it on your iPhone, you might be mistaken. Smart phone browsers are trying to do the heavy lifting for us, but in the end they might be short-changing us by misleading website owners into thinking that their sites are OK.
By building your website from the ground up, you will truly be mobile-ready rather than relying on a smart phone browser to decide what to show your users and how. Prepare yourself for a future where most visitors will be coming to you from mobile devices of all sizes and shapes, making all sorts of requests.
Reading: Reset the Web; Stephanie Rieger