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Ways to make your website more mobile-friendly.

So you now have a website that looks great, and works well, on a laptop or a PC. Home and dry?

Not quite.

If you don't have a website that’s mobile-friendly as well, then you're probably losing customers to the competition. Without even knowing it.

In short, a website that's optimised for mobiles - which includes smartphones and tablet computers such as iPads - can be viewed easily on smaller screens, and displays important information without complicated navigation. Which pays off in two ways: users are more likely to be active when visiting the site, and more likely to return to the site in the future.

By 2014, it’s estimated that at least one billion customers worldwide will use a mobile device for bookings and payments. A recent Google survey showed that 67% of smartphone users are more likely to make a purchase when visiting a mobile-friendly site compared to standard versions. And Google has imminent plans to downgrade the overall SEO ranking of any website that is not mobile-friendly.

Here’s what mobile-friendly means:

Fast loading - 5 seconds or less.
Mobile-friendly features - including large buttons, easy search facility, and limited scrolling and pinching.
Quick access to key information - such as directions, contact numbers, product information and how to make a purchase.

The first steps

If you’re designing a new website, start by looking at the content. It’s vital for any website - but for mobile versions you need to keep it even briefer and clearer. Maintain focus and initiate a call to action as quickly as possible - grabbing the reader’s attention right away is a must.

Clear and easy navigation is also crucial - prioritise important areas and pages of the website for easy access.

And avoid Flash and JavaScript - many mobile devices do not support these technologies. Keep your mobile version in a plain HTML format - a little less media-rich content is better than not being able to see the page at all.

If you already have a website, then it’s worth testing your site. Turn off your mobile’s Wi-Fi connection so you're using your wireless carrier's data network. Then, launch your web browser and type in your URL.

Now, start counting. If it takes five seconds or less to fully load your homepage, that's good. If it's 10 seconds or more, there's significant room for improvement.

If your site first displays a decorative splash page, video or a large image, it isn't mobile-friendly. These items take extra time to load and get in the way of useful information.

If your phone simply displays a miniature version of your complete website, that means mobile users must pinch, zoom and scroll to see what's there. That's more work, plus they're more likely to accidentally click the wrong link or button. Your most vital information should be immediately visible when your site loads on a mobile device.

To get the most comprehensive results, repeat this exercise on several types of mobile phones. And test all levels of your application, not just the homepage.

Depending on the results of your tests, your site may need a major overhaul or just some tweaks. If a redesign seems necessary but is more than you can manage at the moment, you can start with a quick and easy fix, by ensuring your key information - company name, what you do, contact details, etc - is at the top of your site's homepage, above any background or banner graphics, so that it loads first. After all, this is what most mobile visitors want to know. And the easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to do business with you.

PAUL ROUSE