Mobile website design and implementation is no longer just important; it is critical to being competitive.
As recently as 2010, the many wedding and hospitality industry sites I maintained and/or monitored were being accessed by mobile-friendly devices to the tune of 5-10% of their audience. For the purpose of this post, lets define mobile-friendly as smart phones and tablets. iPads fall at the outer edge of tablets, having a screen size of 1024 x 768 pixels; a common screen size for laptops.
Today, the 5 to 10% access range has been usurped by 35-40% with continued rapid growth.
Urgency of mobile-friendly compatibility
Simply put, if one-third of your audience is using smaller format access, and your website does not accommodate that screen size, you are rejecting a huge slice of the audience-pie. Mobile-friendly web formats vary, and will evolve rapidly. Don’t wait for the perfect format; the options will keep changing.
An easy way to tell if your site is antiquated is to look at its statistics. A look at Google Analytics, for example, will demonstrate how many different screen resolutions, variations of operating systems and devices are being used to view your site. Don’t be shocked if you find that 40-50 (or more) mobile formats are in play.
The older the website, the greater the obsolescence.
Site design software, even CMS software, such as WordPress, does not necessarily give universal compatibility with mobile devices. Just because your site looks pretty good on your smart phone, doesn’t mean it works well, generally. Test, test, test….
Mobile Specific vs. Responsive
One option to improve compatibility is to add a mobile-specific theme to your website. It will work ‘in parallel’ with your main website. It is designed to recognize the browser and device a user has chosen to automatically select either the mobile-specific design or desktop design, as appropriate.
A responsive theme is an adjustable design format adjusts ‘on the fly’ for screen resolution. One of the cool features of a responsive format is seeing the screen content adjust, in real time. Starting out with a full laptop or desktop screen, just shrink the browser, slowly, and watch what happens. The content will reformat, all the way down to a single column, a navigation bar will convert to a drop down menu (again meant for a single, smartphone column), and so on.
Is Responsive the ideal choice?
Yes, BUT! If you have massive content, it may overload a small format tablet or smart phone. You will want to see if a specific responsive theme allows thinning of content or if you are better off with a mobile-specific format.
Smart Phone Friendly is the #1 Priority
As I observe new site designs or major renovation, it is now my belief that one should design from small to large. In other words, make small formats the top priority, and the larger formats will be easy to make compatible. Downsizing to comply with smaller formats is far more difficult.