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October 16, 2012

Going Mobile – Get Your Website Mobile-Friendly

People love their Smartphones and, judging by news stories about texters falling into a mall fountain or off a pier, perhaps they love them a little too much.

Smartphones are certainly changing how we use the Web, however. By the end of this year, more than half of all Internet traffic will occur via mobile devices.

Global e-commerce topped the trillion-dollar sales mark this year, with the U.S. leading in spending. According to one study, mobile traffic to e-commerce sites has doubled in the last nine months, with traffic being fueled largely by an increase in iOS users.

It’s not all roses for online retailers, though. Smartphone users buy from sites only one-third as often as tablet or desktop users. The No. 1 reason for this is it’s harder to buy on a phone – sites often are not optimized for mobile use and customers give up when the checkout process becomes difficult.

“But I don’t sell anything online. What do these numbers have to do with me?” New research indicates that even if you don’t sell online, your online presence might be hurting sales.

“Wait, what? How?”

A Google study reports that a full half of people surveyed said that even if they like a business, they are less likely to use it if its website is not mobile-friendly. Conversely, if the site is mobile-friendly, 74 percent say they are likely to return. More than 75 percent of all consumers research purchases online, so even if your business is the brick-and-mortar variety, it might be good to go mobile.

“So how do I go mobile, anyway?”

There are three main strategies to going mobile:

* Phone App;
* Mobile version;
* Responsive design.

Let’s go through these one by one.

Phone App: An “app” is an application downloaded from an App store onto a user’s phone. Chances are you don’t need one of these. Not only are apps expensive to produce, but usually only very large corporations (think Amazon) can convince enough people to download the app to make it worthwhile. An app is also useful for companies that have a large following and schedules that people will want to access quickly. Lifetime Fitness, for example, has a very useful app for seeing gym schedules. A salon might be another example of an app-appropriate situation.

Mobile version: A version of your site that shows up when users visit it on a phone or tablet. It’s specifically designed for mobile devices (think large, chunky buttons and fewer options).

This is a good solution for companies who:

* Have a recently updated, pre-existing site that does not translate well into mobile.

* Have a highly mobile clientele/audience that could benefit from a streamlined mobile interface.

Usually this site is a condensed version of what you would see on a normal site, prioritizing things like contact information, phone numbers and locations. These are much less expensive to build than apps, and can often be completed quickly.

Responsive design: If you’re looking to update your site, make your next design responsive. A responsive design is one that adapts to whatever screen size you’re using, whether it’s a big desktop or a tiny Smartphone. It’s your entire site, but presented in a mobile-friendly manner.

“Wait, can’t you just go and “responsify” my site?”

It can be done, but it would be highly impractical, and would probably be pretty darn close to the cost of building a new site. In responsive design, the site is built in such a way that its “parts” – the menu, the text, the pictures – are all separate and are able to be shuffled around in a way that looks good, depending on the screen size. To make an existing site responsive, it’s basically a rebuild of the entire site.

“So what should I do?”

Short answer: If you have a site that’s been updated in the last two years, go for a mobile version. If you have a site that’s a bit older and due for an update, now is the time for a makeover. Make sure you keep mobile in mind and go responsive. And remember, everyone: don’t text and walk (off a pier).

Rachel Ross is one of the geeks at ForeFront Web, a web design firm based in Dublin, Ohio. Follow @forefront on Twitter.