Making your small biz website mobile-friendly

sharing_internetA member asks…

Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My weblog looks weird when browsing from my iphone 4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able too correct this issue. If you have any suggestions, please share. With thanks!

Website design has come a long way, and so has web browsing. In 2013, over 17% of all worldwide web traffic came through mobile with Asia and Africa leading the way for the rest of the globe. By 2018, mobile will account for more than half the total web access. So making your website mobile friendly should be a given.

Here are 3 general methods you can make your online presence easy for mobile access – smartphones and tablets. There are more ways to do this, but these are the most common:

  1. Create a native app that duplicates your standard website (likely one version for iOS and one for Android, creating an app for Windows phone and Blackberry may not be worth the effort). The upside is that if your online presence (aka, website) is interactive or provides a lot of rich content (video/audio), this makes for a best fit for smartphones and tablets. the downside is that you now have two or more sources to update instead of one.
  2. Use a website template that has special mobile pages. We like expand2web.com for their SmallBiz template which detects the screen size of a web visitor, and serves up special touch-enabled pages. The upside is that visitors get an experience very close to the native app experience. The downside is that you have to also update those special pages anytime you make a change to your regular web pages.
  3. Create a mobile-friendly website that uses a responsive design. We can point to our own website as an example, where everything scales pretty smoothly to any screen size. The upside is that there’s only one source to keep updated. The downside is that while close, the small-screen experience is not as good as a mobile app.

wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbIf your online presence is a WordPress website, you can also use a plug-in or service to create a native mobile app and link your wordpress website to it, so that you only need to worry about updating your website. The plug-in or service takes care of synchronizing your changes to the mobile app. This works best for standard blog-style websites. For the most part, this kind of work requires some developer skills. Unless you have such in your company or know someone (relative?) who can dig into the technicalities, you may want to stick with a service versus a do-it-yourself plug-in. But if you want to go in this direction, you can take a look at AppPresser.com or Wiziapp.com.

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rsponsivethemeThe simplest solution for most small business and non-profit organizations who have no IT budget is to design your website with a fully responsive template. There are hundreds of vendors available, so enough choices out there to find a design that fits well enough with your desires. We recommend you start with a WordPress-powered website – even if your website has no blog-like features, managing and keeping your site updated will be much easier with WordPress. After all, the free and open-source WordPress engine powers perhaps 20% of all websites on the internet, and that figure is growing fast.

With WordPress powering your website, you can quickly and easily install a ‘theme’ that you use to create and populate the various pages of your website. Many theme vendors offer demos of the themes they sell so you can see exactly how they will look and work, and themes run the price range from free to perhaps a hundred dollars or so. you can start with a web search – I suggest you search on “WordPress Responsive Theme” and start looking for responsive themes that look attractive to you.

About that…nobody wants an ugly website, nor one that is hard to navigate and use. But the truth is that a website design for a small business first and foremost reflects the persona of the company – or the person deciding which look they like. This is a very personal decision, yet I find small business after small business implementing website designs that are sub-optimal at best, and horrible at worst. My .02 is that a small business owner should find a good creative developer and yield to their advice on website design decisions. You needn’t pay a lot of money for such, and you can often find good advice for free either via your personal network or on the internet. If the latter, feel free to comment below and ask me for advice on finding a good developer resource on the internet.

You’ll undoubtedly find hundreds of choices for themes, and I wouldn’t spend an inordinate time reviewing them all. Website designs are fluid these days, webmasters change themes a lot more often. Especially when you are using a standard website engine like WordPress because changing designs is so easy. So find a responsive design that looks attractive and seems easy to use, and go for it. The investment (cost of a premium theme and time you take to familiarize yourself with how it works) isn’t onerous, so if you start to re-think your decision you can change gears (themes) pretty easily.

Here are some good places to look for responsive themes:

shutterstock_107620820_resultAnd of course, check out wordpress.org where you can find a lot of free responsive themes. I’ll leave you with a last tidbit of advice: choose and build out your website design objectively, on the basis of someone visiting who doesn’t know you or your business. If at all possible during the design phase, find someone like that who is willing to take a look at your design and give you honest feedback. This is not your friend, employee, business partner, or anyone beholden to you in any way. You want a brutal and honest assessment, and you need to be prepared to accept that without getting defensive. And be prepared to change course, don’t get so enamored with your design that you find yourself defending the choices you made. You don’t want a website that will put your visitor to sleep!


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