There's no room for argument. The UK has more mobile phones than people, and Ofcom figures show that over 61% of people access the internet via a mobile device. This means it is essential that your website works as well on a smart phone as it does on a computer
Kate Horstead finds out how to make sure your website works on smart phones.
Assess your existing website
Before you start creating a whole new website for smart phones, you should assess whether your existing website is suitable for a mobile screen.
"Look at what you already have before you rush out and adapt your site," recommends ecommerce expert Benjamin Dyer.
"Mobile screens are getting bigger, so most sites are already usable. It might just need a few tweaks."
If your website has a lot of graphics and detail, it may be unsuitable. "But if your site has a simple, clean and fresh-looking layout, with intelligent use of content, chances are it will look good on a mobile screen," says Dyer.
Google offers a free tool that will evaluate how mobile friendly your website is. If the search giant doesn't believe your website is suitable for smart phones then it may demote you in some search results, so it's wise to take this test and make improvements where necessary.
Who will use your smart phone-friendly website?
Although mobile internet use has rocketed, not all websites receive lots of visitors on mobile devices. For instance, websites selling business-to-business services may find most prospective customers still visit from company computers.
This doesn't mean you can be complacent. Mobile internet access has definitely reached a point where every website should work on a smart phone. But if a large proportion of your visitors come from mobile devices then you may wish to prioritise your mobile-friendly efforts.
If lots of people are already visiting your website using mobile devices (say 30% or more) then you should certainly prioritise making it mobile friendly.
"In particular, if smart phone users are visiting your site and bouncing off immediately, you should make changes," elaborates Dyer.
How should you cater for smart phones?
Some companies offer mobile visitors an entirely different version of their websites. Typically, these mobile sites have slimmed down content and less-complex graphics.
However, this may mean you have to manage two separate sites — adding considerably to your workload.
A more popular way of catering for mobile visitors is to use a technique called responsive web design. This means you give your website a flexible layout. The elements on each page (images, content and so on) shift and change with the screen size.
For instance, you could show your content in three columns on a desktop computer. But on a smart phone's tiny screen, that content would be displayed in a single column, so visitors don't have to scroll sideways or zoom.
Another advantage of responsive design is that it allows you to cater for virtually any size of screen, from huge TVs to tiny smart watches. If a new breed of mobile devices becomes popular, you won't have to redesign your site all over again. Your pages will adapt themselves automatically.
Making your website responsive
If you've created a website using a website builder package, there's a good chance it will already be responsive. Most good packages now allow you to select responsive templates that adapt to fit different screen sizes.
Responsive template are also available for popular content management systems like WordPress. This makes it relatively easy to make your website smart phone friendly.
If your website is a custom design that was created by a web designer, adapting it for smart phones may be tricky (although not always impossible). Your designer should be able to advise on the best way to make your site mobile friendly.
Often, the only way to deliver a good experience for mobile visitors is to redesign a site from scratch. If that's not immediately feasible, consider a short-term compromise, such as recreating key pages in a mobile-friendly format.
Of course, if you're planning a new website, make sure you think about mobile users from the start. And check that your designer or web agency has a portfolio of sites that follow the principles of responsive web design.
Finally, remember that creating a mobile-friendly website isn't just a box-ticking exercise.
"If smart phone users can navigate easily, and find and buy products without facing barriers, they are more likely to come back to your site," concludes Dyer.
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