How To Approach Mobile Website Design

By Friday August 23rd, 2013

Would you be worried if 30% of your customers walked in and then directly out of your store? 30% or so of all web traffic nowadays is mobile. Are you worried now? If your website isn’t optimized for mobile visitors, it might be time to re-evaluate.

I research a lot of companies, looking at their websites on different devices, and inspecting their overall digital presence. From no mobile site, to bad desktop-to-mobile conversion tools, to a totally separate mobile site, to poorly executed responsive design, just because you’ve gone mobile doesn’t mean you’ve done it right. With mobile web traffic growing at a rate of 78% year over year, it’s time to take your mobile website optimization seriously. Here are some things to think about when approaching your mobile presence, as well as some things to avoid.

Know Your Target Customer

Before you throw together an RFP or start contacting development shops, spend some time thinking about who you are selling to and how they will interact with you on the web, based on their lifestyle and preferences. There’s no debate here… mobile and tablet web traffic are growing across the board, but some businesses and and industries have substantially more to lose by ignoring mobile visitors.

You can start by asking a few questions…

  • Based on analytics, what percentage of visitors are desktop vs. tablet vs. mobile?

  • Are you seeing different trends per device? For example, are mobile users more likely to use the contact form? Are tablet users viewing more pages overall?

  • What are the core needs of people coming to your site? Are there different use cases?

These questions should get you moving in the right direction. Once you know how much traffic, (and potential revenue) you are losing from having a lackluster mobile presence, you can decide just how important it is for you to make a change.

Once a company makes the decision to optimize for mobile, there are a number of scenarios or questions that I come across frequently.

“How much does a mobile website cost?”

As an example, let’s say 20% of your traffic is coming from mobile devices. So we agree that a mobile optimized website is a necessity. You do the obvious and start shopping around for a mobile website. But, hang on. Will your mobile site be built by a different agency, using a different platform and CMS than your desktop site? Bad idea. It’s important to achieve a consistent experience across all devices. Also, consider that your desktop site and mobile site should both pull from the same database, serve the same content, and should be updatable from the same CMS. Why manage two websites when you can manage one? Why spread your traffic to two different domains when you could be building your search engine rankings with a single web experience? Subdomains, tags and redirects can help to solve this, but having two separate sites is still not desirable. So my answer to the above question is, don’t add a separate mobile site unless you have absolutely no other option.

“I want an app.”

There’s nothing wrong with a company coming to us for a native app, except most of the time it’s on a whim and isn’t because an app is the best solution to a problem or the best use of funds. The company was told they need an app to be hip and keep up with the times. However, it should almost never be the first step in any marketing plan or mobile strategy and there are many reasons for that. It can be expensive to build, challenging to update, and it requires downloading to use it. This means it’s harder to generate organic interest and market the app. There are benefits to building a native app, but nine out of ten times, building a native app is not the first step in going mobile and should be a long-term goal for your brand.

“What are the benefits of responsive web design?”

I wish we got this question more often. Responsive website design is a popular trend in the web design world, and for good reason. You build a single website, with one set of code, and that website automatically adapts to fit any screen size. This means your customer will have an enjoyable experience from any mobile device, desktop computer or web-enabled TV. Even Google recommends responsive website design for SEO best practices.

Going mobile the right way is simple. Plan for the future and create one seamless experience for all devices. Don’t try to “convert” your desktop site to mobile, or develop a totally separate mobile website. Building a responsive website to optimize for mobile traffic is the right investment.

So what’s my my advice? Stop thinking mobile website design and start thinking responsive. Take mobile and tablet users seriously, because it’s going to impact your business one way or another. It already is.

Here is some additional reading on mobile development and responsive design:

Responsive Web Design or a Separate Mobile Website

Responsive Design in the Real World (Part 1)

Mobile App vs. Mobile Web Part II, Building For The Future Of Devices

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About the Author

Jason is co-founder and CEO of Brolik, a digital agency in Philadelphia. As an entrepreneur, Jason is passionate about helping other business owners navigate the complicated journey of owning a business and developing marketing strategies to grow their brand.
Follow @jaybrew on Twitter or connect with Jason on LinkedIn or Google+