Is your website right for a mobile society?

By Laura Haight

Originally published as the Digital Maven column, Upstate Business Journal, Feb. 15, 2013

Just do this for me, real quick: Pick up your smartphone (if you are a business owner and don’t have a smartphone, go get one, then come back), go to the browser and look at your company’s website. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

How did it look? If the text was tiny, unreadable and required pinching out and scrolling all over the place, stay with me. If your cool image galleries didn’t work, keep reading. If it displayed perfectly and everything worked well, then you are one of a small percentage who are on the cutting edge of responsive design.

Responsive design has a lot of complex technical elements to it, but what you - as a business executive - need to know is that it is formatting that is device-aware. It determines what kind of device you are on and then displays a website in a format optimal for that device, automatically adjusting  for screen size, orientation and - in some cases - even bandwidth.

A slight modification of this concept is adaptive design, which enables touch behaviors when it detects that the user is on a mobile device. The site look and feel hasn’t changed but it lets you interact with it differently, such as allowing you to swipe to move between pages or scroll through galleries. One site that does this, if you want to see it in action, is www.mashable.com.

Implementing responsive design means relearning much of what we think of as good “design”. Attractive magazine layouts are wonderful for print, but no longer translate to a mobile audience. Even your e-newsletter needs to be rethought - not only so that it displays correctly but so that links point to mobile-friendly assets or pages on your website. To see some examples of websites utilizing responsive design picked by designmodo, visit http://goo.gl/zofIS.

With all the other demands on your time and budget, is this something you really need to be focusing on? That depends on how dependent you are on your web presence to communicate with your customers or clients. We started our websites because we perceived that was where our market needed us to be. Today, they need us to be in their pockets.

Consider these trends:

  • In 2012, 13 percent of all internet traffic globally came from smartphones. While that doesn’t seem like a huge number, consider that in 2010, it was only 2 percent.
  • More than half of all the phones in the US are smartphones. Behind that growth is a mobile society that wants to access and consumer information on the move - while I’m on the train, waiting at the doctor’s office or sitting in the park.
  • The fact that we are not tethered to our desktops - or even laptops anymore - is illustrated by the 37 percent of consumers who used to use PCs and are now using mobile devices. (Read the report by market researchers NPD Group here: http://goo.gl/DT2r7)

A colleague of mine often uses the phrase: “We don’t know what we don’t know.” We don’t always know what questions to ask and what options are available. So we rely on “experts” without the ability to critically evaluate the information they give us.

To be more savvy, start by seeing how effective your current site is. Review what it looks like on a smartphone and a tablet and make sure to see it on different types of devices. Whether you are an Apple or Android aficionado, you have to accept the fact that Apple is still the big dog in our mobile yard. The Washington Post reported that between 2010 and mid-2012, Samsung sold 21 million smartphones, compared to Apple’s 85 million iPhones; and 1.4 million tablets, compared to 34 million iPads. And that’s only US sales. So if your website is Flash-based, you are not accessible to an awful lot of people.

Step two: Dig into your analytic reports to identify what devices your visitors are using. If your analytics go deep enough, you may be able to identify the bounce rate - that’s the number of people who come to your site and never go beyond the page they landed on - of your mobile users.

If you decide it’s time to redo/refresh your website, look for web developers who understand responsive design and have a some responsive sites to show for it.