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Time to 'Mobilize' Your Site?

With more people accessing websites through mobile web browsers, it might be time to redesign your site or create a new one with them in mind.

A few weeks ago, New Yorkers--myself included--experienced some severe thunderstorms, as happens to most of us from time to time. The result of a lot of rain is that often our transit systems break down, leaving riders frustrated, late and at times downright angry. While I was waiting for the train during one of these extended delays I used my new smartphone to check out the schedule of the local commuter bus company.

Until recently I had been using a basic cell phone combined with a PDA. But I got tired of carrying two devices and decided to purchase a Motorola Q instead.

I'm not alone in this transition. Millions of consumers and business professionals are ditching their basic cell phones in favor of more advanced cell phones and smartphones that combine the functions of a PDA, cell phone and web browser. In November 2006, Arizona technology research company In-Stat said that smartphone unit sales almost tripled from 2004 to 2005, and increased by 50 percent in the first half of 2006 compared to the same period in 2005. Mobile internet access is going to continue growing.

What It Means for Your Business
It's time to consider updating your website and making it compatible for mobile web browsers.

Say you're a florist. With your current website, you probably have big, bold and beautiful pictures. Maybe a video on the front page of your website gives your customers a weekly tip on arranging flowers for an office environment. After a few seconds a pop-up window displays, encouraging visitors to sign up for your monthly floral e-newsletter. Your website works well for your corporate customers accessing it from their high-speed telecommunication lines.

But the corporate event planner that typically accesses your website via his computer at work might need to access it in a taxi cab using his new cell phone or smartphone with internet-enabled connectivity. Or maybe a soon-to-be bride wants to share your flower selections with her mom while she's standing in line at a mall.

Is your website ready for these "new" customers wanting to access it in a mobile environment?

If it's not ready, now's the time to consider who your audience is and how they access your site. Work with your technology professional to analyze your traffic logs and see what types of browsers are accessing your site. Do you see mobile traffic? Take the time to poll some of your customers about the likelihood of them accessing your website and others on their smartphones. Once you've decided a mobile site is right for you, it's time to create one.

How to Create a Mobile-Optimized Site
If you have a very large website with thousands of pages, it might not be necessary to configure your entire site for mobile access. I would guess that many of your mobile customers visit your website for a specific purpose--perhaps to check on orders or search your inventory. Find out what they want from your site and work from there.

The simplest way to create a site compatible with mobile browsers is to use a website creation wizard tool, which will help you create a basic site from scratch. Choose the design you want, add pages and content, and you're done. Unlike traditional website creation tools, this wizard is specifically designed to create mobile websites.

You can find a wizard at Network Solutions or domain registrar .mobi . Creating a mobile website using one of these wizards is simple and low-cost, however, you'll have two websites: one for your mobile customers and one for your other customers. Keeping them both updated could be a hassle. But I would encourage you to test the waters with a dual website strategy.

If you don't want to create a mobile website from scratch and want the benefit of having one website, work with a professional web developer to code your site so that when users access your main website, different content is served to web browsers depending on whether they're mobile. If you visit Google on your PC or Mac and a mobile web browser, you'll find two different screens. On your computer's web browser you'll find the full Google site. On your smartphone's web browser you'll find minimal content--a simple search box and not much more.

What's Next
Think about your business, your website and your customers. Consider whether you have--or should have--content that mobile customers would want to access. If so, experimenting with a mobile website is probably worth the effort.

If you have a database of product information and want mobile customers to access it, you might want to try 4info.net , which offers a service that enables mobile users to search content on your website or retrieve it via short message service.

Ramon Ray is editor of SmallBizTechnology.com and author of Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses.

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