For many people, mobile devices, especially cell phones, are fast becoming the most popular route to the Internet. They want quick, easy access to information that will help them make decisions on the go -- including whether or not to patronize your business.
Unfortunately not every small-business website functions well on cell phones. Many fail to load quickly, prove hard to navigate and make key information difficult to find.
To make your website more mobile friendly, consider these three steps, which put a priority on usefulness, speed and easy navigation.
1. Test your site on a cellular network.
Turn off your cell phone's Wi-Fi connection so you're using your wireless carrier's data network. Then, launch your web browser and type in your business site's URL.
Now, start counting. If it takes five seconds or less to fully load your home page, that's pretty good. If it's 10 seconds or more, there's significant room for improvement.
If your site first displays a decorative splash page, video or a large image, it isn't mobile friendly. These items take extra time to load and get in the way of useful information. Also, if your home page features Flash animation, it won't display at all in many mobile browsers, and your site might appear to say nothing at all.
If your phone simply displays a miniature version of your complete website, that means mobile users must pinch, zoom and scroll to see what's there. That's more work, plus they're more likely to accidentally click the wrong link or button. Your business's most basic and vital information -- such as address, hours and phone number -- should be immediately visible when your site loads on a mobile device.
To get the most comprehensive results, repeat this exercise on several types of mobile phones. Consider asking your friends to access your site on their phones while you watch. Observe but don't coach them on where to scroll or click.
2. Start with easy improvements.
Depending on the results of your tests, your site may need a major overhaul or just some tweaks. If a redesign seems necessary but is more than you can manage at the moment, you can start with a quick and easy fix.
If it isn't already there, put the following information at the top of your site's home page:
- Business name
- Brief description, such as "tax accountants," "auto repair" or "fine French dining"
- Street address
- Hours of operation
- Phone numbers for inquiries or reservations
- Email address
- Link to the mobile version of your site (I'll explain this later)
This information should appear above any background or banner graphics so it loads first. After all, this is what most mobile visitors want to know.
There are several advantages to displaying this information as plain text rather than including it in an image. In most mobile web browsers, simply clicking a phone number starts the call. Similarly, clicking a street address launches the phone's mapping app, and clicking an email address opens the mobile email app. If you make it this easy for mobile users, they're much more likely to do business with you.
3. Build a user-friendly mobile version of your site.
Creating a mobile version of your site can be fairly straightforward. If you built your site with tools that offer a mobile theme layout, then you simply need to select a theme and apply it to your site. WordPress, one of the most popular site-building tools, has many free and inexpensive mobile themes.
You also can build a separate mobile site. There are many inexpensive services that nontechnical people can use, including Mofuse.com and Landr.co. Both let you create and publish a basic mobile site for less than $10 a month.
Related: Is Your Website Lost in Translation?
Mobile sites have a slightly different web address than the full site. The mobile version usually starts with "m." before your regular web address, or ends with the suffix ".mobi" rather than ".com." If a mobile user types in your regular URL or follows a link to your site from a search engine, the mobile version should load automatically.
But that doesn't always happen on every phone. Include at the top of your website a link to your mobile site, and vice versa, just in case.
If you follow these three steps, not only will your business be more attractive and useful to mobile visitors, but you also may become more visible in mobile search results.