10 Questions to Ask When Optimizing Your Website for Mobile Users Expert tips on how to rock your business's web presence on smartphones and tablets.
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Americans can't get enough of their smartphones. Most of us compulsively check them countless times a day, then stash them by our bedsides at night, according to the Pew Research Center. We're hooked on them because they make our lives easier.
Fortunately for businesses large and small, smartphones also make it easier for people to research and make purchases on the go. And that very (and very lucrative) mobile purchasing power is precisely why it's critical for your company website to look great and work smoothly on smartphones -- and on tablets, too.
Here are 10 crucial questions to ask when optimizing your company's website for mobile users:
1. My website looks okay on mobile devices now. Is it really worth it just to make it look and feel as slick as possible on smartphones and tablets?
Yes, without a doubt, says Brian Alvey, "chief scientist" at Ceros, a cloud-based real-time web content authoring platform. Global fashion, auto and retail brands look to Ceros to publish interactive marketing experiences that are designed to "work flawlessly" on all types of devices, and smartphones and tablets are no exception.
"Mobile used to be the future of business," Alvey says. "Mobile used to be a trend. Now it's the norm." The bottom line: If you don't adapt to mobile and quick, you could miss out on a prime revenue-generating opportunity, or even lose customers to competitors who already embrace mobile.
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2. Should I have a dedicated mobile version of my existing website or simply make my existing website responsive to mobile?
You have two choices. You can either opt for a single website that displays content responsively for different device and browser types, otherwise known as responsive web design. Or you can create a standalone dedicated mobile website separate from your main website. If your main site is www.examplesitehere.com, then your dedicated mobile site would likely appear as m.examplesitehere.com. The .m signifies mobile.
Alvey prefers an all-in-one responsive site. He says he's heard that Google and Bing prefer them as well.
3. Should I try to mobile-optimize my website myself or delegate it to someone on my staff?
Particularly for small businesses that are light on resources, it's best to leave it to the pros. The mobile optimization process is generally too cost-prohibitive, complicated and time-consuming to go in-house.
"Most SMBs can't justify even a single full-time designer, so in-house isn't an option," Alvey says. "Unless you have the time and experience to directly manage freelance designers, I'd hire a company [to do the job]."
4. What are some of the best mobile optimization options available and what do they cost?
Luckily, there are a wide variety of solutions available for every budget. Alvey suggests deciding what you're willing to spend, then choosing the best available option from there.
Alvey's favorite mobile services are from popular website hosting companies like WordPress (free hosting, plus premium upgrades), GoDaddy (hosting costs $4.99 to $7.99 per month) and SquareSpace (free 14-day trial, hosting costs $8 to $24 per month). Each offers a broad array of automatically mobile-friendly, attractive prefab website designs, features and themes, plus premium add-ons.
Another is bMobilized, whose slogan is "mobilize any website... instantly." This can be a smart option if you simply want to add mobile responsiveness to your existing website. The service's software mobilizes your site with the click of a button. Pricing is monthly and reasonable at $15.20 per month annually or $19 month-to-month.
5. Should I just hire a contractor?
Hiring a contract web designer for the job is also an option, though it could cost you more in the end than using an online solution. Alvey says web designer fees are generally charged hourly and vary quite a bit from city to city. If you do go the contractor route, he advises that you hire locally and carefully check customer references before committing.
6. What are some key, must-have mobile site features?
Required mobile features vary, Alvey says. "Obviously, if you don't have e-commerce, then a shopping cart is useless." But if you do sell goods online, you should definitely include one in your mobile design. Or, if you own a brick-and-mortar retail business, be sure to prominently display your store address and hours, and perhaps a link to driving directions as well.
Another essential feature all businesses should position front and center is a "click-to-call" phone number. All mobile users have to do is click the number and their smartphone will call you, allowing them to instantly and directly engage with your business.
"Never forget that a customer who is checking out your business on their phone -- is holding a phone."
7. What about social media integration?
Social media integration is like free advertising. It lets users generate a buzz around your brand. In most cases including social elements is a must. For example, on the mobile site for a free online deal-tracking service called Hukkster, first-time users can sign up to use it by entering their Facebook (and Google) credentials. Hukkster's Facebook integration makes it easier for its users to share their favorite product discounts with their friends on the popular social platform, while simultaneously broadening Hukkster's marketing reach on Facebook.
Alvey points out that, because they're so inherently visual, hotels and fashion companies thrive on Instagram and Pinterest, so those particular platforms make sense to integrate into their mobile sites. Whereas Twitter integration is a better fit for airlines and TV shows, which tend to experience high engagement on the microblogging service, he says.
Whichever social platforms you settle on, it's wise to limit yourself to only two or three social media sharing buttons, not a dozen, Alvey says.
8. What's the best way to test my mobile site before launch?
Test-driving your site helps you discover and weed out bad links, confusing navigation and a host of other potential functionality issues. Be sure to test yours on as many devices and browsers possible, "not just the ones your team or your CEO uses," Alvey says.
Interestingly, he also suggests swinging by Best Buy, which he cheekily calls a "free mobile testing lab," or a similar consumer electronics retailer to check your site out on as many of their sample smartphones and tablets as possible. You'll get a hands-on feel for what works and what doesn't -- at zero cost.
9. How can I track the success of my mobile strategy?
The most popular, user-friendly website traffic and usage tracking option available is Google Analytics. The free self-service tool shows you how many people visit your mobile site, from which devices and how often, along with where they live, how they found your site and much more. It also tells you which social channels drive people to your mobile entity and what content they share from it. Use what you learn to fine tune your mobile strategy over time.
10. What are some common mistakes to avoid?
One of the biggest blunders is poorly targeting which devices users will view your content on, Alvey says. "If you send my Android phone to a desktop version (of a website) or my iPad to a smartphone version (of a website), you've lost me as a customer."
Other common mistakes on Alvey's list of mobile mistakes to skip include: crowded designs with links that are too close together for people's fingers to accurately click, not optimizing image sizes for mobile bandwidth, making people fill out complicated forms and "harassing me to download your app."