It’s no big news that mobile Internet usage continues to grow each year, yet many businesses still haven’t made the move to mobile. If the task of creating a mobile Web site is too intimidating, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s how to bring your Web site to mobile devices in three simple steps.
Step 1: Pick a Domain
Here are three options for mobile domains.
- Use a separate domain for the mobile site that’s different from your main site.
- Use a .mobi top-level domain (e.g., yourwebsite.mobi).
- Use a subdomain (e.g., m.yourwebsite.com or yourwebsite.com/mobile).
There’s been a lot of disagreement over which option is better, but most Web developers agree that a subdomain is the best choice for mobile sites. Using a subdomain (or separate folder under your primary domain) keeps everything on one domain so that your marketing, advertising, and search engine optimization can be shared between both Web sites. This not only keeps your brand intact and makes it easier for customers to find you, but it is also the easiest and cheapest option since you already own the domain and won’t have to spend time modifying your server.
If you don’t want to bother with marketing two URLs, you can let the server do the work for you through user agent detection. This means the server detects if your Web site is being accessed from a desktop or mobile browser and automatically redirects users to the appropriate version of the site. The major pros of this are that you’ll only need one URL and every user will be able to view the site that’s best optimized for how they’re accessing the Internet. The main con of user agent detection, however, is that customers using mobile devices are forced to view the mobile version of your Web site, which can present problems if the mobile site doesn’t contain the information they’re looking for. With a subdomain, users can choose to navigate to the traditional Web site if they can’t get what they want from the mobile version.
Step 2: Maximize Your Design
When it comes to designing your mobile Web site, there’s one golden rule: Less is more.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has everything you need to know about cascading style sheets (CSS) specifications, codes, and other programming issues, but here are the basic rules every mobile Web site should follow.
- Use images sparingly or not at all. Nothing’s more frustrating than waiting for a page to download, and images are often the number-one bandwidth-hogging culprit. If you have to use images, make them smaller than 100 pixels and assign them useful alt tags in case the images are disabled. And never use background images.
- Size matters. Screen sizes are constantly changing, but the most common screen size is 240 by 320. Formatting your Web site to anything smaller is OK, but avoid going any larger. Scrolling up and down a mobile site is tedious enough without having to add horizontal scrolling. The best way to ensure that your site fits most screens is to test it out on each mobile device. A site may look awesome on the larger screen of a smartphone like iPhone or BlackBerry, but it can look like a mess on a regular cell phone.
Step 3: Provide Specific Content
Mobile Web sites have come a long way, but they’re still not very practical for making purchases. In fact, the majority of mobile Internet users fall in to the following three categories.
- Repetitive now: users who repetitively check the same information, such as stocks, sports scores, weather, blogs, etc.
- Bored now: users who are bored and want to surf the Web while they wait
- Urgent now: users who need information immediately and want a fast, clean, and efficient mobile experience
Before choosing the content for your mobile site, first decide which category the majority of your mobile customers will fall in to. In other words, why are they visiting your site? What do they need to do? “Urgent now” users will appreciate things such as order tracking, company contact information, a store locator, etc. “Repetitive now” and “bored now” users will find that mobile sites that highlight what’s new, weekly specials, coupon codes, and blogs will give them a reason to bookmark your site and check in regularly. Knowing your target audience allows you to put only the most important information on your mobile site.
Once you have your content, consider tracking your site with a mobile analytics tool such as Google Analytics. You’ll be able to see how your mobile customers are accessing your site and what they’re doing while there, so you can improve your content accordingly.
Finally, no matter what type of content you use, you’ll want to make it highly prioritized. Just like a traditional Web site, you should put the most important information and links at the top of your mobile site. You also want to limit the number of links to the ones that are most crucial for your target audience.
As you can see, making your Web site mobile doesn’t have to be intimidating. By following these three basic steps, you can create a mobile Web site that’s simple, clean, and easy to use.