As far as gadgets are concerned, the smartphone has proved to be a killer. For most people, it has made several gadgets like the wristwatch, camcorder, camera, and music player obsolete. If you are a small business owner, the real cause for worry is the way the smartphone is changing the browsing habits of your target market. If your website is not mobile friendly, your sales figures may take a serious hit.
WHY YOU CAN'T IGNORE MOBILE USERS
Studies on mobile use show some interesting facts. People spend a lot of time on their smartphones. Most of it goes into social media applications and emails. According to 2015 estimates, 51 percent of digital media consumed in the U.S. was through mobile phones and 42 percent was through personal computers. A vast majority of people access the web both with their smartphones and personal computers. As far as websites of local service providers are concerned, most of the repeat visits still come from desktops, but the initial search and first visit usually comes from a mobile device. It is clear that as a local business, you can't ignore any device and your website must work well across all screen sizes.
As the smartphone is often the readily available device, it is easy to understand why people use it for their first search when they are looking for a product or service. This is almost always the case for local services like electricians, plumbers, and HVAC services. For example, if you are an HVAC service provider, you are likely to miss most inquiries if you don't rank well on Google's mobile search engine.
Google is unlikely to add your site to its mobile index if it is not mobile optimized. You will thus lose business to competitors with mobile-friendly sites. Without mobile optimization, it is very likely that your site will look like a miniature version of your desktop site on mobile devices. Even if you get mobile visitors from Google, it will not give them a good experience. If your site is slow or is hard to use, most visitors will immediately tap the back button and return to Google. This will increase your bounce rate and hurt your ranking.
THE CHALLENGES OF MAKING A WEBSITE MOBILE FRIENDLY
Making a website mobile friendly on smartphones is difficult. The most obvious challenge is the small screen size. Besides making the best use of the available screen space, you have to ensure that the information displayed is easy to read and captures the user’s attention. Horizontal scrolling is frustrating even on a desktop, but it makes the site practically unusable on mobile phones. For most sites, the same layout will not work well on both mobiles and desktops.
Mobile data plans are often limited in terms of bandwidth and the speed can also be an issue depending on the type of connection and the user's location. To load quickly and perform well on mobile devices, sites should be light with minimal data transfer requirements. Large images and multimedia content are best avoided.
For small screens, the menu and features like sidebars must be implemented differently. However, it should still be possible to find information and move between pages easily. Mobile users are often in a hurry and will leave if the site is hard to navigate.
Although they provide similar functions, the mouse and the touchscreen are very different when it comes to usability. It is not easy to use context menus or select text. You have to provide other alternatives. It is best to minimize text input because even with the improved keyboards on modern smartphones, text entry is difficult.
Pop-up windows may work well on desktop sites, but they are not well-received by mobile visitors. In any case, most users prefer to turn off pop-ups on their mobile browsers.
RESPONSIVE DESIGN - THE ANSWER TO THE DEMANDS OF SMALL DEVICES
Initially, web designers tried to design their sites for different devices, but soon it became evident that it was a losing battle. New devices with different shapes, sizes, and resolutions kept coming into the market. To make things worse, they worked both in portrait and landscape modes. Clearly, some other approach was required and the answer was responsive design.
Responsive design automatically adjusts the layout, elements, and functionality of a website according to the size, shape, and limitations of the device. The site can thus render correctly and function well across devices. Responsive design uses techniques such as flexible layouts, image scaling, hiding portions of images, sliding images, and hiding or displaying content. It also uses optimized media queries to download smaller images and replace large media content with lightweight alternatives. With responsive design, your website will work well on most devices.
To get a clearer understanding of how a responsive site works across multiple devices, you can point your device at the recently developed responsive site for the Aprilaire 700 humidifier — www.aprilaire700.com. Try viewing the site on your PC, smartphone, and tablet to see how the structure of the site changes to accommodate the different devices, even when using your smartphone or tablet in landscape mode.
If you're unsure whether your current website is mobile responsive, or as Google describes it ‘friendly,’ you can use Google’s online tool to check. Just enter your web address on this page: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.
The smartphone is already the preferred device for searching the web when people are on the move or need something in a hurry. Mobile popularity has already crossed the critical threshold and the balance is now clearly tilted towards smartphones. If your website is not responsive, you are likely to lose a large chunk of your prospects to competitors with mobile-friendly sites.