Helping you create and maintain an effective Web presence

Do You Have a Mobile Web Site?

Do you have a mobile web site? If not, your web site may be difficult or impossible for visitors using smart phones and tablet computers to view. Many people search for businesses while they are “on the go”, or just to pass the time while they are waiting.

You may have heard the term “responsive web design” and wondered what it meant. Many web developers are now designing sites that can automatically adapt to the type of device being used to view the site. This is not an entirely new concept, as developers have been incorporating “hacks” or workarounds in their code for quite some time to try to make their sites display properly in different web browsers. Internet Explorer has been a particularly difficult browser to design for, due to the fact that it did not conform to industry standards.

In theory, a fully responsive web site should be able to dynamically adjust to all types of browsers and devices and make your web site look as good as it possibly can in each one. In practice, this is still an elusive goal that is very difficult to achieve. If you are designing a responsive site, make sure you take time to view it in all of the different ways that your visitors will, especially on mobile devices with small screens. You may be in for a surprise.

There are other approaches to making your site functional on smart phones and mobile devices. One is to create separate versions of your sites on different subdomains and direct your visitors to those, based on the type of device they are using. For example, you could create a mobile site on the domain and redirect your mobile users to that as soon as they visit your home page. One drawback of that approach is that you will then be tasked with updating all such sites anytime you update your main site. This can quickly turn into a maintenance headache.

If you are using a Content Management System framework like Joomla or WordPress, the simplest way to accommodate mobile visitors is to use a mobile plugin. We have evaluated several and have found that WPTouch is one of the best ones available at the present time. There are two versions; a free version and a paid version. The paid version has more capabilities and also allows you to enable it to recognize new kinds of devices, but both work well. As with all plugins, the main issue to watch out for is to be sure the plugin works properly with your theme and other plugins. As discussed before, plugins are very useful additions but they sometimes conflict with one another in unexpected ways.

We recently had a problem with several of our sites after a new version of WordPress was released. We had to update several of our plugins to maintain compatibility with the new WordPress version and somewhere along the way, all of our mobile sites quit working. They didn’t just revert to the conventional display, which would have been difficult to read but potentially useful. Instead, they just displayed error messages. Unfortunately we were unaware of this for several weeks because we normally never look at or work on the sites on a mobile device. Then one day, the business owner mentioned that he couldn’t load the home page of one of the sites on his iPad. That’s when we discovered we had a problem! Who knows how many visitors we lost for those two weeks because our mobile site wasn’t working.

The moral of the story is that you need to regularly check on how your site looks on different types of computers ranging from small smart phones to iPads and tablets to conventional desktop machines. Yes, there are emulators like Adobe Device Central that will attempt to show you how your site would look on a smart phone, but there is nothing like using the actual device to see how well your pages render and how easy or difficult it is to navigate your site. If there’s a problem, it’s better if you find out about it before your customers do.

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