New Rules for Websites in the Mobile Age | October 31st, 2011

SmartphoneDo you have a website? Think its doing a good job of helping people find you? The truth is, if your website is not mobile friendly, you may be losing customers.

How important is it to have your website optimized for mobile phone users? There are over 73 million smartphone users in the US alone, and that number continues to grow. And those users are not just making phone calls. Everyday people are using their phones to check the weather, locate businesses, reserve restaurant tables, get directions, find store hours, and even place online orders. For many users, these mobile devices have even replaced computers for internet access.

If you want to cater to this growing population, your website needs to be mobile optimized. What are some considerations when designing a smartphone friendly site?

1.  Smartphones tend to load websites slower, so careful image handling is necessary to make sure that the site loads fast. Some businesses choose to offer a second website, which loads automatically when the smaller screen size is detected. These websites are pared down versions of the original site and often consist of simply a set of buttons that link to basic information.

2. Users are generally looking for information quickly. The most important information needs to be prominently displayed. Phone numbers should appear somewhere on the home page and must be text or a clickable link to the phone number. If your phone number is part of a graphic, users won’t be able to click on it to call you. Links to directions and business hours should also be easy to find.

3. Flash won’t work. Currently smartphones will not load Flash animations or slideshows, so care needs to be taken to either avoid Flash, or provide alternate content to smartphone users, such as with a second website, or with a replacement graphic that loads when the smaller screen size is detected. In the case of a website that was designed entirely with Flash, a second website will need to be designed to accommodate mobile users.

4. Its a small screen. While users have the ability to zoom in to look at the site, they’ll only be able to see one section at a time. Make sure the content is clean and well organized, or provide a second website for smartphone users.

Does your site need a major revamp or just a few tweaks? Do you need a second mobile-only site?

Much depends on the type of business or organization. If customers generally drive to your location or do business with you online, it may make sense to have a second website. If you offer any kind of emergency service, you may need to simply make sure the phone number is immediately accessible to anyone landing on your site. If you provide a non-urgent service or product, your site may be fine as is, so long as it is cleanly designed and easily navigated.

If you own a smartphone, test your current site. Does the site load quickly? Is the phone number apparent and clickable? Can you find important information at a glance, such as driving directions and business hours? Ask a friend to do the same test and solicit their opinion on the usability of your site. Did they have any trouble finding the information they needed?

Carefully consider how your customers might use your site, and decide if your current website fills those requirements in a mobile setting. If it doesn’t, you may want to make some changes. Chances are these smartphones are not going away any time soon.

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