By Nick Nichols
On Nov. 1, 2011, Google launched HowToGoMo.com, a site designed to help commercial website owners go mobile. The site warned that, according to research, 80 percent of mobile users would abandon a website if they have a bad experience.
HowToGoMo.com advised that a mobile-friendly site would help a business connect with customers and increase sales, but a bad mobile experience could drive them to the competition. It provided a tool that allowed business owners, including those in the self-storage business, to see how their current desktop website appeared in mobile browsers and offered mobile-optimization tips.
Thus began the Google Mobile-Friendly Website Initiative, a campaign to make business owners aware of the need to create mobile-friendly websites to optimize the user experience. By mobile-friendly website, Google meant a separate website or hybrid version of an existing one that would be viewable by mobile users without “pinching and scrolling.”
Many developers jumped on the mobile-friendly bandwagon and created software applications that promised to convert an existing desktop website into a mobile version. Unfortunately, none of these apps worked very well. Think of a large living room full of furniture, rugs, wall hangings and bric-a-brac, all arranged nicely and neatly. Then picture that same room condensed into a 5-by-10 self-storage space.
Other developers created standalone mobile sites at .mobi or m.xyz.com URLs and installed coding that would automatically redirect mobile users from the desktop version to a standalone mobile-friendly site. This was the preferred method because it offered more precise control over the look and feel of the pages. However, creating a professional-looking, standalone mobile website meant having to build a second, mini-version of a desktop site. Depending on how many pages were required, a mobile site could end up costing almost as much as a desktop site.
That was then. In the summer of 2013, Google abruptly reconfigured HowToGoMo.com. The viewing tool and mobile-site conversion tips were gone. In their place was a bold headline: “Make Your Website Work Across Multiple Devices.” Google advised that “websites must now fit the needs of customers on all screens, from desktop displays to handheld devices, and in all the moments that matter.” HowToGoMo.com was discontinued completely last fall.
To drive home the point, at Pubcon Las Vegas 2013, a social media and optimization conference and expo, Google spokesperson Matt Cutts warned in his keynote address that not having a cross-platform-friendly website will seriously impact the amount of mobile traffic Google will send you. In other words, it will affect your search engine rankings.
Being cross-platform-friendly means having a “responsive” design that’s viewable on desktops, laptops, notebooks, tablets and, particularly, smartphones without having to pinch the screen to resize content so it’s readable or having to scroll horizontally to see content what’s not immediately visible. Your content should respond in an orderly fashion when “downsized” or collapsed horizontally.
This means that as the viewing area gets smaller:
- The header image (aka banner) should downsize automatically and proportionally.
- The navigation menu should collapse completely at some point and automatically create a menu button to expand it.
- Page content should collapse and reorder vertically in a logical, readable manner.
- Images and video clips should downsize automatically and proportionally.
- Most important, your phone number must be large enough to be visible by mobile users at the top of the page and coded so it can be clicked to call you.
On the one hand, creating a fully responsive design will probably mean a complete overhaul of your website. On the other, redesigning your site for responsiveness now can be a prudent online-marketing investment.