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.
According to digital-business analytics firm comScore, as of June 2013, 55 percent of all time spent interacting with businesses online occurred on smartphones and tablets. This percentage will only increase. The key is to make sure whomever does the work truly understands how to design a fully responsive website. Right now only a handful of designers know how to do this correctly.
The Responsive Design
Google prefers businesses have a single responsive website where the content is the same across all viewing platforms instead of having a desktop redirect to a standalone mobile site. This is because Google wants to deliver what it considers to be the “best” content to its users. Often, the content on a standalone mobile site is similar to that on the corresponding desktop site. Google dislikes duplicate content and will penalize a mobile website if it contains substantially the same content as the corresponding desktop site. This penalty means that a standalone mobile site probably will not be indexed and will not show up in the search results.
But what if the mobile content is substantially different on a standalone mobile site? Google doesn’t like that either. If a user clicks on the URL of a desktop website that was rendered as a result of a given search query and then is redirected to a separate mobile website that contains different content, Google may penalize the desktop website. This is because unscrupulous “black hat” search engine optimizers have used redirects unethically to trick users into clicking a given link they thought was a legitimate search result for a given query, only to be redirected somewhere else.
So where does that leave you as a self-storage operator who wants to be found high in the search engine rankings by as many prospective customers as possible? You can maintain the status quo and probably lose business to competitors who have created responsive website designs, or you can embrace change and update your website to a responsive design now to get the jump on your competition.
Among the major players in self-storage, all seem to at least have mobile-responsive designs. This is logical because the majors have the resources to keep on the leading edge. However, a look at 100 randomly selected self-storage websites in 10 of the top 50 metropolitan statistical areas found that only 11 percent of non-major-player websites have responsive designs. Interestingly, one market, Houston, had a high percentage of responsive websites sampled at 50 percent, while Charlotte, N.C.; Hartford, Conn.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Phoenix scored zero percent responsive of websites sampled. You can see how your desktop website looks on different devices at DalfortMedia.com/r.
Many self-storage operators are using Google Adwords pay-per-click (PPC) ads to attract customers. Most of the major players that use PPC ads link them to mobile-friendly websites for mobile-device searches. However, a surprising number of smaller players link their ads to conventional non-responsive desktop Web pages that are complex and unreadable on mobile devices. This is most likely resulting in high bounce-back rates, lower Adwords quality scores, higher PPC costs and fewer new customers.
The WordPress content-management system is the de facto standard for responsive website design. Using the WordPress platform is especially beneficial to independent self-storage operators because it offers flexibility and do-it-yourself updating. Also, there are many free third-party plugins and widgets available to enhance WordPress performance.
Bottom line: Plan on making your website responsive in 2014 to stay ahead of your competitors and in front of your customers.
Internet-marketing strategist Nick Nichols has been helping businesses attract and engage pre-qualified buyers since 1996. He and the team at Dalfort Media assist self-storage operators in creating responsive WordPress websites to attract more long-term tenants, boost tenant satisfaction and increase tenant retention. For more information, call 214.458.2290; visit www.dalfortmedia.com.