The Importance of Optimizing Your Website for Mobile

By: Jeremy Girard, Director of Marketing, Envision Technology Advisors

The days of customers accessing your website on desktop computers alone is long gone. In today’s business environment, our websites need to communicate to our audience on an ever growing range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, netbooks, laptops, desktops, gaming systems, kitchen appliances and more. The online landscape has changed and, to be successful, our websites need to change too.

The “Do Nothing Approach”

Oftentimes when I speak with clients and business owners about the importance of their site being optimized for mobile devices, they respond by grabbing their cell phone, firing up a web browser, and going to their website.

“Look, my website comes up on mobile,” they often reply, showing me their desktop website – which is being squeezed down to fit on their phone’s tiny screen. This is what I call the “do nothing” approach to supporting mobile devices. As the name implies, you do nothing and simply expect your website, which was designed for desktop screens, to provide an effective user experience on every other possible screen as well.

The photo shows what a desktop website (we will use Envision’s site for our example purposes) looks like when it gets squeezed down for a smartphone’s small screen. As you can see, the website does appear, but it is very difficult to use. Links that were designed to be clicked on a desktop are impossible to touch on a small, touch screen device and the text is unreadable at this size. If you want to use the site, you will need to “pinch and zoom” to focus in on small pieces of the content a piece at a time. If you’ve used a website on your phone in this way, you know what an unpleasant experience it is.

The Rise of Mobile Website Traffic

At Envision, we host hundreds of websites. This allows us to look at traffic numbers as a whole to identify trends. What we are seeing is that, on average, our clients’ sites get about 30% of their traffic from mobile devices of one kind or another – and we have some sites that are over 50% of their traffic from mobile! This is where industry analysts are predicting all website traffic will climb to in the next few years. According to Google, the mobile web is growing at eight times the speed of the Internet.

With increased traffic comes increased expectations. The bar has been raised for how our websites should respond to mobile devices and our users expect more than the “do nothing” approach. In fact, another recent survey found that 40% of users state that, when on a mobile device, they will abandon a website not optimized for that device after 3 seconds. 46% state that they are unlikely to return to that site and 34% say that they will visit another site (likely a competitor) instead. This means that customers that found your site –  either due to your marketing efforts, a link from a search engine, through word of mouth, etc., will then leave your site and take their business with them because you offered them a poor mobile experience.

The example below once again shows the Envision website on a smartphone, but instead of the “do nothing” approach shown previously, we have optimized our site for this smaller screen.  As you can see, the content is presented in one column that is easy to read on this device. Links are adequately sized and easy to access and our navigation, instead of being presented as a row of tiny text links, is a large, touch-friendly “menu” button that will bring you to a similarly large, touch-friendly menu (see second image).

More Than Just Phones

Some may suggest that the answer to this situation is that you need a “mobile website.” This means that you will have two separate sites to maintain and keep updated – a “desktop” site and this new mobile site. Do you really want to have double the sites to manage? Furthermore, this approach is only addressing the two extreme user cases – large desktop screens and small phone screens. Supporting multiple devices is about more than just those two device sizes. In fact, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism and the Economist Group found that rather than replacing old technology with new devices, these new devices are creating “multi-platform” users. The report stated that more than half of users who use a tablet also use a smartphone and 77% of them also use a desktop or laptop.  This means that a single user could be accessing your website content on 3 very different devices – a smartphone, a tablet, and a desktop computer. In each instance, they expect access to the website content in an experience suited to the device they are using at that moment. This is where the bar has been raised to for our new multi-device audience.

We believe that the best approach for supporting this new multi-device world is called “responsive design.” Put simply, your business has one website to maintain, manage, and promote and that single site would reflow its layout based on the screen size being used to access it. In this way, your site will always do its best to present an optimal layout and experience for site visitors. It will present the large screen layout designed for desktop users and the small screen experience meant for smartphone visitors – as well as everything in between.  With so many new devices and varied screen sizes entering the market each day, this responsive approach allows your site to respond to the devices of today and tomorrow.

The image below shows a variety of popular devices, all of which are showing one website that was built using this responsive approach. In each case, the layout of the website has changed slightly in order to best support that particular device and the human being behind the device trying to find out about our company and our services. In the end, this is what is really important – supporting the human beings that are requesting your company’s website on this ever changing array of devices and screen sizes. When you optimize your website for a variety of devices, you really optimize it for a wide variety of people and their very different needs.



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