Why Your Small Business Website Must Be Mobile Friendly

If your website isn't optimized for mobile devices, your search engine rankings will suffer and visitors will abandon your site.
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Customers expect a positive mobile experience — manage these expectations by optimizing your site. (Photo: Bakhtiar Zein/Shutterstock)

There’s been a transformation on the web in the last few years. Slowly but surely, mobile users have been overtaking people who access the internet from laptops and desktops — and that means you’re at a major disadvantage if your site isn’t optimized for smartphones and, to a lesser degree, tablets.

The case for being mobile-friendly

We’ve already passed the tipping point. As any casual review of Google Analytics for many websites will reveal, the majority of visitors these days are mobile. Mobile web traffic overtook desktop traffic back in 2014, and some 60 percent of Google searches are now conducted from a phone.

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If your website is not mobile friendly you will not rank as highly on Google, according to Garrett Smith, founder of Pitch + Pivot. (Photo: Garrett Smith)

As mobile use continues to grow, customer expectations are changing. People demand a great user experience on their phone. They need fast and seamless access to information — menus, hours of operation and the like. If your menu doesn’t legibly display on a phone, for example, customers will likely abandon your page and look elsewhere.

Google has taken notice. For many search queries, if your website is not mobile friendly, “you will not rank as highly as mobile-friendly competitors, even on searches conducted from a desktop,” said Garrett Smith, founder of marketing agency Pitch + Pivot.

In fact, Google is moving to a mobile-first index. This year at Pubcon, Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the search engine is creating a separate search index for mobile — and that it will be the primary index. Right now, the search results you see on your mobile phone were intended for desktop. That’s going to change within the next few months.

Google provides tools for assessing how mobile-friendly your site is, as well as tips on how to make your site more mobile friendly.

A word of warning: A mobile app is probably not the answer. Apps don’t contribute to your rank in Google search results. If your site isn’t mobile friendly to begin with, an app isn’t going to make anything better.

Mobile-friendly means being responsive

In 2016, being mobile friendly is first and foremost about making your site responsive. “Responsive design” means the site responds to the size of the device it’s being displayed on, elegantly reformatting the page without losing any information.

Responsive sites are generally built on an invisible grid with a small number of “breakpoints.” At each breakpoint, the site reformats itself in a way that’s optimal for the screen size. If the browser is very narrow (such as on a phone), it might arrange all the page elements into a single column. On a wider display, the elements automatically arrange themselves into broader paragraphs and side-by-side sections according to whatever template the site designer specified.

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Making your site responsive is not as difficult as it may sound, says Randy Mitchelson, vice president of sales and marketing at iPartnerMedia. (Photo: Randy Mitchelson)

You can see this in action for yourself. Open a web page in a browser on your desktop computer and slowly widen or narrow the browser window. If the site is responsive, you’ll see it reformat itself on the fly. If it’s not, text and graphics will probably get cut off and become difficult to read.

Making a site responsive is not rocket science. “Reputable website companies will not upcharge a client for making a website responsive,” said Randy Mitchelson, vice president of sales and marketing at web design firm iPartnerMedia.

Resources like Squarespace, WIX or even WordPress have responsive templates you can take advantage of at no additional cost when building a site. That’s a good reason to use a service rather than building a site on your own. Warned Mitchelson, “Amateur developers will sometimes use a framework that is not inherently responsive. This can create a bad experience for the client when they find out after it’s too late that their new website is not mobile friendly.”

Responsive design isn’t enough

Simply being responsive isn’t enough. Unless all the page elements follow Google’s recommendations, your site may not receive the additional rank weighting Google gives to mobile-friendly sites.

A lot of these recommendations are fairly mundane. One small example: Google considers text that’s under 16 CSS pixels to be too small for mobile devices. There’s also the issue of how far apart buttons and menus are from other page elements. If Google thinks they’re too close together, making them difficult targets for fat fingers, you’re not fully mobile friendly.

Also, consider your page layout. Be thoughtful about how your content and navigation is organized, since a responsive design can look very different on a narrow phone than a wide laptop, resulting in an unexpected user experience. Be sure important page elements are near the top of the page for all devices. Also, don’t build a bloated page with too much text, related content modules or ads, which will make the site difficult to browse on a phone.

Keep image size in mind — users will quickly abandon a page with images that take too long to load. But this issue, like most, is easily remedied. Matthew Wren, president of web developer Origin Development & IT advised, “Probably the easiest page load issue to solve is to compress images so the page renders faster. In fact, optimizing for load time, which affects search results as much as it affects user experience, is easy these days with browser extensions like Firefox Developer Tools. They’ll show the different resources on a page, along with how they affect load time. Once that’s known, it’s just a matter of optimizing the problem areas.”

Keep your eye on the (moving) ball

New guidance and recommendations are seemingly always just over the horizon. For example, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a set of standards from Google and Twitter to make web pages load quickly (as much as 10 times faster) on mobile devices. Google is expanding the number of AMP pages it shows in its search results every day. So it’s something to monitor to see if implementation is right for your site.

The bottom line: Move to a responsive website design, adhere to Google’s mobile guidelines and keep tabs on new Google recommendations and ranking criteria. Your mobile visitors will thank you — and you may have higher sales to show for it.

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