Back in the Day
There was a day when people who wanted to buy something had to hop in the car, drive to a store, and scour the shelves to find just what they wanted. Remember that? Times have certainly changed.
Now the commercial world is shifting from a base of brick-and-mortar stores with an ecommerce side-line, to ecommerce hubs that may have a brick-and-mortar store for support and product storage – or maybe not even that. The world’s largest taxi company owns no cars (Über). The world’s largest retailer owns no products (Amazon). Even the world’s largest hotel organisation doesn’t own any hotels (AirBnB).
What this means to you as a business owner, is that your products and services need to be optimised to the needs of today’s consumer. More and more, that means providing a website that can change and adapt to the wide variety of mobile users who are seeking your products or services. The average site has 7 seconds to grab the consumer’s attention (or less). How many of those seconds are you losing to poor mobile design?
Smartphones are now more powerful than a supercomputer was ten years ago, and way more powerful than desktops were five years ago. Given a choice between surfing the web or watching TV on mobile or a laptop, most people under 20 prefer a mobile device. The age of that demographic is quickly reaching upward, as smartphone companies are increasingly seeing the middle-aged and retired population as a lucrative and interested market – and designing mobile products to suit.
More than half of online traffic (and for some businesses up to 80% of online traffic) comes via mobile devices. In other words, up to 80% of online shoppers use their phones. That number shows every tendency to increase as technology advances, and net-savvy users multiply and age.
This means it isn’t enough to have a slick-looking website. It isn’t even enough to have a well-functioning, powerful website. If your website isn’t responsive, mobile friendly or mobile-optimised, then you risk alienating a massive section of the market.
In the past, we designed websites for the larger screens; should we now design them for the smaller ones, and have them look oversized and ungainly on desktops and laptops? No. 20% of the market still shops using larger devices, and no company today can afford to ignore or alienate 20% of its online traffic, even if it is to cater to the other 80%.
So what are the possible solutions?
Mobile Friendly Design
Mobile friendly websites are those that look the same on a desktop (or laptop) as they do on a phone or tablet. In other words, the stationary appearance and the mobile appearance are, as much as possible, the same.
Of course there are differences. Buttons will be much smaller on a phone than on a full-sized monitor, the type will be smaller, images will be smaller… Okay, everything will be smaller.
Does this change the experience?
That’s an important question. Any change in the way a site is viewed will change the experience. Seeing the screen exactly as you would on your desktop – but smaller – isn’t the same as seeing it on your desktop. The smallness itself changes the experience.
For many businesses, this might have been acceptable in the past. As the average site increases in sophistication though, and as the online commercial space continues to grow more competitive, today’s businesses and organisations need more.
A mobile-optimised site is, as the name suggests, more advanced than a mobile friendly site. A mobile-optimised site recognises the type of mobile device that is accessing your pages, and changes to best suit that device. It will reformat content, increase button and text size, add functionality like ‘thumb-swiping,’ and adjust the size and quality images to best suit the monitor size and operating system of the device being used.
Of course, the site needs to be manually optimised for each kind of device, so that it can recognise and customise its look and functionality. This means the developer has to format your site for a number of different situations and devices… and this means an increase in cost.
As more companies develop mobile devices, and technology continues to churn out new operating systems, versions, functions, and hardware, mobile-optimising for the available marketplace may become – or may already be – too much, too fast, to handle in a cost-effective manner.
Is there another option? Yes. As much as technology advances production of new and different devices and systems versions, the web development field marches onward too, and one of its most promising developments is the responsive-design website.
Responsive Website Design
Consider what it would look like if the mobile friendly site, with its relative ease of development and universal functionality, had a child with its mobile-optimised counterpart. We could have the same ease and universality of the mobile friendly site, added to the device-specific benefits of optimisation.
Well that child is the responsive-design website.
Responsive design is completely flexible, regardless of the operating system or display size. Rather than detecting a brand or operating system, the responsive site detects the display size and processing capability, and presents the content and features in a way that best suits them.
A responsive site will change the font size and style, move menus to increase main content width, change the size and quality of images or even change to pictures better suited for smaller (or larger) displays. Important buttons may be enlarged and, as with the mobile-optimised sites, certain features will be added, such as thumb swiping, pinch-commands, and swipe-scrolling.
The Economics of Design
It is true that this kind of development is costlier than mobile friendly sites, but over time it is comparable (in most cases) to mobile-optimised options, especially when one takes into account the number of potential device types and configurations that a responsive design can cover. To make an optimised site comparable, constant chasing of the mobile device market is necessary – and that chasing can be costly. Updating a responsive design is relatively easy, and better developer software options are increasing that ease and efficiency with each passing year.
There are also clear benefits from the very start. Google was the first major search engine to give priority placement to sites that were optimised for mobile devices – and this priority now includes responsive design.
Only you can determine which of these mobile solutions your company or organisation needs. Your current level of online traffic may not warrant much investment in web development. On the other hand, it may be that lack of development that is limiting your traffic in the first place.