I started writing a post about how easy it was for us to convert our two simplest websites to be mobile friendly. It was pretty easy and you can see the big difference it makes. But the details are probably only of interest to folks who have something of a DIYer relationship with their website(s). If that’s you, check out my How easy was it? write-up.
However, if, like most business people, you had someone else build your website, you’re almost certainly going to have someone else make your mobile-friendly modifications, too. So for you, the questions are more: What should I expect, in terms of time and money? How do I know if the person I’m talking is honest, competent, and going to do a good job?
Yikes, I can’t help you much with that last question. If you don’t have a good working relationship with a website maintainer, now might be the time to cultivate one. For me it’s like having a good working relationship with my car mechanic. I need someone I can trust, someone who won’t talk down to or around me, who will do the work he or she CAN do, on time and right the first time, and who will refer me off to another competent professional when I need, say, body work that they are not equipped to do in-house.
On the other hand, how easy can it be to make your website mobile friendly? Well, it CAN be very, very easy — taking only an hour or less. Or, frankly, it can be hard and expensive — maybe involving an almost complete re-implementation. And it all depends on how your current site was built in the first place.
But let me take some of the mystery out of this by pointing out a few things you might not know:
- Whenever someone accesses your website, your site can and does know an awful lot about that user and, in particular, the browser and device from which she is viewing it. And the site can tell YOU what it knows. If you use the free Google Analytics tool, check out the Technology / Browser&OS and Mobile / Overview pages. (In the last month, of the 246 visits to this Sherprog.com site, 51, that is about 20%, were from mobile devices. They were about evenly split between iOs and Android devices. Only 5 visits were from iPads. If you aren’t using some sort of analytics tool, if you aren’t a couple of clicks away from knowing these numbers for your site, solve that problem first and worry about mobile-friendly afterwards.)
- Your website can change its behavior and appearance based on the device and browser. In fact, all websites do this, all the time. Dealing with the idiosyncrasies of Internet Explorer versus other, more standards-based browsers, has long been all in a day’s work for websites.
- When the site detects a mobile user, it has three options:
- Do nothing special. This usually amounts to being mobile-unfriendly although the site may be perfectly acceptable when viewed from a tablet versus a phone.
- Apply a special ‘theme’ to your site’s content that works better for the mobile user than the standard theme. (Think of a theme as a sort of font, but for your website as a whole, not just the text.)
- Redirect the whole session to another, slightly different web address, where part or all of your website has been re-implemented to be mobile-friendly.
As you might guess, if you can use option 2, making your website mobile friendly is going to cost a lot less than if you have to use option 3. For our two simple sites, which are implemented using a very popular content management system, WordPress, and simple themes, it took us a couple of hours to convert the first site and half an hour to do the second, once we knew what we were doing.
We haven’t tried our two more heavily-customized WordPress sites yet. I’ll report back on that when we get to it. But I’m hoping that even they can be done in something like 4-8 hours each.
On the other hand, if you have a site that depends a lot on Flash animation, you are probably stuck with a partial or complete website re-write. Flash doesn’t run on Apple iOs devices such as the iPad and iPhone. This is probably one reason the number of Flash implementations is declining. But, as of this writing, Flash is still used on about 25% of all sites. How much you have to re-implement will be a function of how much Flash you have now.
There can also be other reasons to redirect mobile users and provide them some sort of parallel implementation:
- Make your pages ‘lighter’ so they load faster and eat less of the user’s data plan.
- Provide mobile users more (or less) functionality based on the capabilities of the device or your sense of what the mobile user will / will not want to do when compared with the desktop user. But be wary of this approach — there is going to be less and less difference between the mobile user and the desktop user over time.
- Direct mobile users to a native app version of your functionality. This is what the YouTube site does if I access it from my iPad.
If you have a mobile-friendly conversion experience of your own that you are willing to share or you have follow-up questions, please post them as comments. I’m giving a talk on this topic at the Wyoming Gro-Biz and Idea Expo in a few weeks and could use some feedback on how useful this information is and/or what related questions folks have.