Note: This is the somewhat techie version of this story. If you don’t maintain your own website, you’re probably interested in the more business-oriented version here.
Having checked out our various web sites using both our own mobile devices and the nice HowToGoMo tool that I wrote about previously, it was pretty easy to decide that we needed to invest some time in trying to increase our sites’ mobile friendliness. And it was easy to decide where to start.
We have four web sites that are ‘just’ WordPress installations. WordPress is a set of free tools which started out being just for bloggers but has become the dominant easy-to-use website-building tool for thousands of sites, large and small. Two of our sites, this Sherprog blog you are reading and our PlacardApp site, use simple, standard WordPress themes. Two of our sites, ChecklistRN and ElizabethGunn, use heavily customized themes that we developed in-house, although the graphic design for the ChecklistRN theme was done for us by the talented Julie Cornia.
So, it seemed reasonable to think that the right place to explore just how easy it could be to implement mobile-friendliness would be with our two simplest WordPress sites. WordPress has a great community of users who develop and share tools, called plug-ins, that can add all sorts of different functionality to your site. (Yep, like apps “there’s a plug-in for that.”) Many plug-ins are free; many have Pro or Plus versions that are available for a fee.
A quick search (‘wordpress mobile’) yields two types of results. A bunch of apps that can be used to manage a site FROM a mobile device. And, what we were looking for: lists of plug-ins that can be used to make the website work better for mobile viewers. A few minutes of exploring the plug-ins (I’ve never been a picky shopper), led us quickly to choose WPTouch: free, ‘popular’ (for WordPress plug-ins that means much-used and proven to work) and easy-to-use, just my kind of tool.
If you use some other content management system for publishing your website, you’re likely to find a similar list of plug-ins available. Most commercial vendors or developer communities should have them by now.
Still, since twiddling with my live websites is NOT my idea of a good time, Kim and I got together on a quiet Friday afternoon when we could concentrate and made sure we had a good back-up of Sherprog.com we could revert to if things went south on us. But, remarkably, the process was pretty painless. We went through it the first time very carefully, double checking our progress each step along the way, looking at the website with our desktop browsers and our mobiles, and making sure we were, at least, doing no harm.
You can see the results, which are dramatic, above.
We did actually have some confusion that day and for the next week or so due to interference from another plugin (SuperCache, if you’re curious, which is intended to make the web pages load faster). But the problem showed up primarily when we tried to switch from the mobile to the regular version of the site and back again, which we didn’t expect a lot of users to try. We eventually decided to disable SuperCache since we also use another performance optimization layer and decided that mobile-friendly was a lot more important for our simple pages.
As Kim summarized it after she’d gone through it again by herself for Placardapp.com, the steps are just:
- Login to WordPress on your site as an Administrative user
- Temporarily turn off any features that are caching your pages so you don’t get old versions as you test.
- From the Dashboard list on the left, select the Plugins page,
- On the page, press the Add New button
- Search for ‘term’ WPtouch
- When found, press Install Now
- When the installation is finished, go to the Installed Plugins page and find WPtouch
- Activate (if not already activated)
- Settings – change settings as needed, there are lots of them.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that this free and easy process did not make my two sites completely mobile-friendly. The free version of WPTouch does not change how the sites look on iPads. The author of the tool has chosen to market that feature as a very reasonably priced add-on. ($49 for one site, $99 for up to five sites, as of this writing.) And I may go back and buy it, but I’m going to give the free version some shake-out time first AND see how WPTouch does on at least one of my more complicated sites before I commit.
If you have questions about our experiment, or you have conversion tales of your own to relate, please leave them as comments!