I wanted to relate a couple experiences I had recently, and hopefully this will help you too. It seems that mobile websites are all the rage these days, with WordPress plug-ins and even whole services built around mobile sites. SEO is a considering factor too, but there are other things to think about too.
The idea here that with the explosion of smart phones and tablet computers, stuffing your regular website into the tiny screen isn’t the best experience for the person who hits your site. That’s absolutely true. It’s better to detect the platform the person is using, and serve up different content or a different experience for the smaller form factor.
From a mobile search engine optimization (SEO) perspective, Google has even come out and said that you can get rewarded for having mobile-friendly content. They want your site to be accessible to all types of equipment, and won’t “penalize” you for having duplicate content. It can even help a little with your internal link building efforts.
Basically, there are three ways you can set up your mobile version after you’ve detected the type of platform and/or form factor:
- Redirect the browser to a mobile version of the domain (i.e. m.mywebsite.com) and/or pages (i.e. www.mywebsite.com/mobile/content.html)
- Serve up different HTML/CSS based on the device type
- Serve up different content based on CSS rules
The last option is what Google prefers that you use.
Why Do You Need a Mobile Website?
But I want to step back a bit from the “how” and look more at the “why”. Why do you need a mobile website? This is where my experiences came into play recently.
My wife and I have a favorite Mexican restaurant in town and we eat there far too often, I’m afraid to say. One day we were out and about, and I wanted to call to put in a reservation. I went to their web page on my iPhone, and was delighted to see that they had actually bothered to put in a mobile version of the website.
Then my delight turned to annoyance. Nowhere on the mobile site had they bothered to put their phone number. Nowhere. In utter amazement and frustration, sitting in my car, they had completely failed to realize what I as a mobile user would most likely want to do – give them a call on my iPhone that I was using to browse their website.
Spin forward a few weeks, and I had a print order to pick up from my favorite printing company, Acclaim Print and Copy Center. I knew they had moved, and knew approximately where they had moved to. Again, in my car, I got close but couldn’t find their new office.
I pulled over to a safe place, pulled up their website on my iPhone, www.acclaimprint.com, and again, to my delight, they had put in a mobile site. I was thrilled to see that the mobile site had only three buttons on it:
- A button to Google maps
- A button to call them directly (no entering a phone number!)
- A button to send them an e-mail
Wow. My friend, Dan Karas (owner of Acclaim Print) had actually thought about what his customers might want to do on a mobile device and put that in place. Genius. I pushed the button to call, and Dan answered! Yay. He came out and waved me into his office.
What Do Your Mobile Customers Want?
It seems that mobile sites are the latest shiny thing that webmasters are throwing at their customers. Make sure you step back and think about what your customers want before you set up a mobile site.
An electrician client asked me about a mobile site recently. I asked him, “How many of your customers will be driving around in their cars looking at your website?” Hm. He decided that he didn’t need to waste the money. A restaurant? Absolutely they need a mobile version – but done with their customers in mind first:
- Make it easy for mobile customers to find the information they want – phone number, map, hours, directions, menu choices, etc.
- Cut the content and site navigation down to a much smaller subset. If they want to see the whole website, give them a link to it, but you don’t have to duplicate all the content over to mobile – they just won’t read it.
- Remove most of the heavy graphics and use HTML5/CSS3 for any videos (if you absolutely have to have them). Flash videos and objects won’t render on iPads or iPhones.
- Keep the mobile website in your own domain. Many of the mobile services will set up a subdomain on THEIR domain like, joeelectrician.mobilesite.com. You will lose any SEO benefit from this type of setup.
- Make sure you keep your branding and color scheme so it still looks similar to the main site, so the customer doesn’t feel lost. Notice how Dan’s mobile site is branded the same (see graphics above), and the restaurant is not.
An example of a site that has this implemented correclty is Innovation Tri-Valley. Browse it with your PC/Mac/laptop and it has lots of good, rich information. Browse it with a mobile device, and you’ll see a pared down mobile version, simplified navigation and minimal auto-resizing graphics. There is a link to the main site at the bottom for people to get back to the main site if they choose.
Think about your customer first when you go after that shiny new mobile website, and your customers will thank you.
So to Dan, I say, “Thanks!”
Many users are still concerned with the Google updates about SEO. It is also essential to ensure your content is easy to access through mobile devices. This improves your rankings and makes the information available on-the-spot when customers want and need it. Your Mexican restaurant situation is an excellent example.
You’re right Ryan. The point of this article is to get people to stop and think about what the customer wants, rather than just worrying about SEO. After all, people buy stuff from us, not the search engines. So making sure our customers get what they want when they want it is better than getting something tweaked just right for the search engines.