When I began designing websites for a living in 2002, Yellow Page ads were too expensive for my advertising budget. But by the time I began staffing my company a few years later, I had ads in both local phone books. Each year, my phone book rep would come calling and each year, the rates would increase.
But in 2008, the rates for both phone books decreased for the first time, foreshadowing the inevitable decline of printed directories. In 2010, government regulators began granting telecommunications companies the go-ahead to stop mass-printing residential phone books.
Today, if I want to find a phone number, I fire up a search engine and start typing the name of the business and, if necessary, a geographic location. More often than not, that search is done on my phone, where the Internet looks considerably different than when viewed on a desktop or laptop computer. It should come as no surprise that I am not alone. More of us are not only looking up phone numbers on mobile devices, but we are also using social media applications, surfing the web, and making purchases with our tablets and smart phones.
The amount of time we spend online via mobile devices is on the rise. But according to recent study by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, “Smart phone adoption among American teens has increased substantially and mobile access to the internet is pervasive. One in four teens are ‘cell-mostly’ [I]nternet users, who say they mostly go online using their phone and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.” (Emphasis added.)
Walk into any coffee shop today, and you will likely see mostly teens and twenty-somethings surfing the web, texting friends on a myriad of messaging platforms, while simultaneously carrying on conversations with their friends, never allowing their double-latte-soy-mocha to go cold. I know this phenomenon first-hand; I am the father of a couple of twenty-something daughters who have come of age in this mobile Internet evolution. And although the online behavior patterns vary between my generation and that of my daughters, it is the latter that will likely forecast the future.
If you have reached this point in the article, I have succeeded in piquing your interest. Good. Now pull out your smart phone and navigate to your website. Does it load quickly? Are the links finger-friendly? Or, do you have to pinch and zoom to read the information? Now check out your competition. How painful was that? Here's the take-away: If your website is not optimized for mobile devices, you’re probably losing business.
Study after study continues to highlight what seems obvious to people in my profession: The proliferation of mobile devices will continue and more people will be using those devices to access the Internet. People who study online behavior estimate that within the next year, more than half the visitors to your website will navigate there using mobile devices. So, where do you go from here?
The biggest obstacle I had to overcome when I started designing websites was explaining to a business owner why she needed a website. Heck, broadband Internet access was still in its infancy in 2002, so many of the people I was trying to sell on the idea of a website were still connecting to AOL on a 14.4 modem! Today, everyone has a website. But technology continues to advance at a quicker pace than ever before and it is more important now, than perhaps, at any time in history, to be able to quickly adapt to changing trends. (If you have the time, check out this fascinating video on the subject.)
So, what can you do? Well, plenty.
There are a number of services that can provide mobile solutions for your existing website with pricing ranging from free (with ads) up to $1,000 a month. But like most every solution, whether or not it works for your organization depends on how your existing website is constructed, how much money you are willing to part with, and how long you wish to maintain disparate systems. Even though many of the solutions today will sync data between your existing website and their mobile version, none are likely to sync up with a new design. And eventually, every website will need a new design — and likely sooner, rather than later.
What if you could have your website designed to accommodate any size screen? Someone viewing your site on a smart phone gets one version, a tablet user sees another version, and a laptop or desktop user gets the full, unabridged version. Yes, Virginia, it is possible. It’s called “responsive design” and the secret sauce is something called a “media query.” By telling the browser (think: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome) to check the device and the screen resolution first, media queries allow your website to be programmed to serve up different versions based on the device type with which it is being viewed. And if the designer really knows her stuff, your site can be programmed in a fluid manner, conforming to any screen size without skipping a beat.
The folks at Mashable.com are really in to new technology. They had this to say about responsive design:
“In simple terms, a responsive Web design uses ‘media queries’ to figure out what resolution of device it's being served on. Flexible images and fluid grids then size correctly to fit the screen . . . The benefits are obvious: You build a website once, and it works seamlessly across thousands of different screens.”
I have seen the future, and it will change. Will you be ready?
Now, where’s my jetpack?
Director of Magic
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