If you’re maintaining separate mobile and desktop-friendly websites then your money might be better spent on a single responsive web design.
We all know the pain of visiting a website from our smartphone or tablet only to be presented with an incomprehensible mess. When a website isn’t optimised for mobile devices you don’t hang around for long. If your visitors are experiencing the same pain with your business website, they’re unlikely to become paying customers.
There are several ways to ensure your website is mobile-friendly. The first is to stick with a simple and elegant desktop design which translates well on a mobile device. Apple’s website is a great example of this – what you see on your smartphone or tablet is almost exactly the same as what you see in a desktop browser.
The next step up is to add a mobile-friendly skin to your website, or even go as far as building a totally separate site for mobile devices. If you’re using something simple like WordPress as the backend for your website then you’ll find a range of plugins which can automatically re-skin your site for handheld devices.
But most business websites tend to be more advanced than this. The more complicated your website is, the more effort you’ll need to invest in getting your mobile skin to look just right.
Building a totally separate website gives you total control over how your site will present on mobile devices. This might be an easier approach if you want to completely restructure your website on mobile devices, rather than simply stripping down pages for a small screen.
Of course you’ve now committed yourself to the time and expense of building and maintaining two sites. Even if they share a common content management system behind the scenes, this approach could work out to be more trouble than it’s worth.
You’ll find mobile websites based on all of these philosophies, but these days “responsive” web design is considered best practice. The exact definition of responsive is open to debate, but it basically refers to websites which reformat themselves on the fly for mobile devices, without the need for skins or secondary mobile-friendly websites.
It’s a “design once, view anywhere” philosophy which could work out to be more practical and cost-effective than maintaining multiple websites. A well-implemented responsive web design might even negate the need to maintain a spread of mobile apps.
Some responsive websites perform their trickery at the server level, maintaining a list of mobile devices and serving up an optimised page for each. Other responsive websites perform their trickery in the browser on the end device. They’ll automatically reconfigure the page according to the width of the browser window, regardless of the device. You’ll see the full desktop design on your computer, but if you drag one side across to make it narrower you’ll see the page change on the fly. It can go through several complete redesigns before settling on a narrow mobile-friendly look.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for building a business website. Any of the above models might be right for you, depending on your budget and your requirements. Make sure you weigh up all the options before you take the plunge, to ensure you get the best bang for your buck from your business website.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.