In this era of the smartphone and the tablet, having a mobile version of your website is near essential. Some devices can view your site on a standard web layout, but may have small screens with little real estate to work with. For these devices, you will need a version of your site that adapts to display the content that’s most important.
How to Design a Mobile Site
In the past, the best way to create a mobile site was to develop an entirely new design and host it on a subdirectory. Many sites still use these domain-segregated sites, which you see whenever a site has an M appended to the URL somewhere. These sites have one flaw; they double the upkeep of a site, the work it takes to create a new layout and display content.
The current best solution for a mobile site is a responsive design. These designs adjust what displays on a site depending on the size of the viewing window. To test if a site has a responsive design, you can visit it with a mobile device, or you can simply resize your browser window. Responsive sites will adjust the content they display as your browser size decreases, from standard web display to tablet to smartphone sizes.
Typically, a responsive site will cut out much of the sidebars and images first. Only a scant basic navigation and branding layout will remain. The focus of the screen will be on content, typically on your most recent blog posts or featured products. Larger size versions will show images to accompany each post or product, while smaller phone-size layouts will cut out images entirely. Of course, the exact layout and design depend on your choices.
How do you go about designing such a mobile site? The easiest answer is to hire a developer to create a responsive version of your site. Unfortunately, this development cycle is lengthy and expensive, and chances are you want to get a basic mobile site up and running as quickly as possible. For that, use one of these solutions.
WPtouch is an inexpensive, quick to use solution for extended an existing website into the mobile realm. The one caveat is that it only works with WordPress sites. If you have an existing WordPress-powered website, this extension is perfect.
The basic version of WPtouch allows you to take an existing site and generate a mobile version that sits on the same URL and displays specifically for mobile users. Similar to responsive design, it integrates with WordPress to draw posts and content from the same database. You can customize it extensively using the options it provides, and it integrates with several additional plugins to further increase design scope. Among these plugins are CSS-based image scaling, caching and mobile content variation. The best part is, the entire thing is extremely inexpensive for individual websites.
Mobify is a service that does much the same thing as WPtouch, but for any site, not just WordPress. Once registered, the application generates a mobile version of your site dynamically, using a variation on responsive technology. It presents you with an interface through which you can edit and customize the resulting site, changing layout and theme with ease.
Mobify is specifically designed to work with ecommerce sites, so it includes all of the typical access analytics suites need to operate. The same goes for mobile advertising. Mobify works with a freemium model, which means you can use the most basic functionality inexpensively while you develop your own solution, if necessary. Mobify does add their own logo to the low cost tiers, but you can pay to have it removed, or simply ignore it while you create your own responsive design.
Wirenode is another mobile website generator that offers free site creation with statistic tracking and a host of other features. Much like Mobify, it offers all of the basic functionality you need to get something basic up on the web for your mobile users. The paid versions are cheap as well, and they allow you to remove Wirenode’s advertising and other locks on features you may want.
The basic free Wirenode package is only applicable to a single site. It includes Wirenode ads, which can be disruptive if you’re trying to run your own ads as well. You are also not allowed to set your own custom domain, meaning you must use a Wirenode domain. All widgets, hosting, SEO and analytics are available for all free and paid versions. The paid versions allow custom domains and remove advertisements, with the cost scaling as the number of installations – that is, the number of sites you need mobile versions for – increases.
4. Mippin App Factory
Formerly known as Mippin Mobilizer, App Factory is another quick and dirty solution for the mobile problem. Essentially, you follow a short step by step process to create your own website app. This app allows you to generate a mobile site that displays your content as produced by your RSS feed. If you’re looking for a quick solution – as in, you need a mobile site up and running yesterday – this is your solution. It’s not as robust as creating your own site, but it takes minutes to set up and have running. You even have a live preview of what your mobile site will look like, as you design it. App Factory is free to test out and you can have your mobile app up and running in less than an hour.
The first thing you’ll notice upon visiting Winksite is that you need to sign up to see anything, even pricing or features. This barrier to entry may dissuade some, but behind that login wall is a powerful tool. Winksite not only generates a mobile version of your site, it exists to build a community around that mobile site. You are not given your own custom URL, and must use the Winksite URL, but if all you need is a cheap, fast mobile site, that’s perfect.
Winksite’s main power comes in the automatically generated QR code assigned to your site. You can add this QR code to any of your advertising media and branded content. Your business card, your brochures, your print ads, a sticker on your front window – anything can have a QR code that links to your mobile site. It’s much more convenient than directing your users to follow a URL to your desktop website and hope they don’t notice your lack of mobile site.
There are dozens of other tools available, from other WordPress converters and plugins to full-on app generation tools. These five are some of the best available. Any of them will suffice if you want to get a quick and simple mobile presence online. From there, you have the luxury of taking the time to develop your own version of a mobile site, complete with all the built-in tracking and analytics you need to run a successful mobile SEO campaign. The first step, however, is to use one of these tools to establish a mobile presence. Without that basic foundation, you’re missing out on a significant amount of traffic.