Getting the most out of mobile devices

How can you make your website work well on mobile devices?

With so many Australians using smartphones (phones designed for mobile web browsing), it is particularly important to think about whether your website works properly on mobile devices.

While many mobile devices can browse entire web pages, the small screen often makes viewing content and using site navigation more difficult than on computers.

Three options your organisation can explore to optimise your online content for mobiles are:

 

Creating a mobile version of your website

It is possible to build a mobile version of your website that is designed to be automatically displayed when viewed on devices with small screens, such as mobile phones, even when visitors enter your regular domain name into their mobile phone web browser.

Mobile versions of websites often share the same basic content as a site designed for a computer screen, presented in a simpler fashion. Even though this content is specifically designed for mobile devices, it is also good practice to offer users the ability to choose to view the standard website from their device.

Making your site mobile-friendly

Instead of creating an alternative site for mobile devices, another option is to use a single site and make it mobile-friendly.

There are a few things you can do to make your site more mobile-friendly using writing and design techniques:

  • Do not use any more text than you have to. Reading on a small screen can be difficult.
  • Avoid using too many images. Internet connections on mobile devices may be slow.
  • Use clear, simple navigation.

Digital TipBe aware that not all mobile devices can display content in Adobe Flash format. (Flash is currently one of the most commonly used tools but has the limitation that it is not supported on many mobile devices, including the iPhone.)

You can also use web development solutions to make your website more mobile-friendly so that users of both mobile devices and computers can have a good experience on your website.

If you don’t have knowledge of web  markup language , you may be able to use free plugins for your CMS. Examples of plug-ins that generate mobile-friendly versions of your site include:

 

If you are hiring a web developer, or have skills in writing markup language, you can also achieve these goals with cascading style sheets (CSS).

Developing a mobile app

There are many thousands of mobile phone applications, or ‘apps’, now available through online stores, such as Apple’s App Store, the Google Android Store and Nokia’s Ovi Store. Apps allow people to access news and information and perform countless activities, from playing games to booking taxis.

The 2012 Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index found that 69% of respondents had downloaded and installed an application on their mobile phone.

Mobile apps differ from the mobile web in that mobile apps are normally developed specifically for a certain mobile phone operating system such as iOS, Android, Windows Mobile or Symbian.

Most apps are provided to users for low or no cost and can be strong promotional tools to support your business. They can boost your online presence and increase your communication with partners, customers or donors.

Before deciding to create your own mobile app you need to think about what value it will offer to users and how it will benefit your organisation.

There are pros and cons to mobile apps, including:

 

Pros

Cons

To develop your own mobile app, you may need to commission a software developer. Developing mobile apps can cost more than building a basic website.

Is mobile optimisation for you?

The process of optimising your website for mobile devices can cost time and money, so it is worth considering whether or not it is going to be a good investment for your organisation.

If you are small organisation with a limited budget for online projects, then mobile optimisation may not be a priority.

Unless your website is complicated, or has the majority of its content presented in Adobe Flash format, it is likely that visitors on mobile devices will be able to use your site—even if it has not been optimised for mobile devices.

Approaches to mobile devices

There are different approaches to bringing your website to mobile devices. What are some of the costs and benefits of each?

You can use the table to help decide the best way to get your web presence ready for mobile devices:

A comparison of the three different approaches to bringing your website to mobile devices
  How easy is it to develop? How easy is it to update? How easy is it to use?
Establishing a mobile version of your website Generally easier than a mobile app, but harderthan making a website mobile-friendly. Generally, neither easiest, nor the hardest. Updating a site with an alternative mobile version can take longer than it does for other sites because content changes must be applied to the desktop site as well as the mobile site. Typically easier than a mobile-friendly site, but harder than a mobile app.
Making your site mobile-friendly Easier – does not necessarily require extensive knowledge of markup language if you make use of free plugins. Easier – a single update to the  content of your site will take effect for all devices at the same time. Most difficult – making modifications to an existing website means you do not have complete control over its presentation and structure.
Developing a mobile app Most difficult – there is currently no way to develop an app that will work in all the different mobile operating systems. Difficult – your app may not automatically update on users’ mobile devices. Instead, they may have to run the app update process manually. Easier – however apps need to be downloaded and installed before they can be used, which can be a frustrating experience for users who may only use once or twice.