A mobile website is the easiest way to create your presence on smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices. By having a mobile website you make sure people can discover and interact with your business from their phones, at a local level, and virtually in any situation they might run into.
That said, I already hear your objection: “A mobile website? Why not an app? Apps are cooler!”. So, let me immediately clarify why I am inclined to suggest a mobile website instead of an app:
A mobile website can adapt to all screen dimensions right out of the box. An app can’t, unless you code it to.
Update and Maintainance
Tweaking a mobile site is less complex than getting your hands dirty with a mobile app. You or your webmaster can take care of that, without waiting for the app store of your choice to approve your edits (if they do). Furthermore, you don’t have to stay current with OS upgrades, or keep adding new features to please your users.
A mobile website may become an app, but a mobile app cannot become a mobile website.
When you develop your mobile app, you must submit it to at least three online marketplaces to reach a wider audience (App Store, Google Play, and Windows Marketplace). Inclusion inside these stores, and all downloads of your app, will cost you far more money than developing a one-size-fits-all mobile website.
With a mobile website you keep everything simple, whether you choose to build the website yourself or you decide to go for a mobile website builder, which gives you a zero-coding-needed online interface to create your site from the ground-up.
There are quite a few alternatives out there whereby you can build, design, customize, update and run your mobile website without thinking to anything else but your business.
Anyway, these services (or your webmaster) cannot perform any miracles. First and foremost, you need to have a clear strategy and a set of goals that you want to accomplish with your website.
Having just a clone of your desktop website aimed at mobile users, is not going to pay off in the long run, as mobile users are a completely different animal from standard web surfers.
Here are some best practices to make sure your mobile website is really useful:
Design for Speed
Remember that your users are mobile users. This means they’re on the move, have little time to check out your website, and need a speedy and seamless process to accomplish their tasks.
Build Things Differently
Do not just replicate all the stuff you have on your site. Choose only the elements that are really important to your customers and organize them in a way that makes them easily accessible.
Think Beyond Smartphones
Smartphones are great, but they are not the only type of mobile phone out there. Many people still have a standard cell phone with basic WAP or GPRS Internet connectivity. Make sure you have a lightweight version of your site to accomodate the needs of this kind of users.
Conslidate Your Brand
Use the same colors, font, and logo you have on your standard website. Make customers recognize you and your brand immediately, so they do not feel stranded.
Make Local Contacts Easy
If you own a physical business, do not forget to add a map, your address written as text, and a click-to-call button that allows customers to ring you up with a single tap.
Use Large Texts
Mobile screens are usually tiny, and that makes small letters difficult to read. Employ a font which is big enough so that people can easily read all your texts.
Shrink Your Images
Images do make the difference on a website, but they need to load fast and adapt to the size of different mobile screens. Avoid unnecessary zooming as much as possible.
Provide a Simple Navigation
Allow customers to navigate back and forth on your pages with a simple tap. Do not have them resort to browser controls, so they can fully peruse the whole height of the screen while using your website.
Use QR codes and push notifications to direct customers to special offers, coupons and discounts that you want to feature on your website.
Click on every link, open every menu, proofread every text. Also, make sure your website looks great in both portrait and landscape mode.
Daniele Bazzano is an online marketing consultant based in Italy. He is currently the CMO of mob.is.it, a company that helps both non-technical people and Internet professionals to start up their own mobile business by creating and reselling professional mobile websites