What drives many to rebuild their existing Web sites to be responsive and mobile-friendly are justifiable concerns about user experience and search engine placement. After all, the need to make Web pages look and act right on small mobile devices has only intensified as more and more people spend proportionately more of their Internet time on those devices. And then there’s Google, who, on April 21, 2015, implemented their much-heralded new search algorithm they referred to as the “mobile-friendly update“. From that day forward, Google started boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages on mobile search results. Which means, of course, that your non-mobile-friendly Web pages that used to rank high won’t any more.
Yet it is a side effect of the process of rebuilding Web sites to be responsive and mobile-friendly that may turn out to be the best reason of all to undertake it.
Concentrating on What’s Most Important
Namely, planning a Web site with a focus on the constraints and limitations of small devices forces us to concentrate on what’s most important. Knowing that our mobile visitors will grow weary of scrolling down and down and down to get to what matters to them (or that the light will eventually turn green), we’re wise to remove, or at least reorganize or streamline, content and functionality that is of secondary importance (or worse). We might rewrite paragraphs to be more concise. We might remove some eye candy images that add little or no value. And we might be inclined (finally!) to ditch those overlong “Mission Statements” on our About pages that no one ever reads anyway, even on their desktop computers.
(Re-)Entering Planning Mode
The process of making a Web site responsive and mobile-friendly plunges us back into planning mode. It invites us to think, once again, in terms of audiences and outcomes. And this is a good thing. This rebuilding process is an opportunity to redefine — even reinvent — ourselves and our messages. We start asking ourselves tough questions we may never have asked before (although we should have), when space wasn’t a factor; when publishing something was better than publishing nothing (i.e., when more was more); and when we assumed (always wrongly) that visitors would read each of our Web pages from top to bottom, left to right.
Even for Web-site owners who blog regularly, it’s common to leave the static content alone. Which is to say that it’s common to let significant parts of our Web sites just be, for years at a time.
But life and business evolve. That spinoff service offering about which you were so hopeful five years ago may not have yielded a single sale in the past twenty-four months. Does it still merit a place on your Web site? Or is it just a distraction, another potential exit page? By the same token, another of your offerings, once a little dinghy hidden on page six, may have matured into your flagship. Shouldn’t it be presented front and center now?
In The Words of a Client
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a particular client (I will call him “Steve”) for going on two decades. His Web site is a custom-built PHP/MySQL site with some custom-built CMS modules.
The working relationship is unique in that Steve and I co-develop his site, and I try to help him be as self-sufficient as he wants to be. Steve is way better at HTML than a guy with a very demanding day job totally unrelated to Web development (more than one, actually) has a right to be. But Steve has always been a Do-It-Yourself-er, and his original Web site was one he built and maintained himself. When he hired me on, it was with the understanding that he would still have the ability to maintain content. Keep in mind that this was before WordPress.
Over the years, the site has undergone a number of changes, both in content and infrastructure, and Steve and I have invented and implemented many low-tech collaboration and version control methodologies that have served us well. (Some, if we do say so ourselves, are downright nifty. One of these days we may follow through on our oft-expressed intention of writing blog articles describing them. We might choose to omit any references to times when Steve touched files he wasn’t supposed to.)
A few months ago, Steve asked if we could start rebuilding his site to be responsive and mobile-friendly, and we’ve been working on it since. Here’s what Steve wrote me yesterday:
This project comes with a bonus. In the course of doing things to make sure that the mobile-responsive site looks and works well, I’m finding lots of opportunities to make improvements that have nothing to do with mobile-responsiveness.
Well said, Steve!
The jury is still out as to whether what Google so innocently coined its “mobile-friendly update” will ever lead to the “Mobilegeddon” some feared and forecasted. The good news from my perspective as a mobile Web surfer is that it’s easier for me to find Web pages of interest that are readable without having to tap and zoom and squint (note the “Mobile-friendly” phrases in the screen capture at right). The good news from my perspective as a builder of Web sites is that Web-site owners are giving renewed attention to the user experience and to the effectiveness of their Web properties in communicating their value propositions.
Here are some resources alluded to in the above article.
- Official Google Webmaster Central Blog: Rolling out the mobile-friendly update
- Google Mobile-Friendly Test Page
- Organizing Mobile
Excerpt from Chapter 4 of Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski