Update: June 2011. Check out my free guide to building your own mobile friendly page for your small business site.
You can’t ignore it any longer.
The mobile internet is here. People are using their mobile phones to visit sites on the internet. Mobile browsers are hitting the mainstream.
How many people are browsing with mobile browsers?
Try 50 Million of them. And the number is growing every month.
Which means that people are definitely visiting your site from their mobile phones, with mobile browsers.
Here’s the question you need to ask yourself:
What does a person using a mobile browser they see when they call up your website?
(Hint: It’s probably not good.)
Now, I could show you pictures all day about how mediocre other people’s sites are when viewed on mobile browsers, but the only site you really care about is your own. That’s natural.
So let’s find out what your site looks like.
First, though, you’ll need to understand that this exercise is not going to give you a 100% accurate result. With so many different phones running so many different operating systems and mobile browsers, the best you can hope for is an approximation.
But an approximation can be useful. For example, which of these two versions of Wikipedia would hold your interest?
The first image is what most websites look like on mobile. You can use the site, but not well.
The second image shows a mobile optimized site. You can read the text! Which would you rather have?
Here’s how to check out your own site:
Visit http://www.opera.com/mini/demo/ (but don’t click just yet; there are a few things I want to explain)
This site shows you a virtual cell phone running the Opera Mini mobile browser. This mobile browser isn’t on every smartphone, but it’s pretty representative. If your site looks great on Opera Mini, it’ll probably look great on other mobile browsers. If it doesn’t, it probably won’t.
The best thing about this demo site is that you don’t have to download anything. If you do an Internet search you’ll find many different mobile browser emulators available, but most of them require a download. Many are geared toward professional developers, and require not only that you download software, but also that you know how to extract, configure, and run things from the command line. Not worth the trouble!
Here’s how to use the Opera site:
1. Call up the site. If the site doesn’t display a virtual cell phone screen, try a different browser. (Firefox works.)
2. Click the “accept” button. (This step took me a while to figure out. Probably I should have read the instructions!)
3. Enter your URL in the mobile browser:
4. Look at the results.
6. Whimper. (Optional)
If your site looks like this one, that’s totally typical:
The good news is, we can fix this.
As I warned above, this image of your site is not 100% accurate, but it will give you a good idea.
Let’s contrast this with a site that has been (minimally) designed for mobile. This is just a test site, FYI, not a real live version.
Notice any difference?
If you’re running on Mac, there’s a decent application that’s worth downloading to see how your site looks on an iPhone. It’s called iPhoney, and you can get it at http://sourceforge.net/projects/iphonesimulator/. It’s interesting, but not perfect.
On Windows, you can download any number of simulators from Microsoft and manufacturers like Nokia.
But you shouldn’t waste your time. The simulator above gives you a good enough idea of what people see.
If you’re running a blog in WordPress, there are several plugins to “mobilize” your site. Take a look at http://ielectrify.com/design/wordpress-mobile/ for a rundown on the different options.
If you’re a regular small business owner with a regular website, check out my free guide to building your own mobile friendly page for your small business site
I have quite a bit more to say about mobile-friendly websites for small businesses. If you want to be sure to stay in the loop, sign up for my newsletter in the sidebar.
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(Photo credit for head in sand man: jvh33 via Flikr)
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