How to Make Your Website Mobile Friendly

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responsive designIf you view this website on your phone, you will notice all the content displays nicely in one column, but if you view it on a desktop, you will see 2 columns.

This is an example of a responsive website design. It's a trend that people are using now to make their websites more mobile friendly.

And there is no reason why you shouldn't have a design like this today.

Why Responsive Web Design?

People access the Internet from so many types of devices today that it’s important for a web page to function properly on any of them.

With the growth in popularity of tablets and smartphones, more people than ever are using devices with smaller screens to surf the Web.

The goal with responsive design is to have one site with various elements that will respond correctly on different sizes of devices. No need to make several versions of the site anymore.

Remember, most users do not appreciate any site that causes them to take additional steps to use it. Also impacting the problem is the fact that many smartphones and tablets can be used either in landscape or portrait position.

If your site has been designed to be responsive, the smartphone and tablet screens should properly display the site for users. In this way, users will find the content easily navigated.

Smartphone users may be able to swipe over their screens to view all the columns, but it's best to make sure they don't have to.

Images should automatically resize, so they won’t appear distorted.

Sites that are responsive in design have fluid grids. The elements of each page are proportionately sized, rather than being sized by pixels.

The page design must also allow for touch screens as well as mouse users. Touchscreen users must be able to see the areas on the screen where they need to make their selection.

If I've confused you with all this terminology, don't worry. The solution is much easier than you might think.

How to Make a Website Responsive

What method you choose is going to depend on the time you're willing to invest and amount of money you want to spend.

Here are a couple of options you can consider...

Get a Responsive WordPress Theme

This is the easiest solution for most people and since more and more people use WordPress to create websites, it's becoming a more popular choice.

Prose ThemeA responsive theme already has the code in place out of the box. So as soon as you install it, you're done!

So if you created your site with WordPress, just search for a theme that is already responsive.

I use the Prose theme and love it. I am also using that same theme for this site even though it's static.

If you don't want to buy a theme, you can use a plugin called WP Touch. It works for most themes and uses a standard layout/design for all sites.

The downside to using a plugin is it may not work with all WordPress themes.

Using Media Queries (CSS3)

If you don't have a responsive theme or you have an HTML / static website, you can add media queries to your existing design.

Sounds complicated, but that just means you have code in a stylesheet that tells the browser how to display your website in different resolutions.

Below is an example of a media query you could add to your stylesheet.

The above query simply tells the browser not to display the sidebar on devices with a maximum width of 480 pixels.

Where did the #sidebar syntax come from, you ask? You would use the name of the ID that is used on your stylesheet (css file).

If you use WordPress, you can find your stylesheet under Appearance >> Editor.

Your site may call it #leftnav. Or maybe your header is labeled #header.

So hopefully you get a basic idea of how this all works.

This site offers a nice overview of Media Queries if you want to learn more.

Dealing With Image-Based Headers

One downside to responsive design is if your site has an image header, it may not display optimally on all devices. Sometimes part of the image will be cut off, depending on the mobile device.

The Responsive Images WordPress plugin will allow you to create different sized headers that will load depending on the size of the mobile device. If less capable mobile devices are being used, this will allow them to download smaller image files.

Outsourcing Your Mobile Responsive Design

If you'd rather not fuss with any of this, you can always hire someone to do the job.

Sites like Elance and oDesk help you find qualified people. Plus, you can preview their work history and feedback.

In fact, if your existing design is quite complex, it might be better to outsource the task to prevent you from pulling your hair out.

Just remember to choose your programmer wisely.

Avoid the urge to save money in development, since you don’t usually get more than what you paid for.

Good developers are worth the prices they charge. Be open to working together with them, and be ready to discuss any details they may have to show you.

Test how thorough they are and how quickly they respond by communicating with them before you hire them. Both Elance and oDesk allow you to correspond with potential freelancers before committing.

Here's something else to consider...

As soon as you post your job, freelancers can begin applying. Many will only reply with a stock message and their resume/experience attached.

I prefer for potential freelancers to actually respond to my job by mentioning specific details about why I should hire them for the job. It lets me know they've actually read the description.

I don't hire people who only leave stock replies.

Also, make sure you are clear on the scope of the project before submitting your job request.

For example...

  1. What elements of your site should be displayed/omitted when viewed on mobile devices? Make a list. Be specific.
  2. Find out if your needs require a complete redesign or just Media Queries that will simply rearrange you content when viewed on smaller devices. This will greatly impact the price of the job. Be sure to ask.
  3. At what resolution should the design change (1024 pixels and lower, for example)
  4. Make a list of any components on your site that may need special attention when viewed on mobile devices (email forms, games, widgets, etc.) Be sure to inquire about these as well.
  5. Be sure they have a plan for handling your images.
  6. Are there any sites you'd like to model your design after? If so, include them.
  7. Ask for sample responsive design work they've completed.

Rest assured your money will be escrowed until you release the funds to the freelancer. So you don't pay until you are happy.

For the record, I have used Elance and had very good experiences.

Things to Avoid With Responsive Designs

1. Slow loading websites.
If you want to deliver a full-size experience even on mobile devices, you’ll want to make sure that mobile users will actually wait for the page to load.

Many mobile users actually leave after waiting only five seconds for a page to be loaded.

2. Hiding important content
Responsive designs have the ability to hide any element of the website. For example, you can opt to hide your sidebar on very small devices.

Make sure this makes sense for your website. The goal is not to penalize mobile users for the devices they have chosen. Make sure that the most important functions of your website can still be accessed.

3. Thinking that one-size-fits-all will work

Mobile devices mean more than just smaller screen sizes. There needs to be more effective use of responsive design than on the site layout alone.

Smartphones can be used for calls and to obtain the location of users, and the browsers should be able to access more API’s, which allows for more of the web to be accessible anywhere.

4. Ignoring context

Each device has its own interfaces, opportunities and constraints. Keep all those variables in mind when you strive to create a user experience that will feel natural.

Think about the icons that people use, and how they orient their devices. Responsive sites should go outside the browser box and reach out to the user.

5. Relying on the dimensions of devices

You have no control over the size of your visitors’ browsers. Each manufacturer makes their devices with the dimensions that they believe are most appropriate. Actual page height does not take into account variables like toolbars or bookmark bars.

Visiting links through Twitter and Facebook apps, along with others, means being forced to use their custom chrome for the containment of web views. Your designs need to hold together, regardless of the specific dimensions you might be dealing with.

Additional Things to Consider for Your Mobile Website Design

How are menus handled?

Not all navigations look great "as is" when sites become responsive.

If you don’t handle this properly, the nav can break in unusual places on mobile screens. Think about the small screens when you are working on designing your site.

Take note of the hierarchy of your content.

If content won’t fit on smaller screens, you can drop it from the site. Widgets and sidebars might be hidden when scaled to fit mobile devices. You need to determine what you will allow to be unseen and what will remain.

Responsive themes like Prose will handle sidebars by dropping them below the content. Be sure that you check the order in which your content appears, regardless of the size of screen you’re catering to.

Does your design handle video?

If you use video a lot on your site, embedding itself can cause problems when you create responsive designs for your web pages. You’ll need to use specialized HTML so that your video content will be properly resized.

If you use YouTube, you are in luck. The embed code is already responsive (iFrame) so there is nothing extra you need to do!

Build prototypes

This can be somewhat time-consuming, but it can save you money in the long run. Prototyping tools like Keynote are helpful in studying the way your site will perform. You can even do prototype work in a browser with HTML.

Use different devices to preview your design.

When you’re checking to see how well your designs work, use different browsers, like an iPhone and a tablet. Use differing sizes, and if you’re working for a client, show then the different ways the site will behave.

Here's a great tool to test your site's design on multiple devices.

Test, test and retest

Development is critically important in the process of mobile website design. Test your site on every different platform you can find, and give accurate feedback to your developers. Be exact about the way you’d like interaction to work.

Responsive design can be tricky. Take your time on the project and make sure you get the outcome you desire.

Ready to Start Your Site?

If you haven't created your site yet, you can start at the domain registration step and learn more about what's involved.

If you want to learn more about building a website with WordPress, click here.

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