Is My Site Mobile-Friendly? What can I do to make it?

Google pays its respects to Websitetology 2015.

Google pays its respects to Websitetology 2015.

In one of our most recent email newsletters, we pointed readers to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test so that people could check to make sure their sites weren’t being penalized. This link was far and away the hottest item in the email, with over 400% more clicks than any other link in the newsletter.

In spite of Google’s attempts at emphasizing the importance of mobile-friendly design, and later on their tough-love warnings that your sites will be punished after April 21st, the message seems clear to us: people, businesses, and their websites are being left behind and many are unsure what to do to catch up.

Some may breathe a sigh of relief upon receiving a passing mark from the test, but what if you’re left with a big, fat F?

Over at our agency, The Next Wave, we commonly receive requests to “add responsiveness to our existing site.” We understand that this kind of request comes from a good place: folks who are looking for an inexpensive and painless way into the mobile-friendly realm by “adding on” the mobile functionality.

The problem is that this is actually pretty difficult, in some cases impossible, to achieve from a designer and developer’s perspective.

The Grid: Love it or Leave it.

The Grid: Love it or Leave it.

Mobile-friendly designers will typically start designing a website by how it looks like on mobile devices, then expanding and scaling the design outwardly from there. The idea is that everyone will be looking at essentially the same website, and there is no inferior way to browse.

Mobile-friendly developers mostly code websites as a giant grid to complement this aforementioned approach to design. For instance, each item on a typical WordPress site: posts, sliders, headlines, forms, and etc. are placed inside various squares of a grid. This makes it very easy to scale websites. As the screen becomes larger and smaller, you can shift the grid around so that everything still fits, but the code itself stays the same underneath.

Most developers who are giving an old site true responsiveness are essentially coding a new site from scratch but still wrapping it up in your design that looked good back in 2010. It makes more sense to just go back to the drawing board and start fresh.

By now I can feel your frustration coming through. You’re likely thinking, “This is all well-and-good, but I still can’t afford the time/money to invest in a brand new website right now.” You might even be thinking that there’s nothing wrong with your site as it is, except for Google’s stupid new rule.

If you’re a WordPress user, there are a few plugins out there that can take your pages, posts, etc. and wrap it in a separate mobile site. Notably WPTouch—with a couple free themes—and the mobile theme feature in Jetpack. Desktop users will still see your same-old site, and mobile users will be served up something different.

Keep in mind, however, that your mobile users will be looking at an inferior version of your site that might not work very well. Eventually, you’ll have to move on.

It’s not as intimidating as it seems, we promise. In fact, you could do it yourself over a long weekend. That’s what our seminar can show you.

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Always use a child theme- it’s easy!

Your WordPress installation is made up of several parts:

  • The WordPress software
  • A MySQL database
  • A Theme
  • Plugins

Each does different things. And when it comes to updating, and auto-updating, you want to make sure you don’t break things.

First tip- always backup your site before doing any updates, theme changes or plugin installs. We’ve fallen in love with the UpdraftPlus backup plugin. We consider it an essential plugin for every installation- and you don’t need to buy the premium version, the free one works fine.

So, now that you have your installation backed up, it’s time to make a child theme. What is a child theme? It’s a copy of a few key files from your theme that hold your customizations. This way, when you update a theme, you won’t lose any of your custom files.

Now, that’s not to say updating a theme will lose customizations- many themes come with theme options for customizations and these files won’t be touched in an update, however, best practices still say create a child theme. If you’ve mastered FTP and a file management tool, you could do this manually- but there are plugins that will do this for you faster and easier.

The one we’ve come to like is Child Theme Creator by Orbisius although it’s not always perfect. Some of the “premium themes” have additional files that are required- and even come with their own installable child themes. Carefully look at your themes installation notes to see if yours falls into one of these categories.

Once you’ve created your child theme- you activate it, and go about your merry way modifying your theme in any way you like.

The safety and security of being able to upgrade your parent theme, without losing customizations is now yours.

 

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Why a mobile site is so important

If your website looks the same on a smartphone as it does on a computer, you’ve got a problem.

The latest data from a study shows that almost 25% of the 35% of Americans who own smart phones, use their phone as their primary way of accessing the Internet:

the Pew Internet Project finds that one third of American adults – 35% – own smartphones. The Project’s May survey found that 83% of US adults have a cell phone of some kind, and that 42% of them own a smartphone. That translates into 35% of all adults.

Our definition of a smartphone owner includes anyone who falls into either of the following two categories: One-third of cell owners 33% say that their phone is a smartphone. Two in five cell owners 39% say that their phone operates on a smartphone platform these include iPhones and Blackberry devices, as well as phones running the Android, Windows or Palm operating systems.

Several demographic groups have high levels of smartphone adoption, including the financially well-off and well-educated, non-whites, and those under the age of 45.

Some 87% of smartphone owners access the internet or email on their handheld, including two-thirds 68% who do so on a typical day. When asked what device they normally use to access the internet, 25% of smartphone owners say that they mostly go online using their phone, rather than with a computer. While many of these individuals have other sources of online access at home, roughly one third of these “cell mostly” internet users lack a high-speed home broadband connection.

via Smartphone Adoption and Usage | Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The use of WordPress as a CMS (content management system) makes it easy to have your content display one way for a computer screen and a different way for a phone or tablet through the use of simple plugins.

  • For tablets, OnSwipe is a solid solution that gives your site a magazine feel.
  • For phones, WPTouch is a bit of a pain to configure but does the job.

There are also some themes that are purely built for mobile, but, that’s information for another post.

 

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