As many of you know, Google recently started penalizing search engine rankings for sites that were not “mobile friendly”. None of us in the industry were really surprised by this move, seeing how the majority of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices and having a non-mobile friendly website can make the experience unbearably bad. However, this significant change in policy has forced website owners everywhere to begin implementing some costly upgrades.
(Side note: If you’d like to know whether or not your site passes the test, Google has provided a convenient little tool for you to check. Side note over.)
So, what are your options for making your WordPress site mobile friendly?
1. Create a separate, mobile friendly “clone” of your site
Support for this option has dropped off a bit, though it was very popular a few years back. The idea is basically to hire a company to “scrape” all of the content on your site and turn it into a more “mobile friendly” experience, then add some detection code to your home page to find out what device a visitor is using and serve the appropriate page. Typically the cloned site is hosted on a subdomain like m.yourdomain.com.
This is probably the cheapest/quickest solution (a quick Google search reveals companies that will even do it automatically), but it has some downsides. First, you now have basically two websites to maintain, so your update cost doubles. Second, this is making your mobile site a serious “afterthought” when, if mobile users are really in the majority now, they should probably be given priority service.
2. Install a mobile-friendly theme
One of the great beauties of WordPress is that themes can be swapped out so easily. For less than $100, you can purchase a pre-made mobile-friendly theme (almost all of them are now) and begin customizing it to fit your needs. Of course, you’ll need a little bit of know-how (or some professional help) to get it set up, but as long as you’ve got a relatively straightforward site, this could be a good option for you.
The downside of this option is that the mobile experience still won’t be really well thought out as you will basically be taking the design decisions that were made for a generic/template audience and assuming them for your own users. Still, it’s a little less costly than option #3 and for a simple site, it’ll get the job done.
3. Make your current theme “mobile/responsive”
This is the best option, but likely also the most costly. Rather than creating separate sites for mobile devices as in option #1, the best practice now is to create “responsive” sites that automatically adapt themselves to the width of whatever device they’re viewed on. This has become common practice because your website is now likely to be viewed on screens of literally all shapes and sizes, and “responsive” allows you to service all of them. Confused? Try resizing the window you’re reading this article in, or viewing it from a different device and you’ll see what I mean.
To do this, you’ll likely need the help of a professional WordPress designer and WordPress developer. The first step is to consider your users and how they’ll be using your site differently when on a mobile device. Next, go to work figuring out how to alter each element of your site so that it makes sense on a mobile device — Elements get smaller, text gets more succinct, buttons get bigger, menus collapse, etc.). Finally, work with a developer to implement CSS media queries that will change the page’s style sheet according to browser width.
Regardless of the option you choose, you’d better make it snappy! Google’s algorithm change has already gone into effect, and we’re already seeing 21% fewer non-mobile friendly URLs in search results. Let us know if we can help!