How to design a mobile-friendly website
There are three ways to create mobile-friendly websites, according to Petty.
1) You can set up a mobile-responsive website design using CSS3, the latest standard for Cascading Style Sheets. Responsive website design, Google's preferred optimization method for mobile device displays, automatically rearranges, hides or displays information across a variety of devices, including desktop PCs and smartphones. "All content is served equally," Petty says. "It's just rearranged or hidden depending upon the device."
Responsive design "allows you to make changes in one place and show them across all platforms," says Khan. It's a more elegant, streamlined way to serve mobile content and provides a "great user experience."
2) You can create a website that serves different HTML and CSS content and formatting through the same URLs to specific devices. Petty says this approach "is accepted but much more complicated to maintain" than responsive design.
3) You can build a separate, mobile-specific website with a different URL, such as m.companyweb.com. This is the least desirable option, according to Petty, because you have to maintain both a mobile and a desktop website. "It's easy for things to get out of sync, and you double your website maintenance," he says.
7 tips and resources for mobile-friendly websites
The search experts cited in this story offered a number of tips for organizations and individuals looking to optimize their sites for mobile.
- If you're just getting started with mobile optimization, "it's OK to work on key, high-traffic pages first and get them mobile-aware — especially if those pages are important for mobile search," Petty says.
- If your website was built using open-source WordPress, as many today are, it's easy to optimize for mobile using plugins such as WPtouch, according to DeMers. Also, some Web hosting services, including HostGator and Bluehost, "offer soup-to-nuts mobile-optimization for clients," he says. "I used HostGator's service recently for my site, and it worked like a charm."
- Businesses should recognize that they have different audiences on different devices, according to Petty. "Mobile users don't necessarily want to see all the same information a desktop user would see." For example, Petty says one of his favorite restaurants has a mobile site that differs from its desktop version, but the mobile site "doesn't have a phone number anywhere. This is a big mistake," he says. "If I'm out walking around downtown with my wife and want to call on my cell to get a reservation, I can't find their number on their site."
- You should get started now. "It's vital that you optimize your site well before April 21," Khan says, because "Google will need to crawl and index the mobile optimized version of your site, and this takes time. It won't be good enough to make changes the night before the update, as this won't give Google enough time to crawl and index the mobile-optimized version of your site" before the algorithm changes roll out.
- Moz's Mobile Optimization Guide and Google's Mobile SEO guide are also great places to find more details on mobile optimization.
- You can test your site using Google's Mobile-Friendly Test.
- And Google Webmaster Tools users can get Mobile Usability Reports with details on issues that may keep their sites from displaying properly on mobile devices.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.