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Designing for Mobile Friendly and Beyond

by | May 5, 2015

Last year, Google changed its mobile search algorithm to reward sites that were developed and designed for mobile devices. In general, mobile-friendly sites are now ranking higher, surpassing their non-mobile-friendly competition to reach a wider audience. Now is the time for mobile design.

The best approach to (re-)designing for mobile is to strategize, understand possible approaches, and invest in solid design and development. Here are a few things you should know before proceeding with a mobile site design:

Strategize First
A design and development firm evaluates your mobile strategy holistically. This includes listening, gathering analytics information, and discussing options with you. Your mobile strategy centers on your goals for your site: What do you want visitors to do?
– Donate?
– Read and share articles?
– Complete forms?
– Watch videos?
– Contact you?

Once you flesh out your goals, you now have the foundation for your mobile strategy, which will guide the design and development of your mobile site. (Contact us if you would like our white paper that goes in more depth.)

Understanding Mobile Designs
There are three mobile web-design approaches: responsive, adaptive and parallel mobile sites.
Responsive Web Design (RWD)—A responsive design changes in size and layout to meet the requirements of the mobile screen size. Designers only need to create one template.
Adaptive Web Design (AWD)— Also know as “dynamic serving”, will show users a different template (e.g., phone, tablet, or desktop) depending on what kind of device they are using. Only one web URL, or address, is used.
Parallel Mobile Site—A parallel mobile site is really just two or more different websites—one created for mobile, one created for desktop—with different domain names.

The image below illustrates nicely the general differences between the three mobile web design approaches. A very useful article written by State of Digital effectively explains their pros and cons.


Omni Studio 1

RWD is the industry standard for those who want their sites to be uniform across all devices (desktop and mobile), and it is the best way to simultaneously improve user experience, please search engines like Google, and keep your mobile audience coming back. It can be relatively complex to build, but it is relatively simple to maintain, and whether you are transforming a current site or starting from scratch, it is the best way.
AWD is a good option for tailoring mobile content specifically to mobile users, and it works well if you want to give your audience limited options for navigating your site (e.g., just a landing page, contact information, and donation page). But, although AWD can be very quick to implement, it may be more time-consuming to manage, and the bottom line is that it is not Google’s preferred method and it leaves you with the burden of updating multiple sites (Do you really have the bandwidth?).

Parallel mobile sites are, generally speaking, not a good option for contemporary websites.

Avoid Quick Fixes
There are inexpensive, quick fixes for websites; however, we do not recommend them because they are cookie-cutter approaches. Companies offering these quick fixes will duplicate a portion of your site and host it on a separate server. Now scaled-back, your mobile site will be functional, but it will have many drawbacks too:
– Limited design elements
– Limited customizability
– Geared toward GoogleBot, not humans
– Lesser user experience
– Often do not account for your customized mobile strategy
– Won’t transform your whole site, only pieces of it
– Burdens you with another site to maintain
– Ties you to new URL addresses and hosting services for your mobile site (added cost)

While the end product is the minimally viable mobile-friendly label you desire, the quick-fix method will lack human appeal and fail to meet the highest standard of website design that Google, and the rest of the design and development community, consistently recommends: Responsive Web Design.

Mobile Site Tools You Need
The “Mobile Friendly” label is Google’s proxy for a satisfactory mobile user experience (UX) and site performance, and Google has gone to great lengths to help us all understand what factors are important. Look up these extremely helpful tools, and email us if you would like our white paper that discusses how to efficiently use them before you start (re-)designing your mobile site:
– Mobile-Friendly Test
– PageSpeed Insights
– Google Webmaster Tools
– Your Short Design Checklist

To go beyond RWD and mobile-friendliness and deliver the best possible mobile user experience and website performance, your web designer should:
– Incorporate your mobile strategy
– Use Google’s tools
– Create a visually pleasing mobile site using eye-catching images, appealing typography, properly sized objects, and eye-focusing interstitial spaces
-Make the site easy-to-use and present a clear path for users to get what they want

Before (Re-)Designing
Make sure you have considered your mobile strategy carefully, and when in doubt on which design approach to use, choose a mobile responsive web design over all others.

Would you like us to take a look at your site? Contact us.  We’re offering a free site review and estimate.

(This post provided by OmniStudio, a Capitol Communicator sponsor.)

About the Author

OmniStudio, Inc.

OmniStudio, based in Washington, D.C., has been instrumental in the communications activities of local, national and international institutions for more than three decades. Omni shares the goals and passions of our clients, especially in the areas of education, health care, the environment and human rights. OmniStudio provides strategy, content, design, and development for online and print media such as Websites, digital apps, publications and marketing materials.


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