When the iPhone 3 launched in 2009, the internet began to shift in a completely new direction. Companies looking to break into the increasingly popular world of mobile devices soon realized that most people weren’t willing to download mobile applications unless the service offered was sufficiently compelling. Instead, mobile users grew to expect that most information they needed could be found on the internet, via mobile browsers. This meant that companies had to provide some sort of mobile website experiences for their users, or risk losing out on a big, emerging population of users.
Fast forward a little over 6 years (wow, 6 years!), and now the internet caters fully to mobile browsing. Ideologies like mobile-first design and the increasing demand for User Experience designers show that mobile browsing has made its mark, and that the importance of mobile optimization is pretty clear.
Business owners, organization leaders, and even individuals with web-based projects, all can gain from making sure their websites are optimized for mobile use. Sites that have not been optimized for mobile browsers even face the risk of ranking lower in search engine indexing, in addition to being simply a pain to use for individuals on mobile browsers.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the different routes available for websites that are not mobile optimized, or are not well optimized.
Mobile App vs. Website
While it’s true that most users won’t be willing to download the app for a website or service they only use casually, there are some instances where it’s better to spend resources to build a mobile app. One of these scenarios is when you have a highly interactive experience for the user, like a mobile game. Other times, mobile apps better integrate with the experience than a website would, like in the case of some consumer goods apps (Amazon, Etsy, eBay). Another case would be when your product or service is tied to hardware that your user needs to interface with, like for remote controlled toys or smart appliances.
However, unless your product or service falls under one of those general categories, chances are a website is better suited to your needs. Websites generally benefit from being cheaper and more easily produced than applications. Also, if offline access isn’t a concern, and lots of visitors are your goal, a website will generally work better than an application.
If websites are a better fit, then making sure that site is responsive and mobile friendly are the next concerns.
What is a Responsive Site?
The idea of responsive web design is that as the screen size changes, the website responds to those changes to maintain the quality of the user’s experience. Generally, this consists of various elements on the page changing to best fit the current screen size, and to maintain the basic integrity of the site’s structure. Elements of the page like pictures, buttons, and text sections change to best display themselves on the available screen real estate, while still being easy to understand or manipulate by the user.
Essentially this means that a responsive website will work on most screen sizes, including mobile, without the need for creating an entirely new site just for smaller devices (as was popular at the outset of mobile browsing).
WordPress is a great tool for many reasons, but one is that it makes creating responsive websites extremely simple.
Making images responsive to the device’s screen size is something that web developers have struggled with since it was possible to incorporate images into websites. One approach is to simply resize images to fit their container using CSS. Another, arguably better approach entails sending an appropriately sized image to each device based on screen size.
WordPress has a feature that helps with this. It saves multiple versions of each image you upload, at different sizes, and then displays the correct image for the screen size, making sure your load times stay fast and that the images display properly no matter what the device specifications.
WordPress REST API
Another great feature of WordPress is the WordPress REST API, which makes data from a WordPress site super accessible in a simple format, meaning all types of web applications can easily use the data provided by a traditional WordPress installation. This allows for all different types of approaches to create beautiful, mobile optimized sites.
The WordPress REST API is an awesome and complex part of the WordPress platform, and I talk about it in more detail here.
Responsive Admin Interface
While it’s of the utmost importance to ensure that your users have a quality mobile experience, it’s always nice if you get to benefit from that mobile optimization as well. The WordPress Admin Interface is also responsive and mobile optimized, meaning that you can update and manage your WordPress site from any device. They also have a mobile application that provides an even nicer experience for those who need to be able to manage their sites on the go.
Optimizing an Existing Site
If you have an existing WordPress site, then all it takes to ensure great mobile experience is to pick out a great responsive theme. WordPress has long been hailed for it’s robust theming system, as well as a community of very active designers and developers that create themes for the platform.
Different levels of complexity exist in the world of WordPress themes. Some completely change the entire look and feel of the site and make it so it would be hard to tell that WordPress is even working under the hood. Others stay very simple, and just cater to the content of the site. There also exist themes at every price point, from free to thousands of dollars. All of these aspects contribute to the broad accessibility of WordPress for almost any project.
Hopefully this article has been helpful for those who are considering the need for a website, but haven’t yet taken the plunge. I also hope it has been informative about the details of the need for mobile optimization, the concept of responsiveness, and the WordPress platform in general.
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