Optimizing Your Website For Mobile Commerce

The First Step Towards Your New Mobile E-Commerce Platform Is Your Old Website

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

The next time you are sitting with your family, friends, or coworkers, and you notice that everyone is playing on their mobile phones or tablets, try this:

Tell them you want to have a little contest and everyone in the room can participate.

Then say “The first person to find [YourCompany] on their mobile device wins [insert small prize]. Ok? 1,2,3,go!”

Now start counting to yourself, or use the second hand on your watch to track roughly how many seconds it takes them to find your website on their devices.  (Note that a wi-fi connection may be a lot faster than in a car or restaurant). Jot down this number, and congratulate the winner.  If no one can find your website, you have a serious problem.  If they instead find your company Facebook or Linkedin, that’s not bad, but we are talking about websites in this particular contest, or paragraph.

‘Your foreshadowing is so deep’ the writer says to himself, sarcastically.

Next, ask them what they think of your website as it reads on their phones or tablets.  Can they even read it?  Are the photos and graphics loading properly on their various devices and browsers?  What happens when they pinch the screen to zoom in, or when they rotate their mobile devices by 90 degrees?  Can they watch videos or audio clips that you have posted to your website?  Can they email tech support if they have a problem?  Can they easily toggle between your company website, Facebook page, Linkedin page or Group, your Youtube channel, and The Twitter?

You will likely find that you family and friends will give you an honest answer, and sometimes a brutally honest opinion of your website.  Don’t argue with them about it, because this is good feedback, and you will want to play this game with them again after you optimize.  Tell them you appreciate their constructive criticisms.

At some point, you should also test your website in at least 3 different browsers on a PC and/or Mac and see if there are differences between the browsers.  Make a list of all the graphics that would not load, bad fonts, and missing links.  Record how long it takes each page to load, especially if there is a difference between browsers. This is your baseline.

Notice that I have not said a word yet about e-commerce.  Why not?  Well to be honest, if you have not yet optimized your website for mobile devices, you are not ready for ecommerce.  If your company is putting out press releases and blog posts that can not be read on any and every iPhone or Android device, then you can not expect to sell many products or services through those same devices, no matter what you do!

So what DO you do to make your website more mobile friendly?  According to this page by Google Developers, there are three different configurations for creating smart-phone optimized websites.  Pass this on to your webmaster:

  • Responsive design: serves the same HTML for one URL and uses CSS media queries to determine how the content is rendered on the client side. This removes the possible glitches of user-agent detection and frees users from redirects. This is Google’s recommended configuration.
  • Dynamic serving: serves different HTML for one URL depending on the user-agent. Use the Vary HTTP header to indicate you’re doing this.
  • Separate mobile site: redirects users to a different URL depending on the user-agent. Use bidirectional link annotations to indicate the relationship between the two URLs for search engines.

If this sounds too complicated for you, let me make it simple. I was able to update this website for mobile devices in under an hour, using a new theme from WordPress.com that was optimized for mobile. Done.

One more interesting note from the Google page I cited:

“We do not consider tablets as mobile devices because, among other reasons, they tend to have larger screens. Most tablet users expect to see tablet- or desktop-optimized pages when browsing the web. This means that, unless you offer tablet-optimized content, users expect to see your desktop site rather than your smartphone site.”

‘But what about phablets?’ The writer asks himself, sarcastically.

I digress.  Happy Memorial Day!  You can go back to playing on your phones now.   -pk