Why You Need a Mobile Web Site

According to marketing research firm ComScore, as of December 2009 more than 234 million Americans were using mobile devices — 28 percent of them to surf the Web. That’s 60 million potential customers you could be missing out on if your Web site isn’t optimized to be viewed on a mobile device (such as a BlackBerry, an Android smart phone and/or an iPhone).

Even if only 20 percent of visitors to your Web site use a mobile device, if those people can’t access or view your site properly, your Web site is only 80 percent effective, stated Aaron Maxwell, the president of Mobile Web Up, a company that specializes in helping small and mid-sized businesses mobilize their Web sites.

Moreover, as the cost of accessing data on mobile devices decreases and the availability and quality of broadband for mobile devices increases, the number of people surfing the Web from a mobile device will go up, with the number of desktop or laptop-based visitors going down, said Annette Tonti, the CEO of MoFuse, a mobile application provider.

Your Web Site Wasn’t Designed to Work on a Mobile Device

Chris Sue, proprietor of Muddhouse Coffee hired Maxwell to create a mobile version of the site after Sue decided to check out his Web site on his new Palm Pre and realized he had a problem. Maxwell said this is typically how many business owners realize their sites are not optimized to be viewed on mobile devices.

“He was a little horrified that his Web site, which he spent a lot of time and money creating, was basically unreadable,” said Maxwell. It meant that Muddhouse Coffee’s target audience — office workers who were likely using their smart phones to find the nearest coffee place — weren’t finding — or going to find — Muddhouse.

Using Mobify, a popular mobile Web application (which offers users a variety of monthly pricing plans and features), Maxwell worked with Muddhouse Coffee to make the site just as attractive and easy to read on a mobile device as it is on a desktop or laptop computer.

“We used pretty much the same content,” said Maxwell. “We just changed the width and layout to fit onto a small screen and took out a few of the big images, which would take a while to load.” The result, he said, was a fast-loading, easy-to-read, yet still attractive, mobile site. [Note: see before and after pictures of Muddhouse Coffee’s mobile site].

It’s All About Convenience and Accessibility

Muddhouse Coffee isn’t the only small business to benefit from having a mobile site in addition to a regular Web site. Douglas Auto Group, a Volkswagon dealership whose customers are by definition mobile, also recently realized that having a mobile version of its Web site could be a tremendous asset.

“It’s all about convenience and being accessible,” explained Ken Beam, the creative digital marketing director at Douglas Auto Group. “We want clients to be able to reach us anytime, anywhere … but not all of our graphics could be correctly viewed on a phone. That’s where the mobile site comes in.”

Using MoFuse, Douglas Auto Group created a mobile site for its VW division. Now customers can browse Douglas’s new and pre-owned inventories, get a quote, schedule service, order parts and see specials right from “the palm of their hand,” said Beam.

That capability to deliver information any time, any place is probably the number one reason why it makes sense for businesses to invest in a mobile site — especially if their target audience is mobile.

“Our target market is the first-time home buyer or the first move-up generation,” explained Karen Powell, director of marketing for Lamar Smith Signature Homes. “So you’re talking 25-to-40-year-olds, and they live and die by their cell phones,” she said. “They’re on their phones all the time, more than their computers, and they use their phones to access everything.”

Moreover, said Powell, they want instant gratification. If they can’t find what they want right then and there, odds are they’re going to click away from your site and/or not buy from you.

Like many bricks and mortar businesses, Lamar Smith Signature Homes Sales Center is open from 10 to 5 during the week and from 12 to 5 on Sundays. Offering mobile sites for its Lost Plantation and Rice Creek communities means they can be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which just makes good business sense.

Powell, who also used MoFuse to create Lamar Smith Signature’s mobile sites, said the process was pretty easy and not that expensive. Check the monthly pricing plans and features.

Furthermore, to make it as easy as possible for customers to access their mobile sites, Powell included the mobile URLs in print ads and on the colorful, easy-to-read yard signs agents placed outside of homes. This let drive-by customers instantly access floor plans, interior shots and other information right from their phone, right from their car.

Does Not Having a Mobile Web Site Hurt Your Business?

“Absolutely,” said MoFuse CEO Annette Tonti. Moreover, business owners need to stop assuming that a site that was designed for a desktop or laptop (i.e., a 10-inch by 15-inch screen) will look the same on a 2-inch by 4-inch (or smaller) mobile browser. It won’t, she said.

Moreover, many of “the tools and technologies that are used to create a desktop Web site simply don’t work well on the 5,000 different handsets out there for mobile,” said Tonti. Your Web site uses Flash? Forget about viewing it from a mobile device; ditto Java script. “Those technologies were not built for the mobile Web,” she said. “They don’t work at all.”

The bottom line: If you want your Web site to look good on a mobile device, you need to have a mobile version of it. Fortunately, thanks to services like Mobify and MoFuse, that’s becoming easier and affordable.

Mobify and MoFuse were developed specifically for mobile devices. They come with built-in features that automatically detect the type of device a visitor is using and formats the content to suit that particular mobile browser (much like how you optimize a desktop Web site to make it viewable on different browsers).

That built-in device detection and content adaption is huge, said Muddhouse Coffee’s Maxwell, and it’s what makes it possible for him and people with less-advanced Web design skills, to quickly and inexpensively create mobile Web sites.

As the market for mobile devices continues to grow and prosper, so too will companies that cater to that mobile market.

“Let’s face it,” said Douglas Auto Group’s Beam. “Not everyone has access to a computer or laptop at any given time, but [almost] everyone has a phone. And I predict that in the next three to five years, mobile sites will be bigger than conventional sites. Go mobile — or get left behind.”

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to Small Business Computing and runs a blog for and about small businesses.

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Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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