Mobile-Friendly Web Development

Mobile is a must

Mobile-friendly websites and apps are a must for the modern business. Yes…I said a “must.” If you have a website that looks terrible or loads slowly on a smartphone, it’s about time to have it redesigned using mobile-friendly web development techniques. Don’t be cheap or lazy on this; mobile is an increasingly important part of the way people use the web.

Woman using mobile device

Mobile-friendly, for this post, means primarily that your site:

  • Adapts its layout to different devices and screen sizes
  • Keeps performance in mind for devices that are likely to be on low-bandwidth networks
  • Has highly focused functionality, optimized for users on-the-go

Buzzword alert

It’s worth explaining the following concepts briefly before we move on.

Responsive design – Simply put, a design approach where your site or app has some code that tells the web browser how to fit the content of your site on the screen regardless of device size. For an example of excellent responsive web design, visit Apple’s site on your mobile device and laptop. Responsive design is the current best practice (thanks, Ethan Marcotte!), and it’s a brilliant idea that’s here to stay.

Mobile-first design – this isn’t really a particular technical definition…it’s more of a design approach. Mobile-first design urges you to think about the mobile experience before you do anything else. The constraints of mobile, such as small screens and potentially slow network speeds, can help you narrow your concepts down to a very tight focus. The basic idea is the following: if you get your mobile design right, it’s easy to scale up your design to work well on larger devices.

M-dot design – This refers to detecting users that are on mobile and redirecting them to a separate version of your site that is specifically designed for smaller screens…usually m.yoursite.com (hence the name “m-dot”). At the time of this writing, UPS is still doing this on its website. I don’t recommend this approach for a number of reasons. An m-dot site almost always means you have two different websites to build and maintain, which can increase your total cost of ownership by a factor of two or more. M-dot sites are also usually unattractive. This is probably because it’s an outdated design methodology, but m-dot sites, for whatever reason, usually are in the “kinda ugly” and difficult-to-use category.

I believe that users will start to avoid m-dot sites as they become more discerning.

“Mobile is eating the world”

mobile-device-on-tableAccording to Benedict Evans, a brilliant mobile and technology analyst from Andreessen-Horowitz, mobile technology is rapidly changing the way the world uses the web. More and more customers are visiting your site from their phones and tablets.

Current data from StatCounter, an organization that tracks several million sites globally, show that mobile traffic represents 36% of global internet traffic, and mobile traffic in the United States is about 27% and rising. All signs indicate that you should bet big on mobile.

Why? Because users are quick to abandon a site if it doesn’t adapt to their mobile device. Remember the last time you visited a non-mobile optimized site? All of the pinching-to-zoom and scrolling around the page? All of the squinting? All of the forms that didn’t work? Maybe the page didn’t load at all.

Ugh.

Naturally, the first thing most people do when they encounter one of these nightmares is go find another site that can help them find what they’re looking for without all of the “friction.”

Consider this

Also, for a growing percentage of people, their phone is their only way of getting online. This trend is increasing. If you have a crappy mobile experience, you’re effectively taking some percentage of your target market and making it hard (or impossible) for them to use your site or become your customer.

If you put together the growth in traffic and the growing intolerance for sites that aren’t mobile-friendly, you can conclude two things:

  1. Ignoring mobile design and development is costing you customers
  2. The loss of customers is accelerating

Granted, those are pretty pessimistic ways to look at it. If you’re convinced it’s worth a change, let’s review some of the positive aspects of a great mobile experience:

  • Great mobile experiences delight your customers. People can visit your site, read your blog, buy your stuff, or utilize your web-enabled services on-the-go.  The end result with a mobile-friendly site is that it will keep your users on your site longer, coming back more frequently, and potentially spending more on your products or services for every visit to your site.
  • This is often under-estimated, but doing a mobile-first design strategy means you get to focus on what’s really important for your site or app to do. Honing your site’s purpose and messaging is a must for good mobile design, so it’s often a great exercise to think about design in terms of mobile.
  • Also, if you have a website for your business, you probably would like for Google to feature you high on its list of search results. Since the 21st of April in 2015, Google has started favoring mobile-friendly sites over non-mobile-friendly sites in its search results.

So, if you’re still reading you may be convinced. It’s time to get mobile-friendly. You will most likely need to work with a code-savvy designer or a design-savvy developer to make your new mobile-friendly site work well across the plethora of available devices and browsers.

In conclusion

I strongly recommend building a mobile-friendly site now. If the only things you do are develop your site with mobile responsive techniques and a mobile-first design approach, you’ll be so far ahead of most business sites out there on the web.

Although it may be difficult, I urge you to think of it as a strategic investment in your business. Don’t get left behind as your customers, and the world, move on to a new paradigm of a mobile web.

I’ll leave you with this quote from comScore’s excellent report, titled Number of Mobile-Only Internet Users Now Exceeds Desktop-Only in the US:

…smartphones and tablets (particularly the former) are becoming — or rather, have already become — our primary access point to the internet. For the longest time, the desktop computer was that vehicle connecting us all online, but the convenience of being able to communicate on-the-go, 24/7, and with all of the world’s information in our pocket gave the smartphone certain technological advantages over the fixed web. These benefits coupled with advancements in 4G data speeds, smaller-but-more-powerful processor chips, and in effect, thinner and lighter phones, all enabled the smartphone to become the digital device of choice in recent years.

 

Fixed-Price Web Development

Are you hesitant to agree to an open-ended contract? I am.

That’s why fixed price web development is better for the customer in the majority of situations.  This is a large debate among my colleagues, but hopefully after reading the rest of this post you’ll agree with me.

Chances are, before you agree to buy a product or service, you like to know how much you’re going to spend and when it will be delivered to you.

Why should your relationship with your web developer be any different?

In my mind, fixed-price web development is the only way to go. In fact, if you work with me; fixed-price is the default. The rest of this post explains why.

If you’re short on time, here’s the gist of it. Fixed-price web development:

  • Gives a much better idea of the total cost of a project
  • Forces the client and the developer to determine clear outcomes
  • Focuses on results, not effort

Know the cost before you start

By definition, with fixed-price web development you’ll have a much better idea of the total cost of a project. You define an outcome, and the developer quotes you a price. It’s simple and explicit pricing.

Let’s compare this to hourly contracts. You’ll ask “what’s your hourly rate?” The developer will respond, and you’re likely to follow up with “…and how many hours is it going to take?”

With some math, it’s easy to deduce a total price from those two numbers. True. However, you have a much weaker form of guarantee in this case: you have an implicit price.

I’ll take explicit over implicit every time.

Establish outcomes from the start

Agreeing to a fixed-price contract helps you to clearly define requirements. Fixed-price means you need to have a clearly defined set of requirements; whereas in most hourly projects the tendency is to jump right in and figure it out as you go.

With a solid fixed-price contract, you’ll do up-front work to rigorously define what the deliverables are.

However, this does not mean that you are limited to your initial ideas. It’s very easy to write an addendum and redefine requirements and add to a fixed-price job.

Focus on results; not on effort

Fixed-price development requires a focus on successful outcomes. Conversely, hourly pricing tends to focus on the amount of time spent (effort). What would you rather pay for?

This focus on results encourages efficiency on the part of the developer. If I know I am getting a certain amount of compensation to deliver a certain set of results, then those results are where I will focus.

Similarly, focusing on outcomes incentivizes a developer to deliver quickly, since final payment will be tied to those results.

In conclusion

Fixed-price web development is the best way to work with a developer.  You should demand it from your developer; if they won’t oblige, fill out the form below to get in touch.