You finally got around to putting together a website. But no, you can't rest now. With a growing number of people connecting to the Internet via BlackBerrys, cellphones, and other mobile devices, small-business owners now have to make sure that they set up a mobile website, too, says Jeff Grosman, senior vice president of marketing at Network Solutions, a Web hosting and design company that recently expanded its offerings to mobile sites. By next year, 1.3 billion people around the world will have Internet-enabled mobile devices, according to research firm IDC.
But when users type a usual Web address into their mini-browsers, they probably won't see the same site they would if they were using a desktop or laptop computer, says Grosman. And most likely, it will take way too long to load. To test out how well your site translates, go to http://netsol.ready.mobi/ and type in the Web address. It will show you how the website appears to a mobile user and rate it from 1 to 5, based on how quickly it loads and how good it looks.
Small businesses have a big stake in mobile websites, says Grosman. Most people who use cellphones to browse the Internet are probably looking for local listings like stores and restaurants. A pizza place, for example, will want to make sure that its website pops up when a hungry, late-night patron is trying to check its hours, address, or phone number online. Plus, Grosman says, search sites like Google and Yahoo! plan to start listing mobile sites first when they detect that a search comes from those gadgets.
No need to get discouraged–the first step is doable. A business owner should register a domain name with an address ending in .mobi before someone else swoops in. That's something the business owner can probably do using an existing website host. Then comes the tricky part–figuring out how to build a mobile website. The sites need to be leaner so they can load faster, and they need to be user friendly enough for people who have a coffee cup in one hand and a cellphone in the other.
Because the technical requirements are different from those for building traditional websites, Grosman suggests that business owners use an expert if they don't want to study documents. Rather than getting your brother's friend to set it up, you should make sure that whoever builds the mobile site has a clear understanding of what works and what doesn't on cellphones. The goal is to make the site accessible by the greatest number of devices.
Look for a website designer you can go back to as the site evolves. Grosman says that while most mobile sites are pretty basic, they will evolve quickly to include more sophisticated applications and eventually even shopping. "What took 10 years to happen on a PC," he says, "will take one or two on mobile device."