My prior blog post on mobile/responsive provided evidence that more than half off the web sites out there are still providing a shabby, oversized and awkward experience to smartphone visitors. In the United States, 25% of internet users only access the internet on a mobile device, making up a huge, and still growing, segment of site visits for nearly every industry. It is very clear that a positive mobile experience is valuable, so why aren't more sites simply switching over to responsive websites?
The main reason there hasn't been an across-the-board conversion to responsive is that it is not possible. There is no quick, easy way to do this. Using a medical analogy, upgrading your site to responsive is not a face-lift, it's open heart surgery. Many CMS vendors will tout clever features for mobile browser detection and managing mobile versions of sites, but these are largely irrelevant to the core task of the responsive designer. You need to rethink the fundamental layout that will govern every page of your site. The task is so large, that most companies we work with tend to only take it on when undertaking their 3- to 5-year total site redesign.
Even if you aren't a web designer, you may have noticed rise of certain mobile website styles over the last year, such as the absence of sidebars, horizontally-centered body content, vertically long pages, less dense text, larger images and elimination of pop-up mega-menus. None of these changes are required to achieve a responsive site, but these stylistic simplifications allow a page to work the same on both smartphones and desktops without a lot of complicated gimmickry. For example, menus with 25 items and images may work fine on a desktop, but they perform badly and are awkward to use on a mobile phone.
You are probably asking yourself if there is a half-step, a way to make my site more mobile friendly without rebuilding entirely from the ground up? The answer is maybe. In these scenarios, it may be feasible to create a parallel mobile version of the site, a so-called "m-dot,” containing the most crucial elements for mobile access optimized for mobile device touchscreens. Such a parallel site might include things like business address, phone number and hours of operation, but redirect a user into the full size web site for things like technical documentation and biographies of the executive team. This approach requires discipline and thoughtfulness to trim back content but can provide a faster and less expensive transition before the inevitable ground-up rebuild. The cost of an m-dot might be one-fifth of the cost of a full rebuild for a medium-sized site.
Hopefully this approach can buy you a year or more to gather your budget and make the big leap into the 21st century Internet. In an era where your physical storefront takes a backseat to your virtual storefront, it's definitely time to take the same kind of pride and thoughtfulness in your mobile website as you would designing your company's headquarters.