Here’s a riddle for you: what do a restaurant, park, bus, and a dinner table have in common? If you guessed, “Everyone sitting around / standing on / walking through them is staring at a smartphone,” ding ding ding! I’ll leave aside my musings on what this means for our society as a whole, and stick more to the basic idea here that this is proof that mobile usage is continuing to skyrocket.
In fact, over half of the entire earth’s population has a smartphone, with half of those users turning to their phones as their primary access route to the internet. That means that if you run a blog — especially one that comes with an attached store — it’s likely that the bulk of your readers are consuming your work on a smartphone. Problem is, if your blogsite isn’t optimized for mobile, it’s just about impossible for your users to interact with it — and the stats say they want to interact, as mobile sites have been shown to increase user engagement by up to 85%.
A clunker of a website that doesn’t scale for mobile also makes you look out of touch, and therefore perhaps not the most authoritative blogger to consume.
Altogether, these make for more than a few excellent reasons to make your site mobile friendly. Let’s take a look at 5 tips for optimizing your blog for mobile to get started.
1. Streamline your site
First things first: if your site is an unwieldy tangle of huge graphics and “click here!” buttons, your visitors are bound to get ticked off. Big photos often won’t load on small screens (or they’ll take forever in doing so, and you have about 3 seconds max to keep a visitor’s attention), and, um, have you ever tried to click a tiny button with massive thumbs?
Here’s what to look out for:
- Long Posts: If you’re going to do them, break them up with bolded headers and give yourself plenty of paragraph breaks. The rule of thumb is: if it’s easily skimmed, it can stay. If not, keep breaking things up.
- Flash and Java: iPhones don’t support Flash and many other phones don’t support Java, so avoid them both.
- File Sizes: As we mentioned above, graphics that are too big are too much of a risk, so make sure to keep your file sizes small.
- Number of Pages: Unlike on desktops, the majority of on-screen navigation on smartphones and tablets happens via scrolling. That makes a one-page website ideal for the mobile platform, as users can simply scroll down to find what they need. However, having other pages isn’t out of the question, just as long as they’re easy to find and click in a prominent menu. What you want to avoid is an overly categorized site that feels like a maze. And no pop up windows! (They’re obnoxious on a desktop, rage-inducing on mobile).
- Text Entry and Clicks: Got a form you want your visitors to fill out before going any further? A survey that requires a number of taps? Again, you can do both of these things, but keep them to an absolute minimum. Even the most user friendly mobile platform doesn’t negate the fact that text entry and precision screen tapping are both difficult on tiny mobile screens.
2. Make it responsive
If you haven’t heard of responsive design, you’ve definitely interacted with responsive websites. A responsive website is one that — you got it — responds differently based on the kind of device used to access the site. On a smartphone? The site automatically shrinks down to fit a smartphone screen, so you won’t have to scroll horizontally as well as up and down. On a tablet? A laptop? Same thing. Responsive design means automatic customization to suit each user, which is pretty nifty.
If your blog is hosted on WordPress, getting it to be responsive is pretty simple: from your admin panel, just go into the store and select a responsive theme that suits your style. Voila! You’re ready for mobile. Most other blog sites will also have responsive templates, but choices seem to be a bit more limited.
If you did your own web design or hired it out onto a different platform, responsive design can be a bit more tricky to implement, as you’ll either need to do a complete redesign or make some serious tweaks to your HTML and CSS. In that case, it may make more sense to design a separate mobile site to which users on mobile platforms will be automatically redirected, or to at least do this temporarily while you’re building your responsive site.
The other nice thing about having a separate mobile site is that you can maintain a non-mobile site that allows you to do whatever you want, flash video included. However, I personally think this is a null point, because the trend in UI design is purposely towards minimalism, and it’s not a good idea to think of your main site as a place where you have free reign to get overly complicated.
3. Integrate Instagram
Photos are essential for drawing in and maintaining the attention of your visitors (especially in longer blogposts), but legit photos come with hefty licenses and, as I mentioned above, if they’re too big or in the wrong format they’re not guaranteed to actually load on a mobile platform. But none of that matters if they’ve already been formatted to work on mobile devices via a third party site like Instagram.
With the help of a number of different Instagram widgets, you can easily stream your Instagram photos right into your blogposts (again, it’s extra-easy on WordPress). Alternatively, all public Instagram photos come with an embed code these days, so it’s easy to spot a photo you like on a friend’s feed and post it to your blog while still giving credit where credit is due.
4. Keep it secure
As the recent Heartbleed episode has proven, security is a huge problem on the internet in general, but it’s all the more so in the Wild West of mobile devices. A recent report from the mobile security company, Lookout, entitled “Mobile Threats, Made to Measure,” cites adware, chargeware and malware as the greatest risks to mobile users, especially those in countries where regulations are sparse. You can keep your own site from getting hacked and help to safeguard your mobile visitors by taking the following steps:
- Stay Up to Date. Has your platform notified you of an update? Great. Do it, now. Oftentimes updates contain patches for security flaws.
- Change Your Username and Password. Especially if your username is “admin” and your password is “12345.” It’s also a good idea to change your password on a regular basis.
- Dole Out Admin Privileges With Care. Sure you love your boyfriend now, but in 3 months? Yeah, you might not want him to have admin privileges to your blogsite. Keep it limited to the absolute minimum users.
- Scrutinize Your Advertisers. Ads are often targets for malware, so grill any advertisers on the security measures they take before signing up.
- Be Wary of Photos. They can hide malicious code. That’s why the Instagram trick mentioned above is a much better idea, as is purchasing photos through a respectable stock photo site.
- Stick With Widgets. Applications can be filled with junk, so when you’re looking to give your site a little more functionality or wow factor, stick with the widgets already vetted by your blog platform.
5. Test, test and test again
Of course, responsive design isn’t perfect, and it’s not 100% guaranteed it will resize to just the right size for every kind device and screen (hey, give the code a break, the mobile ecosystem is pretty diverse). As a first step, gather all of your friends with iOS, Android and even Blackberry smartphones and tablets to see how it all works. Does it look nice? Is all of the text readable? Do pictures and videos load across devices? Do the social buttons work?
An even better idea is to use an emulator — a tool that lets you simply and quickly test across an even broader range of devices.
These days, optimizing your blog for mobile is just as important as having a blog in the first place. With one, you’ll be far better able to engage readers and pull them deeper into your site. Plus, a responsive site just makes you look “with it” and someone deserving of a follow. Good luck!
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