Apr 26, 2016

Regarding Website Design & Development - What Does "Mobile Friendly" Mean?

If you currently own a website or are thinking about having one designed/developed for you, there is a "buzzword" called "mobile friendly" that you may hear/read a lot about. Probably more so since APRIL 2015 when Google began to include this factor into their search engine indexing algorithm (which among other things, decides what websites rank highest on mobile devices for a specific search). 
Desktop vs Mobile Version of Website
But what does "mobile friendly" really mean?
MOBILE FRIENDLY means a website was designed and developed so that the site will function and display properly on any sized device. A viewer may have to zoom, pinch and scroll, but they can navigate the site and see/read text and images. However, certain websites just don't function properly (or at all) when viewed on a smartphone. An "all Flash" website, popular years ago mostly because of it's graphical "wow factor", is the perfect example of a site that is not mobile functional (since most phones & many tablets can't view .swf files).
RESPONSIVE DESIGN means a website was designed and developed so that the layout is "elastic" or "fluid" (versus "fixed") so it will expand or contract according to the monitor size/shape used by the viewer.  Although considered by some today (2016) as the ideal way to build a website, control is lost over the display of the site layout, look and design. With a responsive website, what might be a nice looking "normal" paragraph of many devices/monitors can result in a single horizontal line of words spanning the entire width on a large desktop monitor OR a very long vertical line of single words per line on a small phone.
ADAPTIVE DESIGN: means a website includes a special piece of code to automatically determine the monitor size used by the viewer.   If the viewer is using a desktop computer, the standard website will be presented.  If however the viewer is using a small monitor device, such as a smartphone or small tablet, an alternate (mobile version) website will instantly be presented.
MOBILE WEBSITE: means a separate website designed and developed specifically for smartphones and tablets. Rather than being exact duplicates of the main (desktop) version, mobile websites are commonly stripped down (in a good way) versions - few if any "bells and whistles", have limited features and may include only highlights of company, products, and services, rather than highly detailed information. Also, larger font, smaller images, links spaced farther apart than normal, are some traits of mobile-only websites.  Sometimes mobile sites will have a unique URL (m.abc-company.com) but many will simply be included in the root directory of the website hosting server of the main site (and appear automatically & instantly when a viewer opens the site on a mobile device). Industry best practices recommend including LINKS that can be easily found and clicked on should the viewer wish to use the desktop version.
MOBILE FIRST: means a website is designed and developed with mobile users as their primary target. Ride sharing websites are the perfect example because their users are almost exclusively mobile and NOT viewing the site on a desktop computer.  If the company has a desktop site at all, it will function like a traditional mobile website - few bells and whistles, highlights only, limited features, etc.
MOBILE APP: means a software application must be downloaded and installed on a mobile device.  Mobile Apps display and function differently than a website, and this can result in a better or worse user experience depending on the person. The company will usually also have a separate mobile site, in addition to a desktop site, so that the website visitor can decide which they like best.
To help website developers and owners determine if their site is mobile friendly in the eyes of GoogleBot, Google created an online check tool to check to see if a website passes or fails the Google Test. 
OK OR NOT? It's important to understand that a website tested may indeed be mobile friendly (according to the industry standard accepted definition above) yet not conform to Google's primary criteria, such as: 1) text large enough for most to read, 2) mobile viewport set, 3) links spaced far enough apart for easy clicking, 4) content width fits screen