Going Mobile Part III: WordPress and Responsive Design

Going Mobile Part III: WordPress and Responsive Design

The final article in the mobile optimisation miniseries will deal with a content management system of choice for many small businesses, WordPress, and ways to either adapt your existing website to the requirements of mobile devices, or making a mobile optimised WordPress site from scratch. We won’t be getting too technical, but will instead only provide you with some food for thought and try to give you a better understanding of your options.

WordPress, with its variety of free or paid themes, relatively simple interface, adequate versatility and a wide array of plugins that can help you easily modify your site to a new set of requirements, has been a very popular choice among small business owners, and justifiably so. If the site is intended only for the presentation of your business and won’t be used for ecommerce or something similarly demanding, site development and maintenance can be performed by someone who doesn’t have to be too tech savvy. This allows small business owners to keep site management in-house, without the need to hire additional, expert IT staff. Making sure that the site is also responsive does complicate the matters a bit, but there are still some workarounds that would allow you to enjoy the benefits of a mobile optimised website without having to deal with too much (or even any) code.

Modifying an Existing Website

While it is recommended to build a responsive site from the get go, for a number of reasons, you may need a temporary solution in place until you can get around to doing so. One of the most commonly used solutions in this case is installing a mobile plugin. These plugins afford people viewing your website on a mobile device an optimised view of the website, and can actually provide a relatively decent user experience. Naturally, they are just to be considered a quick fix, and probably won’t serve you too well in the long run, but you may want to consider one until you get a more permanent solution in place.

Building a New Website

By far the best option would be to make the site responsive from the start and there are several, more or less customisable ways to do this. Depending on your particular requirements, and the level of complexity and unique demands of your website you may want to go with one of several options.

1) Using one of a number of available responsive WordPress themes.

There are quite a bit of them out there, free and paid, and if your site doesn’t have some special requirements when it comes to functionality or layout, it probably won’t be too difficult for you to find a theme that meets your demands perfectly.

2) Using a Starter Theme or Framework

If you need a somewhat more personalised theme, instead of choosing a finished one, you can try and experiment with one of the available starter themes. Currently, Underscores seems to be one of the more popular choices, but there is a wide variety out there, so make sure to check enough of them out to get an idea of the options you have at your disposal. Starter themes come with basic functionalities and layout and are, basically, a skeleton of a theme, which you can modify to your heart’s content, and create something decently personalised on the rough sketch that was provided for you.

Frameworks, on the other hand, provide you with particular elements that you can add to your theme, and often come with starter themes of their own. Twitter’s Bootstrap is one of the examples, but you’ll want to find frameworks that meet your exact needs. You might want to look at frameworks as libraries containing page and site elements that you can add to your theme without too much hassle.

3) Building the Site from Scratch

The most advanced option, and one that allows for the greatest level of customization. If you can do this you are probably not reading this article, and if you can’t, the only help that we can give you here is to recommend hiring a capable developer who will carefully consider your requirements and who will remain available for maintenance and major site updates. However, most small businesses don’t need this level of customisation.

General Considerations and Advice

If you do try and make your own theme, ether with the use of frameworks or not, there are quite a bit of issues that you have to be prepared for.

First of all, the difference in screen size is not the only thing that differentiates mobile from desktop browsing. You also have to think about the input method (touch VS mouse cursor), expected connection speed and similar. All of these differences have to be accounted for if you want a pristinely smooth user experience.

Testing is essential, and while there are some tools that allow you to view your website in different screen resolutions, such as Screenfly, for instance, there are other aspects of a website that could get lost in translation, which is why it would be ideal if you could test the website on as many devices as possible. Getting your employees to ask their friends and family for a quick peek at the site from their mobile devices could reveal potential issues without too much inconvenience for anyone.  Naturally, apart from testing the site on different devices, you also have to think about all the available browsers. Sure, the number of people still using Internet Explorer 7 is probably not too high, but if your site experiences problems when someone tries to view it in Opera, you might need to take prompt action if you don’t want to lose out on a fair number of potential customers. Of course, you need to constantly keep testing the website, the fact that it works just fine today doesn’t mean that it also work that way tomorrow.

Finally, one of the frequently given pieces of advice is to start from mobile version, as that is the most demanding one due to the smallest screen, and once you have that set, work on larger screen (tablet, desktop and anything in between) appearances of your website.

This is where we end our miniseries. While this doesn’t even begin to scrape the complex subject of mobile optimisation and responsive web design, we hope that we have given you at least an idea of some of the areas most pertinent to small business owners, and that we have inspired you to get better acquainted with a notion that mustn’t be ignored if you want to stay competitive.

More from this series:

Going Mobile Part I: Adoption Rates and User Behaviour
Going Mobile Part II: When Optimising for Mobile, Go Responsive
Going Mobile Part III: WordPress and Responsive Design