The Hostway Blog

Tips and Best Practices for Designing Mobile-Optimized Sites

These days, a rising number of users are engaging with companies primarily – and sometimes exclusively – via their mobile devices. Due to this shift, brands boost their focus on their mobile presence, and build a website that is specifically optimized for the mobile platform.

But what does this mean exactly? How can designers be sure they are creating the best possible mobile website? By considering the following design tips and strategies, website creators can help guarantee that their mobile initiative is not only successful, but geared especially for mobile users.

First things first
As mobile becomes a more critical aspect of a business's online presence, a growing sector of the design community is taking a "mobile first" approach to creating websites. According to online marketing and search engine optimization agency Distilled, this strategy involves creating the mobile version of the website first, and then building the desktop version from the mobile template.

"There's nothing you can put on a mobile page that can't be loaded on the desktop version," Distilled pointed out. This approach is especially helpful for responsive and dynamically served sites, where the content on the mobile version of the page should be identical to the content on the desktop page."

Many experts recommend creating complementary desktop and mobile website versions that integrate similar color schemes and brand messaging. This assures users that they've reached the correct brand's page. This concept is much easier to integrate when the mobile version is created first and the desktop website is built off of it.

Responsive, shiftable grid layouts
Designers should also consider how their website content will be displayed on different devices. Many smartphone models differ in their screen size, not to mention the much larger displays of tablets. Copley Broer, CEO of LandlordStation, a property management software development company, told CIO that to ensure that content is displayed appropriately, designers should leverage responsive frameworks.

"These frameworks are basically simple ways to lay out elements in a grid and then shift that grid based on different screen sizes, so that elements on a large monitor are spaced just as well as they would be on an iPad [or smartphone]," Broer said.

Performance can help a website stand out
As the amount of mobile-based Internet traffic increases, so too does the number of mobile websites and applications available to users. Currently, there are more than 4 million mobile-optimized websites, according to Adobe's Andrew Henderson. In this way, designers have their work cut out for them when it comes to ensuring that their page stands out.

One way to differentiate a website is through performance. Many users won't wait for more than a few seconds for a webpage to load before they abandon it in favor of something else. This makes performance critical – not only for the design processes, but for quality assurance as well. Before the mobile website is rolled out, QA teams should be sure to thoroughly test the page for load times and performance under extreme usage levels to be sure it functions as it should in any situation.

Additionally, Henderson recommends balancing design elements in a way that drives optimal performance of the website on the mobile platform.

"Mobile devices are very underpowered compared to traditional computers. so the performance impact of design elements is even more exacerbated on mobile devices," Henderson point out. "It is important to balance design directions with the realities of what can be executed well on mobile devices."

Keep it simple
Above all, mobile websites should leverage a simplified design that is clean and streamlined. Because the mobile platform offers capabilities that aren't possible on desktops, some designers tend to go overboard with graphics, video or other content. A more focused design will ensure that the website loads quickly on mobile devices, and that users are engaged right away. Furthermore, a busy or cluttered page only serves to distract from the brand message.

"Remember that you only have a few seconds to convey who you are as a company," noted Caxy Interactive founder and CEO Michael LaVista. "This is true for any website design, but is particularly important when you are designing for smaller devices."

Taking these tips and best practices into consideration can considerably help design teams create a mobile website that stands out from the crowd, and will help further their brand.