Do We Really Need to Optimize Our Sites for Mobile Phones?

Daniel

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If you have a website or blog, you probably already heard about the importance of optimizing it for mobile phones, creating a specific version for the iPhone and so on.

I won’t challenge the fact that mobile devices are more popular than ever, and that as we go forward more and more people will be using them to get online.

What I am not sure is if webmasters really need to worry about that trend when creating and managing their websites.

One possible scenario: within five years or so, when the number of users accessing your website via a mobile device will be big enough to matter, those devices will no longer need a special version of your website anyway.

If you think about it, the iPhone and similar smart phones are closing the gap from mobile phones to computers. You can already visit most websites with those devices without needing to load a special version of the site. The software is definitely there, and the hardware is arriving.

Maybe within five years most mobile devices will be able to load websites just like your desktop computer does today. If that is the case, webmasters will be able to keep focusing on building usable and accessible websites, and that is it. There will be no need to create special mobile versions because mobile devices will behave just like any other computer.

What do you think?

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48 Responses to “Do We Really Need to Optimize Our Sites for Mobile Phones?”

  • Cheap iPhone 3g

    I use my phone to search the web just as much as i use my computer so it sounds like a good idea. No idea how to do it though. Phones won’t overtake computers though.

  • SEO Quotes

    Its easy to get distracted by the high end phones but the vast majority of phones are a long way from being capable of rendering a normal website in a reasonable time. I might look into it down the line .

  • Andrew

    All depends on your site’s niche and target audience. Say a restaurant website featuring a venue’s location and menu. Think of how many people are accessing this on their mobile on the way to the restaurant or looking online in their car for a bite to eat.

    Not everybody has an iPhone, G1, or blackberry, there’s still a lot of people out there with non-smart phones that they use to quickly look something up on the internet.

    Optimizing our site for mobile internet browsers does not necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. Unless your site’s design is fairly complex than it’s pretty easy to add a mobile css stylesheet that just slims down div’s (or tables but please don’t say you still use tables for design) and hides things a mobile device wouldn’t need, and yet would be a desired luxury for desktop viewers.

    As for speed, now a days with 3G I don’t think this is a large concern as long as our pages are using non-deprecated markup and properly style the page (i.e. no useless css, filing down the size of your pages as much as possible, not using tables and frames).

    I think something we need to focus on more if to avoid using Flash or at least supply a reliable substitute for devices that don’t have Flash. We can shrink the size of a transistor by 1.8 times every year. So it won’t be long until we see mobile devices with enough RAM capability to allow Flash, Java, and even extensions to mobile browsers. Flash is nice for fancy web 2/3.0 sites that look stunning on a full 1280x800px screen, but we still need to worry about Flash content that mobile users might want to view.

    Sites that hae at least 20% of their target audience on mobile devices should avoid Flash or supply an equivalent substitute, luckily you can count on mobile devices at least having Javascript now.

  • Tyler

    Yes and no – optimizing for mobile means optimizing design. I never see a day when a 1024 wide website will be readable on a smartphone.

    Right now we have to zoom in to read content. A properly optimized site would make browsing easier, and that’s what we should be shooting for…

    Plus, in five years will people even be using laptops or will all searching be done from mobile devices?

  • Martin Higham

    Its easy to get distracted by the high end phones but the vast majority of phones are a long way from being capable of rendering a normal website in a reasonable time.

    Many operators are deploying content adaptation engines from the likes of Openwave, Novarra and Infogin that convert standard websites to being capable of being displayed on a large range of handsets. Google Mobile and Opera Mini perform similar transformations.

    Ask yourself if you would rather be in control of how you site displays on a mobile device or leave it to a third party piece of software (however good that may be) to make that decision for you.

  • Z Noirlette

    This was very useful thank you.

  • Rob

    I intend to, though according to my Google Analytics I only get about 1 or 2 iphone hits a week. Maybe I could make it 10. Once it’s coded, it’s automated so what’s the big deal. Should be an easy market to capture.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Kevin, last time I checked it was below 5% .

  • Kevin

    I am reading this through my G1 as we speak. I run the WPtouch theme for mobile browsing on my own site but I actually prefer to see full versions of a site when I browse on my own. However, I implemented a mobile version to give viewers a choice.

    I guess it all depends on the type of visitor you attract to your site. If it is a tech savy audience then I imagine most of them would already have a mobile device that permits them to view your full version without any issue.

    Daniel, just out of curiosity do you know the percentage of visitors that view DBT using a mobile browser?

  • Icant internet

    I also agree, modern mobile phones are closing the gap between mobile and desktop. But not yet completely, for instance, mobile safari is great, but can’t show flash, yet. So, you have the choice, wait for it to show flash, which will come, without any doubt, or optimize your site now, and grab those mobile users now.

  • Tyrone

    Well I think we should optimize our website for mobile phones. This will help in increasing the traffic even through mobile.

  • Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

    If you use WordPress, you can simply activiate the WordPress for Phone plugin at

  • WordPress Themes

    I think we need to optimize our website for mobile phone. It not only brings us more traffic but also make us more professional for our reader.

  • Tom | Easy Googler

    I agree with Daniel on this one. Technology will catch up. I checked out my site not too long ago on my friend’s iPhone, and it’s accessible enough. The iPhone has a larger display than other mobile phones, but I can only see phone displays getting bigger and higher resolution.

    Who knows what the future holds? Perhaps in five years, we will see folding screens on phones that allow them to be as capable as laptop screens are currently…

  • sanjeev bhadresa

    I think that new sites should be optimised for mobile phone access. Once connection speeds increase, the majority of users will access websites this way!

  • Lynn

    Of course everyone needs to make their websites as accessible as possible on mobile phones! I love my phone, and web browsing was one of the major reasons I bought it (at Walmart – for free with my phone package) and why I pay a measly $20 bucks or so a month for a data plan.

    As affordable as internet on your phone is these days and as cheap as internet capable phones can be, I think we’ll see lots more people gravitate towards these devices. Not being ready for that seems kind of short-sighted to me.

    My biggest gripe is the use of images as text. I can’t believe that’s still a problem these days but it is, and in fact, it seems to be getting worse as more people focus on the idea that broadband is spreading, making it easier for web users to download image laden pages.

    The problem with that is my phone! These devices are much too small to read much of the text you find on images. That’s where using handheld stylesheets could make all the difference.

  • Jaan Kanellis

    Great post Daniel. I have been preaching this for a year now. No need to do anything special with websites as most mobile readers will handle it fine now and in the future

    However the navigation on most sites leaves A LOT to be desired on mobile phones.

  • S Emerson

    As you build your website if you keep the Mobile Web Best Practices in mind, then you shouldn’t have problems with mobile phones visiting your site.

  • Ben

    Well consider me as a caveman, since I use my mobile phone as a phone. Or, maybe I’m just one of the 95% of the rest of the world that doesn’t want to be tied to the internet 24/7.

    Personally, I don’t see the mobile phone being the main internet portal for at least 20 years and I also don’t see a reason to optimize my blog for mobile. Heck, most people still don’t use RSS.

    Maybe the real trick is just provide a quality site that attracts people which ever way they surf the web.

  • jess

    i agree with a few on this post.. i would take for example virgin america’s web site.. its overly complex lots of media etc.. i was trying to check into my seat and i could not log into the site on the iphone.. just couldn’t user name and password where incorrect. i believe it is the encoding that you choose on your site.. i really wanna go back to the days of dial up .. sure the site was boring but it loaded properly every fn time…. !

  • Mat Packer

    5 years is like 3-4 different redesigns for a majority of my business clients, so I’m in no rush to start developing for mobile phones.

    I’ve been keeping an eye on the analytics for a number of my clients websites and while there are more and more phone models / browsers popping up it’s still such a small percentage that no one is worried about potentially losing clients because their website isn’t mobile phone optimized. Most of the current traffic is from iPhones, and of the other 2-3 hits a month the split is between Blackberry and Nokia.

    I’ve tested all of my client sites in iPhone and Blackberry browsers and there’s never been a problem apart from a slow load, but you expect that on any 3G network in Australia.

  • rb3m

    Yeah, I need to do that at my own website as well. I think that even if mobile devices get the big resolution of a desktop computer the physical size of the screen won’t change much. You’ll either have to zoom in a lot or be forced to read really really tiny font.

    If you build a website thinking about how older / less capable / smaller / non-visual devices are going to handle it from the beginning it’s much easier than trying to adapt an existing one or, sometimes, building another one optimized for those devices.

  • Big Blog Tips

    I agree with Ajith. While most smart phones will render your site well, it will take the reader a bit of extra time to increase the screen size and read the text on your blog.

    There’s a useful looking plugin called WPtouch that will give your wordpress blog a new theme for the iPhone or Android. Here’s the link:

  • Rarst

    It is very hard to predict. Internet on simple mobile phones is booming but so are upcoming devices that will offer better Internet experience – smartphones with big screens, MIDs, tablets, etc.

    My personal opinion is that for techie niche most dedicated readers will figure out to access site on the go just fine. I do with most of my mobile reading via RSS feeds on Newsgator Mobile.

    Overall I think if there are resources available to provide mobile version – why not? 🙂 Something I need to do at my blog by the way.

  • TheOzz

    Five years is a lifetime on the Internet.

    Each webmaster must at least entertain the question if they want to earn their keep.

  • Ajith Edassery

    It makes sense to optimize the webpages for ‘size’ and media types. However, I recently read somewhere else that we need to start SEO optimize specifically for mobile… I don;t digest this idea.

    Does anyone here believe so?

  • mac

    speed is not the real problem… complexity and size and navigation of site is the problem… it’s why .mobi was created… the size of mobile phone screens will not increase by much… the complexity of websites is increasing and will continue…

    viewing websites thro mobile devices is like trying to watch a football game thro a letter box… after a while it gets very tiresome… it’s the reason why lots of sites are moving to having .com and .mobi

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Satish, those are factors to keep in mind, but they are not necessarily realted to mobile phones.

    A great part of the world popular still uses dial-up.

  • Rick Grant

    I ran into this very issue last week and I’ve been pondering the same questions.

    I was in a meeting with the CEO’s of seven companies who were discussing the need to form an industry association. The topic of websites came up and someone mentioned one site in particular as a model.

    I was astonished to see all seven CEO’s bring out their Smartphones and Blackberrys right then and there to have a look at the site.

    After the meeting I discussed this with one of the company leaders are he said that unless he was at his desktop, a rare occurrence because he traveled so much, he did all of his internet work over the phone.

    I would say that it would be a good idea to make sure your site looks acceptable on a phone now, and not wait for either the traffic to increase or for the technology to catch up.

    Rick Grant

  • SATISH — Technotip.org

    Yes I agree with you.

    But the internet speed is the matter. If we are accessing internet with 2MBps or more speed(with 3G, wifi or wimax enabled devices), then its not a matter. But if its a slower connection then we need to optimize it for the mobile devices.
    Another important thing to keep in mind is the cost per kbps, that the internet service provider charges. People prefer optimized websites, if their service provider charges then based on kilobytes. just my thoughts….

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