As I have come from a website building background, there is one thing I have noticed about most of the IM themes for WordPress. From a design point of view, they really suck! I mean, come on people we are now in the 2010s ffs! Gone are the days of graphics heavy websites, flash animations or even, shudder, flash menus.
And mobile? You’d think that most of the people pushing WordPress Themes for Internet Marketers have not noticed a very big revolution in internet users. A lot, and by a lot I mean sometimes over 50% of your visitors, are using their iPhone, Android or even Windows Phones for accessing the internet.
If your website looks like this on a mobile phone, do you think they are going to bother reading what you have to say? You can be damn sure they are going to go elsewhere if they have to side-scroll as well as vertical scroll. This was my site used as an example, but I have since switched to the OptimizePress 2 theme since then and no longer need the mobile plugins.
If you do not cater for your mobile visitors, I can guaranty that you are losing them. Sometimes for good. And we all know that losing visitors means losing income. For most mobile visitors, they will be conscious of two other factors when browsing;
- How long does it take for a website to load
- How much of their data plan is it using
If your website is delivering a poor usability experience to your mobile visitors, you need to take a long hard look and figure out how to improve it. If you are using a theme like Flexibility 3 (such as this website used to) then there seems to be a complete silence on the matter. I searched their forums for a solution and there are several unanswered posts asking for information about mobile options.
There are solutions to this problem. They all have their upsides and downsides. One is easy to carry out, another requires a little more effort while the third is almost online suicide.
Option 1 – Install A Mobile Friendly Theme
The first option is to change your current theme for one that does cater for your mobile users. Some people may find this difficult as they are heavily invested in the look and feel of their website. Giving a new theme your unique touch can often take a long time. There is also a sometimes steep learning curve; if you are maintaining your own website then you will have to learn a whole new way of adjusting just how your website will appear.
Then there is the how to update your theme. Obviously you cannot put your website into maintenance mode while you fiddle with the new theme. Nor can you have people visiting while you play with the layout and possibly break things. You will need to learn how to set up a test site and use that for creating the new theme. That is a subject I will visit in a later post.
There are several design agencies who can help with the process, but that obviously costs money to a varying degree. It can also mean being beholden to them for updates, tweaks and changes. Each change may also be subject to an extra charge. But then by doing it yourself you are investing time into something less tangible than your next big product, so it will cost you in the long run anyway.
I’m going to look into different themes designed for the IM crowd which are mobile friendly to one degree or another. Some are free, others have a cost.
Option 2 – Install a Mobile Theme Plugin
There are some alternatives to the problem of updating your current site design for mobile users. You can keep your full-fat theme available to your desktop users, while providing a slimmed-down, mobile friendly option for your mobile users. The more popular choices are WPTouch, and the Mobile Theme plugin for JetPack.
Option 2a – WPTouch
WPTouch is available as both a free & premium plugin. The free version is probably “Good Enough” for most people’s needs, where the paid or Pro version has several enhancements. With the free version you have one mobile theme to choose from, which you can set the colours to match the desktop theme. This makes it a little like using your own theme, especially if you have a brand with a specific colour scheme.
Due to the fact WPTouch optimizes the theme for the mobile user, it reduces the load times and data usage of your website. WPTouch achieves this by not including your fancy menu graphics, flash animations, etc. It presents a clean, crisp interface which focuses on your content and not appearance. With excellent typography and a clean layout, you can present a well structured, pleasant to use and incredibly fast site to your mobile visitors.
WPTouch keeps in-line images in place, so you can still include pictures that illustrate your post. You get a single theme with the free version called Bauhaus. The Pro version comes with three extra theme options called CMS, Classic Redux and Simple. There is a fourth called Scaffold which is more of a theme framework for agencies and designers than a complete theme in itself.
WPTouch achieves load time improvements by simply optimising the theme for mobile users. You can further improve load times by up to 5x with the Infinity Cache; a caching plugin designed for WPTouch. You can further tweak the user experience with Responsive Images which further enhances the image handling. Mobile Content allows you to specify certain content which is solely available for mobile users.
Option 2b – JetPack Mobile Theme
An alternative to WPTouch is the Mobile Theme plugin for JetPack. JetPack is a meta-package created by WordPress.com to enhance self-hosted WordPress websites. Although it offers a similar solution to the mobile issue as WPTouch, Mobile Theme is far more basic in its options and execution. In fact, there are minimal user configurable options and no colour scheme configuration available. If you are already running JetPack though, it is an option you simply activate in the JetPack Dashboard. The advantage of Mobile Theme is that you can have a small excerpt of the posts when viewing an archive or the front-page, or show the entire post. WPTouch however only shows the Post/Page title.
Option 3 – Ignore Your Mobile Visitors
Personally I think this is the dumbest option to take. Yes, you may not be noticing much of a change in your visitors habits and the number of those visitors in the short-term. However, as time goes by you will see a gradual drop in the number of visitors and a higher bounce rate. This is due to the increase of mobile users year on year and each of those lost users may not return.
There are other mobile plugins designed to replace your current theme when viewed on a mobile device. Each have their ups and downs. Choose the best option for you and your site. I am planning on doing series on some of these plugins, weighing their positive and negative points.
My advice? If you are not already catering to your mobile visitors, then please at least think about how you can accommodate them. It does not have to cost you much, if anything. Unless you are doing something pretty crazy with your website then the simplest solution of installing a mobile theme plugin should be one of your top website priorities for 2014.
If you have anything to add to this, please do not hesitate to comment below.