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The question of whether to create a mobile-friendly website isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when, say industry experts. Plus it's fast and potentially free. Here's how to get one for your business.

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May 30, 2013

Nikki Weed was sightseeing in Europe with her boyfriend and his brother, far away from her job at South Pleasantburg Nursery in Greenville, South Carolina. But she couldn’t help but think of work. With every destination decision, her boyfriend’s brother didn’t leave travel plans to chance — his fingers danced as he browsed reviews and scrolled through addresses and phone numbers on a smart phone that he referenced so much it could have been considered an accessory. And each time he landed on a website that was not mobile-friendly, he quickly abandoned it.

The text was too small. He had to maximize the screen just to read the information, let alone accurately click the hyperlink he wanted. It wasn’t easy to find what he needed.

Weed realized that people looking for information about her garden center may be abandoning her website, too. She decided to make it mobile-friendly when she returned.

The decision of whether to build a mobile-optimized website isn’t a matter of if, says Eric Feinberg, senior director of mobile, media and entertainment for ForeSee, which measures and analyzes customer experience through their satisfaction on web, mobile, social media and more for clients. It’s a matter of when.


Why mobile?
According to Feinberg, 55 percent of adult mobile phone owners use the Internet on their phones, which is double the number from three years before.

Just a few years back, no one used their cell phones to access company websites. That number is about 15 percent today, Feinberg says. And that number is likely to increase.

Nearly 30 percent of people from the U.S. surveyed in a TIME Mobility poll said their wireless device is always the first and last thing they check every day. (The poll had 5,000 respondents in eight countries.)

That’s why having a mobile-friendly website is essential.

“Mobile is at where web was at 10 years ago, but it’s moving at a faster clip," Feinberg says. "More people will use their mobile phone than PCs to get online by the end of this year maybe, [according to] Google."

Websites optimized for mobile phones have large, easy-to-tap navigation bars and text. They load quickly and don’t have a lot of clutter like graphics, photos and videos. Instead of being minimized to fit, the important information is maximized. The language is concise.

And if a website isn’t optimized for mobile, studies show that people go elsewhere — to other websites, other businesses.


A drive-thru window for your website
Mobile-friendly sites, especially for independent garden centers, aren’t meant to be fancy or elaborate, Weed says.

“The whole basis of creating a mobile website is for it to be clear, concise and to the point," Weed says. "I like to think of it as the drive-thru window for your website, for people who don’t have time to sit on a computer and navigate and for people on the go —they like a fast reference.”

Weed says that she included information that she knew people would be looking for on their phones — phone number, address, product information and events. She made sure she didn’t put items that would take a long time to load on the site, such as videos.

“The goal for a mobile site is to decrease the amount of time that people are on the mobile site and increase the speed they’re getting into the store,” Feinberg says.

When creating a mobile-friendly website, he suggests business owners keep these tips in mind.

Be discoverable. Make sure people can find you in a Google search, on maps and on Yelp. “Every major destination for local search — Google Maps, Yelp, Apple Maps, etc. — offers businesses the ability provide additional and more valuable information about their services and their brand,” Feinberg says. And it’s usually free. “It might take a little time, but the benefits are immense. As a local business owner, try to find your business from a mobile phone and tablet using websites that you would use and see what happens. You might be surprised how infrequently you show up in a search for ‘garden center’ when someone is in your city.”

Create a “call” button. Make sure the mobile website has a button where people can press “call” and your phone number is automatically entered into their keypad. The industry lingo is “quick to call.” DudaMobile offers this. (More on that later.)

Map it for them. Make sure there is a button where someone can simply select “directions” and start a route to your store, or as Feinberg puts it, “tap to map.”

Offer services to attract customers. “Independent garden centers offer a personal touch that either big box retailers or major chains or commoditized websites like Amazon can’t offer,” Feinberg says. “They’re independent for a reason, because they have knowledge that is a differentiator.”

Feinberg also says to remember that not everyone is using the mobile sites while running errands or out and about.

“At least half the time, people are lying back on their couch at night, doing research, and they need to have the ability to look at the products,” he says.


Fast and potentially free
Getting into the mobile game, as Feinberg puts it, isn’t expensive or difficult.

“One end of the spectrum is the large, multi-channel, international retailers who have fully optimized mobile sites that have commerce on them. Those are expensive and essential for them,” he says. “The other end of the spectrum is free or near free.”

Business owners can use DudaMobile to build their mobile pages quickly and for free. Though there are many free and inexpensive options, Feinberg and Weed recommend the technology.

“DudaMobile has very, very easy-to-create navigation bars. And that’s kind of what drove me to them, the ease of use,” Weed says. “Creating a mobile website isn’t like trying to generate an entire website. What it does is link everything you have on your website to the mobile site so you don’t have to start from scratch.”

And because all of the information on the mobile site is linked to your website, there isn’t additional maintenance or upkeep. When you update your website, your mobile site is automatically updated, too.

“It’s a screen-scraping technology that basically reads the website that it’s related to and scrapes the content from that and reconstitutes it in a mobile form,” Feinberg says.

Once you enter in your URL on DudaMobile, it takes you step-by-step, using the information already on your website. You can modify the layout, style, header and pages. (Check out Garden Center's mobile-friendly website, www.gardencentermagazine.com/m.)

Weed says she modified the navigation bar titles slightly to keep them short and sweet. Although DudaMobile says it works on all smart phone brands, Weed checked the newly established mobile website on her phone and borrowed other smart phones to confirm this.

The other benefit of DudaMobile is that it is compatible with Google Analytics, Weed says, so she can track how many phone calls are through the mobile website, for example.

Feinberg says tracking this and other mobile analytics, such as how many people visit the store website through the mobile site, is a necessity.

“Tracking that percentage is very important so that they can set the right strategy and make the right investments, because if 50 percent [of website traffic] is coming from mobile, then maybe DudaMobile isn’t enough, and maybe they need to do more, get a developer,” he says.

So make sure you’re in the game. Be discoverable. Make the information clear and concise. And, as Feinberg says, “drive people into the store. That’s the only reason why these mobile sites exist. Getting somebody to take that next step is really the most important thing.”