How to optimise a website for multi-device browsing

In order to succeed in the digital age, businesses must cater to an increasingly mobile audience: building a 'one size fits all' website is no longer an option. Having a site that forces people to scroll and zoom through pages that aren't built for mobile browsing will lead to frustrated customers and lost sales.

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If you have decided to take the plunge and optimise your website for multi-device browsing, here are four things to consider to ensure your site provides maximum ROI.

01. Website overhaul vs mobile templates

You have to weigh up whether the cost of an overhaul is worth it

You have to weigh up whether the cost of an overhaul is worth it

Budget is a key consideration for businesses looking to optimise their web presence for mobile and building a few mobile-specific templates has the benefit of requiring less up-front financial investment. In general, not all content will or can be viewed on a mobile device, so the most prudent method is to analyse current web traffic and identify the pages most viewed on mobile devices.

Looking at bounce rates and the length of time visitors spend on a page can help establish engagement levels. Then, having identified the best performers, it's possible to build templates just for these select pages. This is a good short-term solution on a low budget, however, long term it can be more complex as it effectively creates two sites that will, over time, cost more to maintain.

For a longer lasting solution, building a responsive website is more efficient, cost-effective and generally easier to maintain despite requiring a larger immediate investment. An important factor to consider is the age of the current website; if the website is three years of age or older then it's beneficial to re-design and develop a fully responsive site. In addition to only having to maintain one site, the site will feature the latest technology and most importantly, security.

02. The impact of a separate mobile site on SEO

Google's opinion on separate platforms has varied over the years

Google's opinion on separate platforms has varied over the years

This subject has attracted much debate over the past few years and is understandably a concern for businesses looking to make their website work across multiple devices. Google algorithms are a closely guarded secret, but the main SEO concern seems to be 'does your website keep visitors engaged, is the content relevant and does it provide value over other competitor websites?'

One thing that is becoming apparent is that algorithms are starting to stop content that isn't optimised for mobile from appearing in search results. If a website is not engaging, has a high bounce rate, content which is not relevant, and forces the user to squint and zoom their way through a site not built for mobile browsing, it's likely the site will be penalised by Google.

If you do opt for separate mobile templates, ensure that you adhere to Google best practice codes to avoid looking as though you're trying to 'trick' it with more than one URL for the same content. Google states that if a mobile site requires multiple URLs for the same content then it should all be accessible for Googlebot user-agents.

Building a separate mobile site will not impact your SEO negatively as long as you adhere to best practice codes; but as these are constantly changing, a responsive site offers a better long-term solution as you only have to update one site to reflect these changes instead of two sets of templates.

03. Optimise your content for a range of devices

It's important that content is optimised as well as design

It's important that content is optimised as well as design

When building a responsive site, the easiest approach is to code for the mobile version first and then scale up to incorporate tablets and devices. This allows code breakpoints to be content dependent as opposed to device dependent, as well as implementing additional functionality to cater for the increased capabilities of larger devices. This approach ensures that the pursuit of a quality mobile experience doesn't mean you have to neglect your other platforms.

When deciding how to distribute your content, view it as a unique opportunity to tap into your customers' browsing habits. Mobile sites should be punchy and use short, sharp content. It's unlikely that someone browsing on an iPhone will want to spend hours reading case studies or in depth product reviews, so make mobile content light on words and less heavy on visuals. Many customers visiting your mobile site will be new to your service or product, so it's important that it has a 'best foot forward' feel to it.

04. Keep your content fresh and your site secure

Security is a key factor

Security is a key factor

As sites have to cope with an increasingly broad range of devices; from older smartphones right up to ultra-HD desktops; there is a challenge to ensure that all customers are getting a positive experience. This demands that businesses keep their websites updated, addressing the technical advances to allow all of these devices to be targeted regardless of their capabilities.

Often, once a website goes live, there is no ongoing strategy for maintaining the technical aspects of the site. As such, the CMS often doesn't get updated when newer versions and security patches become available. This poses a serious threat for businesses as they risk being hacked and in more serious cases; breach data protection which in turn will lose the trust of their customers.

To keep up to date involves assigning budget to keep on top of such updates and make them regularly. A good way to achieve this is for a business to have a maintenance agreement with their agency. This allows agencies to be proactive with their clients and share the latest trends, technology and security, whilst the business benefits from the knowledge and expertise their agency offers.

Words: Charles Marfleet

Charles Marfleet is technical director at digital design agency LEWIS.

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