Monday, September 7, 2015

Getting Your Website Responsive

In the last article, I revealed that I think the best option for most small businesses is to use a good Responsive Theme.  If you have an older HTML website, you could convert your HTML site to a responsive HTML design, but I will warn you that from my own personal testing, I was not happy with how they behaved.  More specifically, the way the ones that I used worked is that the mobile screen was not horizontally “fixed” the way it should have been and would slide left or right – at times you would think that it ought to be locked in place.  So, at present, HTML responsive layouts get a big thumbs down from me.  If I happen to find some I like that work the way they ought to, I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, if you are stuck on HTML for some reason, I would lean toward dynamic serving with a completely separate set of pages.  Done right, such pages can have a very "app-like" feel to them.

If you’re using WordPress, which most small businesses really ought to be doing these days, then you have tons of options.  As a bit of an aside, one of the main reasons for using WordPress is that you can add and remove things from your, including new posts, blog content, plugins, additional capabilities, etc. without a big development cost.  And since Google very strongly favors websites that show growth and development, you can see how maintaining a competitive advantage over time will be easier if your website has the right stuff under the hood to help you do that.

So, if you’re on WordPress, your best choice is to move to a Responsive theme.  There are about a million of them, though.  I’ll share some places where they can be found, and then I’ll tell you my own preferences.

Here are some top theme providers that are currently mobile responsive:
  1. Thrive Themes -
  2. Studio Press Themes –
  3. Theme Forest - Theme Forest also has designs for HTML and Joomla based sites.
  4. Elegant Themes are a very popular choice, with over 20 Wordpress responsive themes available including their most amazing work, Divi.
  5. If you are looking for free themes, here’s a list of 30 designs.
  6. Then there are the themes from Wordpress here:
Now, if you read any of my other posts, you’ll know that I very, very strongly recommend that you do not simply pick a theme because you think it looks pretty, you like the colors, etc.  That’s a great way not to get many calls.  The reason I say that, and take a bit of a tough stance on the subject of website design, is that you have a website for your business because you want to convert visitors into customers so you can make money for your business.  It’s not a hobby or an art project.  I’m going to be as serious as I can here.  You need to decide which is more important:  making money for your business, or having a website like one you may have seen.  The reason I am prompting you to consider this question is that there is a tremendous amount of research into neuroscience and website design factors that convert people from visitors to callers.  So, as a developer, I want to help your business succeed, which means putting those things into play on your website, while trying to incorporate as much of your personal tastes and preferences as possible.  Some developers will quite happily just install any theme you want and take your money, but my point here is that they aren’t doing you any favors.

The second thing to consider is that, in many of those places, the developers come and go, and the support for their themes may go with them, leaving your website with buggy code that nobody is ever going to fix.

I am personally quite picky about the themes I use, because I want to be sure that both myself, and especially my customers, can count on having active support for a long time to come.  For most sites, I either use Divi by Elegant Themes, which can do practically anything you might dream up, or one of a couple of proprietary themes along with Visual Composer, the go-to industry standard for custom layouts.

Keeping Your Current Theme

With WordPress, you can use one of several plugins to create a separate mobile version of your website right from within WordPress itself.  I don’t recommend this approach for anybody that I typically work with, but there are certainly instances where it might make sense as a short-term measure just to get you back into compliance with Google while you then work on fixing the bigger problem with your website design.

HandHeld Mobile Plugin by Elegant Themes lets you create a separate mobile-friendly version of your existing site.  This plugin comes straight from the manufacturer, so it does not have a rating on
Jetpack helps site owners by giving you the mobile-friendly features of hosted with your self-hosted site.
WPTouch is a plugin solution that will allow you to create a separate, mobile-friendly version of your website. Your desktop site will stay unchanged.  When visitors view your site from any mobile device, your website will display a different theme that you configure. You can select from various themes that the plugin offers. Currently rate 3.5 out of 5 stars.
WP Mobile Detector, works similarly, allowing you to select from different themes and create your mobile friendly website. This plugin only has 3.4 out of 5 stars.
Device Theme Switcher is a more complex plugin that allows you to even give a different version to not only phones, but tablets.  This gives you quite a bit of flexibility and more granular control, which may sound nice, but with complexity comes cost.  Although the plugin is highly rated with a full 5-stars, most small businesses that I work with are cost-conscious, so I would not tend to go this route.  Although the plugin seems quite nice, I have concerns about the longevity of support since there is only a single developer who has no other plugins.  We can only hope that since he seems to be doing good work that he'll survive the test of time.

The thing to be cautious about with plugins is the same issue as with themes themselves.  Developers come and go, so you want to use mainstream, major brand plugins so you can be reasonably assured that they’re going to be likely to continue providing support.  The other main issue is that you may not be able to brand your website for a consistent viewing experience.  In general, I do not recommend the route of plugins to accomplish a mobile website due to both reliability and support concerns I have.  Is it easy to install it, charge a client money, and then walk away?  Sure.  But I can’t begin to tell you how many websites I’ve run into where a website developer installed a cool plugin that seemed a good idea at the time, but when I’m in there fixing things, the plugins are badly out of date with bugs but the person who wrote them is nowhere to be found, leaving the client to have to pay for me to move them onto something more reliable.  If you are going to use a plugin, I would lean toward Elegant Theme’s HandHeld Mobile since you will likely get more consistent support over time.

We’ll continue talking about responsive website design next time; until then feel free to contact me if you have any questions at DunnTek web design.

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