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Developing a mobile site

theEword’s senior developer Adrian Mursec on the present and future of mobile website development.

Mobile device development has been an interest of mine since my university days, when my Nokia phone could just about support HTML Flash and Java. It began with a blank slate and grew into one of the fastest-growing technology markets, all in the last decade.

At the moment mobile app development is fairly popular, and has opened up a whole new interest in mobile development from small start-up to the large blue chip companies.

The benefits of having a mobile site

A mobile site will allow you to keep our doors open to everyone, whether they are sitting at home, in the office, on a train or out on a walk. With a mobile site, most of your customers will only ever be as far away as their smart phones; you could literally be in their pocket.

Another benefit of having a mobile store is that on top of delivering the services and features you currently have, you can integrate more mobile features. For example, you could give your customers live updates on products, or instant notification on new arrivals.

Building a mobile site gives your visitors a faster site, and a much better user experience. What’s more, they can access it 24 hours a day from holiday, work or just in the kitchen.

What makes mobile sites different

We are in a phase of technology switchover at the moment, so there are two main types of mobile website: the basic mobile site and the smart phone site.

Basic mobile sites will work across the board, as they use basic HTML mark-up. However, they look very basic and support few to no images, and don’t support dynamic content such as Javascript or Flash. They aren’t as flexible as smart phone sites, and are probably not the preferred choice for e-commerce visitors.

Smart phone sites are a happy medium between basic mobile sites and desktop sites. The focus is on delivering the same content as you would on a normal desktop site, but in a format much friendlier to your average iPhone or Android device. You can even get away with using CSS3, which a lot of desktop browsers don’t support yet.

Google and mobile

As with the two types of mobile sites, Google has recognised the demand for a division. Google Mobile (www.google.com/m) delivers the same search results but in a mobile friendly format.

There is also a lesser-known Google search, which only brings up search results websites in mobile-friendly format. Try it here. Note the site=mobile in the query string.

Google also has a separate robot to crawl sites looking for mobile-friendly versions. The user agent is googlebot-mobile, which can be used to direct traffic within the robots.txt file.

My views on the future of mobile

In my opinion, once the technology catches up across the board it will be possible to phase out the basic mobile sites and deliver just smart phone versions. E-commerce will continue to improve support, as platforms like Magento are already looking into porting the desktop site to a mobile site within a few clicks.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter will be able to grab the attention of customers away from their desktops, gaining a much more flexible point of sale.

As for search engine optimisation opportunities, with Google’s index becoming increasingly large I think search engines will look closer at site location, which can be defined with meta tags. This, combined with the smart phone locality support, could result in targetting parts of your site to specific user locations.

Written by Adrian Mursec

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