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We live in an amazing, amazing world, and it's wasted on the XXXXXXX generation of spoiled idiots. They wine and complain about how long it takes to get a message, a web page....just give it a second, it's going to space! Louis CK on Conan O'Brien

We live in an amazing, amazing world, and it’s wasted on this generation of spoiled idiots.
They whine and complain about how long it takes to get a message, a web page….just give it a second, it’s going to space!
Louis CK on Conan O’Brien

In the early days of computers when floppy disks were truly floppy I doubt we could have foreseen where computers would take us. We popped in a diskette to load a program, performed the task that the computer was needed for, then, shut the whole thing down.  Computers were clunky and slow and could only do one thing at a time, they were for computing, no frills, no bells, no whistles. As technology increased (vacuum tubes going the way of the dinosaur) and manufacturing techniques became more sophisticated consumers demanded that our computers become smaller, faster, more useful, and that is exactly what we got! In fact, we have been so successful that my phone has 100 times the computing power that my old IBM XT model had.  With access to these “super computers” 24/7 it is no wonder that ecommerce, especially mobile ecommerce, is flying through the roof.  Consumers are checking out your website on the train, at the bistro and while walking on the treadmill. If your site isn’t mobile friendly the user on the train will probably stay – they are bored and have nothing else to do. On the other hand the guy on the treadmill is definitely going to ditch your site. It’s just too small to read while he bobs up and down. OK, that might be a little farfetched, but the scenario isn’t too far from the truth. If your site isn’t easy to use on the device the user has, the user will go to website that is.

Just like computers, websites have gone through some hefty transformations as well. In the 90’s websites were small because computers and internet connections weren’t as fast as they are today. Designers relied on text and a few splashes of color to create web pages. Images were basic, remember the animated gif? In the early 2000’s the internet was really heating up and Flash was all the rage. Cable and DSL internet was the standard and monitor sizes were getting bigger too. Designers were catering to a population that was still patient, that remembered listening to that dial-up tone; they didn’t mind installing ActiveX to run a Flash based website or the horrendous load time. Ten years later and Flash based websites are falling to the wayside. Initially this was due to a rise in knowledge about how search engines indexed your site and a trend in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), but with Apple’s iPhone and their hardliner stance on NO FLASH, Flash is out and Responsive Design is in.

What does that mean for you, the first time entrepreneur and the long time business owner? It means it’s time to take stock of (or create) your online strategy. Websites aren’t meant to stand the test of time. If your website was built at the turn of the century it is going to need an overhaul. If you are just starting out you need to be aware of what is “out” and what is “in.”

There are many types of websites online today. Static brochure sites, ecommerce sites, informational blogging sites (like this one), social and review sites to name a few. A common misconception is that today’s internet user is only doing frivolous things online. “No one is going to sit on their phone and tap out a long online form,” you might say. You might be wrong.  Trends show that many households that don’t own computers DO own smartphones. Just like we sat through slow as molasses internet speeds to hear “You’ve Got Mail,” we will also painstakingly tap out name, address, and credit card number on our phone to make a purchase if it is all we have available to us.

How do you tap into the growing market of mobile ecommerce? You have three main options. A responsive website, a separate mobile website or a mobile app. Which one is right for you?

A responsive website adapts to the size of the device it is viewed in. On a computer monitor the site might have a header and a horizontal navigation bar and several columns for text and pictures. Switch to a tablet device and suddenly the site is compact. The header shrinks and instead of 4 columns you only see two! Go to your phone and the site is even more streamlined. the navigation menu is cleverly tucked into a single button that pops up with the menu if you need it, and everything fits nicely in one column on your screen. Who uses a responsive website? Someone like the Boston Globe. All of their content should be available to everyone regardless of where the read it.

Separate mobile websites were first popularized before responsive websites were available. Generally a mobile and often scaled down version of your website is created on a subdomain (mobile.mywebsite.com). A little bit of script on your main website detects that the user is on a mobile device and redirects them to the mobile site. The pro’s of this approach are that you can streamline your content, and give users who have slower connections and less horsepower (i.e. they are on 3G and using a lightweight smartphone) an optimized version of your site, skipping over the impressive, but heavy, photo galleries. The con’s, you can’t always anticipate what a user actually wants. Just because I am on my phone doesn’t mean that I ONLY want directions and hours of operation.

Lastly are apps. These nifty little “programs” are downloaded and stay on your mobile device, forever. When do you use an app? When you already have a relationship. Apps are great for managing an account or shopping online. Apps are not great for content meant for browsing, especially if the user is in the “research” phase.  If I haven’t made up my mind about a company’s services or products I’m not going to clutter my phone with their app just to see what the company can offer me.

Today the internet is browsed at the same speed that the bachelor down the hall channel surfs through his 3,000 channel cable TV package. If a show, or website in our case, doesn’t instantly and peak our interest, we are moving on.   Assess your needs and the needs of your clients. See how your website functions on a phone a tablet a laptop and a computer then make the decision on how to best mobilize your online business.

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