Mobilegeddon: This is a catch phrase that swept the online marketing world recently, describing a major change in the way Google ranks websites in its search results. Specifically, it is all about Google evaluating how mobile responsive your site is—how good your website looks and works on mobile devices such as tablets and phones. These devices are now used for approximately 60 percent of all Internet activity, according to a 2014 report from comScore.
Why is this important to you as a massage therapist, as well as to every business owner with a website? When it comes to website best practices, there is no greater authority than Google. In order for Google to remain the world’s leading search engine—it is used for almost 63 percent of desktop searches and nearly 92 percent of mobile searches, according to netmarketshare.com—it needs to direct its users to the highest-quality, most relevant websites that offer consistently good user experiences. Websites that meet this standard are rewarded with higher search result positions, making them more visible to potential customers searching online.
When Google puts out new guidelines, it’s like getting really good, free advice about what you should be doing with your website, and the advice here is loud and clear: Make sure your website is mobile-friendly.
What exactly does it mean to be mobile-friendly or mobile responsive? You have probably already experienced what it does not mean.
Think about those times you’ve visited a website on your phone and it’s basically just a tiny version of the normal website. Everything is so small that the only way you can read anything is to pinch and zoom, and then you have to swipe the whole screen back and forth because what you’re reading doesn’t fit on the display anymore. Your fingers are too big to click on exactly the right spot to follow a link, enter information into a form, or use a menu.
This type of website does not qualify as responsive; the site is not automatically responding to the type of device on which it is being displayed. A truly mobile responsive site will detect the user’s device and display optimized content suited to the screen size, so no pinching and zooming is necessary.
How to make your site mobile responsive
There are a few ways you can mobile-optimize your website content. Here are a few popular options:
Convert it. If you already have a website, a simple and cost-effective method is using a mobile conversion tool. This is great if you already have a basic website that looks and works well but you don’t have the time or expertise, or the budget to hire someone, to make major changes to the site’s structure; or you just don’t want to create a whole new website.
Some Web-based services charge as little as $8 per month; you simply enter your website URL, and these tools will automatically generate a mobile version of your existing site. You have the ability to edit how it looks and how menus are displayed, add links to social media, and embed other widgets such as forms. Once you are happy with how the mobile site will look and behave, you get a simple line of HTML code to insert into your website. Then, when someone on a mobile device visits your site, it automatically detects the device and displays the mobile version.
Recreate it. The other route that is increasingly becoming standard for website redesigns is to create a site that uses something called responsive design—not to be confused with the general term responsive. This involves special coding that dynamically resizes content based on the user’s device. On a tablet it might look about the same as it does on a desktop computer, but a little smaller. On a smartphone, the website will collapse pages into a mobile menu that is easier to navigate on a smaller device.
There are a few ways you can go if you want a site that uses responsive design. Several inexpensive or free website builder tools now available online can help you create a new website from scratch, using templates that are automatically coded using responsive design. You plug in your content, pick some widgets and your site looks great on any device. There is usually a monthly hosting fee if you want to use your own domain name.
Develop it. Another option is rebuilding your site from the ground up with custom coding that uses responsive design. My company’s website is an example of this. This method usually requires hiring a web developer with advanced skills, so it can be costly and time-consuming. Based on my experience, unless you require some advanced functionality and have a big budget I would advise against it. Custom code can be very difficult to work with, even for experienced webmasters.
Make it mobile. A final option if you have even the most basic website online already is to create, or hire someone to create for you, a mobile-only version of the site. This is a simplified and completely distinct website designed exclusively for display on mobile devices. Unlike the conversion method, it does not pull information and pages from your main website—it is designed from the ground up exclusively for mobile. It looks and feels more like an app than a website, and ideally features a simple, clean design and focuses on the most important pages and functions of your site.
If you are mostly interested in providing basic information; as well as the ability to complete an inquiry form, visit social media links or allow users to click to call you, this can be an affordable option. There are tons of mobile developers flooding the market, and you can find one to create a mobile site for a few hundred dollars and up.
Whether your goal is to provide a great experience for your increasingly mobile website visitors, or to get into Google’s good graces and leap forward in search results, ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly could be one of the most important things you do this year in marketing your massage business online.
Dan Melmed, L.M.T., is the owner and founder of Body Well Therapy, a multi-regional mobile massage company established in Florida in 2005. A graduate of The George Washington University, his prior experience includes working as a marketing professional for technology companies. He regularly blogs about massage-related topics at the company’s website, bodywelltherapy.com.