Carl Weinschenk spoke with Maxinder Soni, president of Soni Consultants.
The mobilization of a small business is a complex endeavor. Maxinder Soni, the president of Soni Consultants, outlines a few areas for consideration. He tells IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk that it is best to use a platform that can fluidly translate laptop and desktop content to mobile devices, to the issues Apple has with Flash in mind and to build the site in a way that will meet the organization’s future needs.
Weinschenk: What should small businesses discuss with designers as they go mobile?
Soni: It really depends. The first conversation starts from the budget standpoint. There are many things that can be done. It all boils down to what is affordable and how far you want to push things. Some only want a mobile platform for the iPhone, BlackBerry or Android and that is the end of story.
If the goal is to take the normal laptop and scale it appropriately, what we suggest is a platform such as WordPress. It has what is called a responsive template. That means it will adjust the layout and positioning to match the browser and specifications of the actual phone on the pixel level. It will adjust itself. It is more of a hybrid development platform, which is ideal. You can have the same website that appears normal on a desktop auto adjust to meet dimensions of the device.
Weinschenk: What are some things to be aware of?
Soni: Apple literally banned Flash from being displayed on the iPhone platform. That is a huge hindrance to designers and small businesses because you lose the creative capabilities that Flash gives you. You can get around it by doing things such as embedding YouTube videos, but it is something that has to be taken into consideration.
Take an example of a restaurant in New York City. When you don’t have Flash, these sites are less mobile-friendly. It is difficult to do things such as updating the menu in real time. That isolates the 10 to 15 percent of overall mobile population that uses iOS. In those cases, they are losing out on business. People are more likely to pick a restaurant that lets them view its menu.
In order to work around that, we have to start talking about HTML5 or building a responsive website that will not have Flash embedded in it. Single handedly, Apple has put a lot of pressure on Flash. Even though Android has greater market share, you can’t just forget about Apple.
Weinschenk: What else is important to think about in terms of mobile development?
Soni: The next question we get asked a lot is what the SEO implications are of a mobile website. This is something everyone wonders about, and until recently Google was mute and they are the gorilla in the room.
There are two options. You can do a separate mobile website or use a responsive website, as I said earlier. WordPress is good in that its specs change to match the phone being used. If you are an online business, you need to think carefully about maintaining two separate sites, one mobile and one laptop-friendly. There is additional cost to the business that the owner has to pony up. In many cases it is not practical.
Weinschenk: How does this work at the technical level?
Soni: Google has two different types of bots. One is the traditional Google bot and the other is the mobile Google bot. One goes after normal pages and the other crawls mobile content. The website SEO implications of each are not different. They use the same algorithms. The same onsite optimization rules apply. For instance, text is really, really important. If a designer of the mobile website uses Flash and images and very little text it is something that may be regretted later.
Matt Cutts, who runs this sort of thing for Google, finally provided guidance in 2011 on writing for smartphones. He said you should handle it like the desktop experience. What he was telling developers is that they shouldn’t design websites with poor content variation.
Weinschenk: What else is there to think about?
Soni: The next point after satisfying the basics of being open and friendly is a personal decision: What do I want out of the website? Is it a business card, or more? There are more mobile devices than desktops or laptops. The trend is in that direction. They need to think of where they want to be one to 10 years from now. The question is: Where am I going?
I have seen mobile websites that are full-on stores. Many people sitting of sofa looking to purchase things are using smartphones and not desktops. The world is increasingly flat. Sometimes we recommend not only developing a mobile website but also a mobile app. This creates a continuous feedback mechanism with customer updates. Potential clients can download the app and the business can push updates to them for things such as specials coming up at the restaurant we mentioned, for instance.
Weinschenk: What should they ask developers in terms of security?
Soni: Mobile website and browsers are great vectors for attack, and that is putting it politely. Obviously, you’ve got to scan your website. Google is good. They see that if you have been hacked and malware is coming from your site it will send you a notification. Anyone coming to the site also will see it has been compromised.
Most of time the mobile app developer is the one who knows if there is malware because he would have to be the one to put it in there. There are tons of smartphone and smartphone platforms out there. There has been a steady increase in the security of modern desktops, with so many check points and ways to monitor. But with mobile phones there is not as much. If the user is connected for instance to a Wi-Fi network at Starbucks they should have some form of security for protection and to encrypt data through https: and other security protocols. The Web designer has to discuss this with the customer.