Friday, 27 January 2012

Are You Mobile-Ready? Four Free Options For Getting On Board

If you have a website and it's not optimized for mobile viewing or linked to a mobile-friendly version you may find you fall behind your competitors. You can't be complacent about it; more and more people are using their mobile phones to browse websites and the number is set to rise. Don't worry too much about it, though; there are plenty of options to sort it out for free.

Have you ever tried to view your website (assuming you've got one) on a mobile phone? If it's not optimized for mobile phones or you don't have a mobile-friendly version you may find it either looks horrible, doesn't show up properly or loads slowly. Fear not, there are solutions, and many of them are free! Here are four I've come across.

1. Mobilizit

Mobilizit is in beta at the moment, so all its services are free. You can have as many pages as you like and there's a nice little range of templates to choose from. Here's the feature list:

  • Hosting

  • Maps

  • Tap to Call

  • Tap to Navigate

  • Unlimited Pages

  • Custom Logo

  • No Ads

  • Unlimited Visitors

It's very easy to use and the support, if you need it, is fantastic. The great thing about a beta service, for us, is that we get to try it out and see if we like it or not. For the company, it's a free way of finding out what customers want in order to provide a better service. Limitations (for now) are:

  • No way to replace the URL with your domain name without a redirect on your end. They're in the process of finding out how many of us want that before they implement it.

  • Small selection of templates and no way to customize the existing ones.

  • Preview is via screenshot, not iframe so you can't see what your whole page looks like.

  • No way of adding your logo to the top of the page.

For a newbie, this is absolutely perfect because you don't need any skills; just type and click save. Dealing with the limitations is a work in progress, so watch this space.

2. Onbile

A free service, it's linked to a website that provides premium website templates, some of which are for mobile phones. There's not much information on the website itself, just the program that allows you to upload the information you want to display on your website. Features include:

  • This gorgeous graphic isn't just for decoration, it's a stylised iframe that lets you see what your website looks like in real time on mobile devices. The scrollbar scrolls up and down to let you see all of your content.

  • It supports a good range of mobile devices including iPads.

  • Plenty of scope for customization

  • Nice range of templates

  • Hosting

  • Maps

  • Tap to Call

  • Tap to Navigate

Again, for a newbie, this is perfect. Since nothing went wrong I didn't need to ask for support so I've got no idea what that is like. Read the Terms and Conditions carefully; they will put ads on it sooner or later. Limitations include:

  • four page limit

  • host your own pictures; the only one they let you upload is your own logo

  • customization is limited to colour and template selection

It's the increased customization that won me over (for now) but I'm far from totally satisfied. I don't want advertising on my website that I haven't put there myself. First chance I get, I'm switching over to something else.

3. Wix

Wix, the free flash website creator, is offering mobile website hosting. Their drag-and-drop interface has always been user-friendly and this is no different. They also have a Facebook welcome tab widget, if you're interested. The mobile phone version is a very limited version of their website builder and frankly I am disappointed. Customization is limited and they force ads on you. It's about as easy to use as the others, though. Oh, and they put a Made With Wix tab on the site (and the Facebook welcome tab widget) if you don't choose the premium version.

4. Google Sites

Google Sites have an ad-free mobile website building service. It's been a while since I used Google Sites to build a website. I quit and went for paid hosting because it gave me more creative freedom and I was able to to add more functionality and beauty to the websites I built; Google Sites was a bit too clunky for me. During the course of researching for this article I discovered that Google Sites now have a mobile-friendly option, and it's been available since June of last year. Well they've clearly paid attention to their detractors because their free mobile website builder actually gives you the most customization options.

You start with a template, then when you customise it they let you change the base template. You can change the colours and fonts; Google's commitment to centralization means that Google Web Fonts has been integrated. There's a lot more control on offer, but they're aware that we might try to obfuscate or hide the link to Google Sites at the bottom of the page; try to do that and the Powered by text changes colour to the background colour. Change the background colour to try to hide it and it goes grey. Yes, I tried, and it was having none of it, not even for very light but similar colours. Add to that the messy, bloated code and the table-based layout (in the 21st century??!) and you might want to think twice but even so the results look good if you want to really personalise your site.

Of course, we web designers need to be able to build for mobile phone browsers, but as a stop gap or a free option for non-coders, those four are the best I have found.

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