As an entrepreneur, you're most likely always on the lookout for new developments. Perhaps your customers are reporting that your site needs a mobile version so that they can visit it while they're on the go, or maybe you recently saw a competitor's site through your mobile device; it looked slick, and now you're feeling outclassed.
The mobile web is burgeoning. Usage of iOS, the operating system for Apple mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad, almost doubled in just seven months (from March 2010 to October 2010), according to Netmarketshare. This is an indicator of just how many people are browsing websites, more and more, through their mobile devices instead of their computers.
Small businesses should be on top of this trend. To help out, we've compiled a list of easy-to-use tools for creating mobile sites. The tools in this list were purposely chosen for ease of use -- that is, they're all aimed at site owners who don't have any web development/coding experience. They're perfect solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses because of their cost effectiveness (and most are even free).
How These Tools Work
Most of the tools below have graphical user interfaces and copy-and-paste code blocks that can be installed on your site quite easily. If you can install a tool like Google Analytics on your site yourself, you'll be able to use these tools.
These tools work by detecting the user agent of your site visitors, which is just fancy talk for finding out whether a visitor is using a regular web browser or a mobile web browser. If the user agent is a mobile browser, users are redirected to your website's mobile version. The common practice is to assign the mobile version of your site with a sub-domain as such m.yourwebsite.com. In this manner, your site traffic is forked into two segments, giving all of your site visitors an optimal browsing experience.
Mobify allows you to create a mobile version of your website through an intuitive and user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI). Setup is a breeze, and you can have your very own mobile site in minutes.
If you run an e-commerce store, even better! Mobify has the Mobile Commerce platform that's geared specifically toward e-stores for the mobile web.
Mobify runs on a freemium model, but its free version is very generous and includes the option for a custom domain (such as m.yourwebsite.com). The paid plans start at $249 per month and include features such as the removal of the Mobify logo on your mobile site, mobile analytics for reporting site traffic stats, and so on.
Companies such as Ford, Nokia and Reebok use Wirenode, a mobile website generator that has helped more than 50,000 websites create mobile-device-friendly versions of their sites.
Its free plan has a user-friendly editor for designing your mobile site, free hosting for up to three mobile sites, website statistics reporting, and more. The paid plans start at 15 Euros per month (about $19.80 USD), with upgrades such as support for custom domains and the removal of Wirenode advertisements.
If you're strapped for time, Mippin Mobilizer is a no-frills tool that will take you minutes to use. All you have to do is enter your site's RSS feed URL, configure some options, sign up for an account, install some code on your site, and you're done! As you set up your mobile site, it has a live preview on the right-hand-side so that you can see the progression of your site's design as you configure it.
Onbile promises that you can have a mobile version of your site in five minutes or less. It delivers this promise by giving you an intuitive user interface for constructing your mobile site and a custom-generated script to paste into your index page so that when mobile device users visit your site, they are redirected to the mobile version. You can select one of 13 customizable templates as a starting point for your mobile site design.
If you're interested in creating an online community based around your mobile site, check out Winksite, a web app for building a mobile community for your website.
It even generates your very own QR code, a two-dimensional code readable by mobile devices with QR scanners and used to automatically pull up text, photos, videos, music and URLs. There are many ways to use QR codes for small business marketing. You can print your QR code on your business card, print ads and other branding materials, and when mobile users want to visit your mobile site, they just need to use their mobile device cameras to scan the QR code.
If you would like to generate a QR code without having to use Winksite, check out this free web-based tool called QR-Code Generator.
Do you use the WordPress publishing platform for your website? If so, you're in luck because there's a bevy of plug-and-play WordPress plugins for automatically generating a mobile version of your website. One such plugin is MobilePress, a free WordPress plugin for creating a mobile theme for your WordPress-powered site. Another WordPress plugin to consider is WordPress Mobile Edition.
iWebKit is a simple framework for creating your own iPhone/iPod touch apps. It can be used to create an app like Mashable's iPhone app, for example.
Though iWebKit can be used by anyone, even without knowledge of HTML, it isn't as user-friendly as the other tools mentioned above and requires that you download and install the app as well as read the user manual. But for a small time investment (no cash needed, the iWebKit framework is free), you can have your very own iPhone app just like the big kids.
MoFuse is loaded with a large set of features for building and managing your mobile site. It's aimed at agencies, news media and small- and medium-sized businesses. Prices range from $7.95 to $199 per month and include features such as site analytics reporting, support for more than 5,000 different mobile devices, customer support, a QR code manager, and more.
Bonus: Resources for Testing and Evaluating Your New Mobile Site
Once you use one of the tools above and have your very own mobile version of your main site, it's a good practice to ensure that everything's in order. Here are additional tools and resources for testing and evaluating your new mobile website.
- mobiReady - This tool will test your site for dotMobi compliance and W3C mobileOK compliance, sets of mobile website standards that ensure an optimal and accessible mobile-site user experience. It also looks for errors and gives you a user-friendly report of any errors discovered. It's easy to use -- just plug in the URL of your mobile site.
- W3C mobileOK Checker - W3C has an official tool for checking a mobile site's "mobile-friendliness".
- iPad Peek - Don't have an iPad? That's quite alright, you can still see how your mobile site looks through the popular Apple mobile device using this tool that emulates what people see on the iPad.