The world has reached a tipping point of sorts – over half of all online searches are now made with a mobile phone or tablet, rather than a desktop or laptop computer.

So, if a potential client hears about you or is referred to you, would they find your website easy to use on a mobile device? Or would they be frustrated with pages that don’t fit on the screen, with small text, that load slowly, and it’s hard to find the information they want?

If you’re with a multi-person firm, you may not be in position to make mobile searchers welcome, other than to agitate to have the site redesigned to work for mobile users. If you’re an independent professional as I am, you don’t have any excuse. So, grab your mobile device of choice and see how your website performs on the small, small screen. See if it presents information that users want to see first, if navigation is clear, if pages load swiftly, and the site rotates depending on whether the device is held horizontally or vertically. No? Time to consider a new website – or a new website developer.

I’ve had several talks with my web designer Andrea Dubravsky of ADWebcom about this subject. In both of the websites she built and maintains for me, mobile friendliness has been a key aspect of the design. And the site for Thought Leadership Resources gets good ratings from Google for mobile friendliness.

One thing I like about it is that the most recent content is right at the top – strategically important for me, because a new blog post appears each Friday. I want to emphasize that there’s a steady stream of useful new content.

Why mobile friendliness matters so much now

Why is this so important? Well, there’s that 50-percent-of-searches tipping point referred to above. And it’s important to note that the mobile users tend to be younger and in fast-growing parts of the world, like Asia and Africa (click here to see more on moving into new markets). There, for many users, the default way to access the online world is through a mobile device, not a computer.

So, if you want to reach the clients of the future as well as the present, you need to look good on mobile.

Then there’s the idea that what Google wants, Google gets. One of the frustrating things about Google is that they are very close-lipped about what their search algorithms are looking for. They do this mostly to stop people from gaming the system to inflate their search results.

But on the matter of mobile, Google came right out and said what they want. A February 2015 announcement from the Googleplex read: “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

It’s been said that “We all work for Google now” in that online search is an important part of how online content is designed and written.

Other organizations are taking note of the mobile stampede. In March 2015, a notice drifted across my e-mail: “The digital edition of CFO Magazine is moving to the CFO Mobile App.” Even a magazine targeted to Chief Financial Officers, who one might normally think of as a pretty desk-bound crowd, are better reached by mobile devices.

How can business professionals make their website perform better?

The good news is that in many ways, the principles for designing a website to work well in a mobile environment are the same as those for all information design.

Just a quick note on terminology here: “mobile friendliness” means a site that works well on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. There’s also “responsive design,” which means a site that responds to the type of device it’s being displayed on, so it looks good on any device. From what I can see, the trend is away from making separate “mobile” sites and towards responsive design.

Think of what the user wants to see first, and put that first
For a chain of retail stores, the user might want to know what’s on sale, the store hours, and locations. For a plumber, a potential customer wants to see links to review sites like Yelp, as well as contact information.

For a business professional – think of what your potential clients want to know about you (more thoughts on that in Post #22). It could be someone who’s heard of you, met you or been referred to you. They probably want to know if you’re good at your work, your credibility, what kinds of work you do, and how to contact you. They may be looking for your phone number (so, make it so it auto dials when they click on the number) or your office address (set it up so it presents a map with your office location marked).

But as with the Thought Leadership Resources site (in both desktop and mobile), the newest content appears near the top, right below the newsletter signup feature box.

Think about what “mobile” means for your users
For a restaurant chain, “mobile” means a need to geo-locate the user relative to the nearest location. That’s not necessarily the case for business professionals, unless they get a lot of traffic into their physical office. Maybe you’re different that way – you do a lot of speaking gigs in various locations, and you want to tell your followers, “Come to my next event near you.”

Think of what content is mobile-friendly and which isn’t
Some content is well-suited to mobile devices. My thoughts:

Text: Yes, provided it’s not too long.
Pictures: Can be a problem, given that load times are slower on mobile than for most desktop environments.
Slide shows: They work, provided (!!!) the text is large enough to read on a mobile – and most slide shows on SlideShare are a big FAIL in this regard.
Video: works well.
Audio: Podcasts are a natural application for mobile, but may be best accessed through a site such as iTunes or Stitcher.
Infographics: Probably not. Anything with enough information to be useful will have text that’s too small to read on a mobile phone.

The best way to find out about mobile friendliness is to try navigating your own site on mobile. Then check out the sites of people who do similar work, and see if they’re doing any better. Third – ask your web designer what can be done to make your website easier to use on a mobile device.