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How to Build and Monetize a Mobile-Optimized Blog

This guest post is by Thomas Samph and Matt Convente of Grovo.com.

For bloggers, creating a mobile site can seem daunting. Without the time, money and a working knowledge of various coding languages, a mobile site can seem out of reach.

But today, just like anyone who only has a desktop version of their website, that thought process is outdated. Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, noted in her 2012 Internet Trends report that mobile traffic today accounts for 10% of total Internet traffic.

What’s more, way back in 2010, she predicted that mobile users would surpass desktop users by 2014. Even more recently, the Google Mobile Ads Blog released an infographic showing that in the United States, 47% of searches for information about Olympic athletes or news about the Olympics were conducted on mobile devices.

In other words, the rewards of going mobile far outweigh the risk. Plus, with the myriad of tools at our fingertips, creating a mobile optimized site isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

So let’s take a look at why you need a mobile optimized site. Then we’ll show you how to do it. And of course, let’s not forget to monetize, too.

Why have a mobile site?

Even by the time Meeker released her Internet Trends report at the All Things Digital conference in May, we knew where the Internet was headed. The Internet is going mobile, and bloggers need mobile sites.

Here’s a short case study: think of all your favorite sites. The majority is already mobile-optimized, and there’s a great reason why. Whether readers are checking in before they go to bed, as they’re waking up, or on the go, mobile-optimized sites offer great user experiences no matter what device readers are using.

Let’s see a demonstration. Below is a screenshot of the New York Times desktop version, to the left, and its mobile version, to the right.
NYtimes_desktop_mobile

When you access the New York Times from a mobile device, you actually get the same version of the site as from a desktop browser, just smaller. This is what you want to avoid by creating a mobile version of your site.

“But wait,” you say, “The New York Times has an app that I can access from my mobile device.” True; but there’s a large difference between native mobile apps and mobile versions of sites.

Whereas a native mobile app requires a brand new infrastructure (i.e. lots of time and resources), a mobile version of a site simply means that the existing site is presented to mobile users in a user-friendly format. Plus, a mobile version of a site doesn’t require its own content management system.

To see the difference, let’s take a look at the New York Times native mobile app, and the mobile-optimized version of their site:

nytimes_mobile_versions

In comparing the two, we can see that there’s much more functionality in the native app to the left, but the mobile version to the right is a huge step up from looking at the desktop version of the New York Times on a small screen.

Now that the difference between a native mobile app and a mobile optimized site is clear, there’s one distinction still to make. We’ll illustrate that with the following two sites:

mashable_desktop_mobile

ethan_desktop_mobile

Both Mashable and Ethan Marcotte have mobile versions of their sites. But there’s a subtle difference between the two, which has huge implications on how easy (or difficult) it will be for you to create a mobile optimized version of your site.

When Mashable’s site detects that a visitor is accessing it from a mobile device, it shows that visitor the mobile version of the site, instead of the desktop version.

Ethan’s site, on the other hand, uses responsive web design, where the elements of the site rearrange themselves depending on the size of the browser. Check it out by clicking and dragging the corner of your browser on his site to make the content bigger and smaller. You’ll see that all the content shifts and rearranges itself based on the size of your browser.

In fact, Ethan Marcotte wrote the book on responsive web design. He’s a good act to follow. But following him is not easy, by any means. Responsive web design is a very difficult emerging trend in coding and design, and few people can pull off a site like Ethan’s.

So, bloggers are left with a decision when it comes to creating mobile-optimized sites: create a mobile version of a blog, or build a site using responsive web design.

How to make a mobile-optimized site

Using a plugin

There are several methods you can use to create a mobile optimized site. But anyone with a Blogger blog has it easy: Blogger blogs are automatically set up with a mobile-optimized version. If you use WordPress, the easiest method is to use a WordPress plugin.

To see what your site might look like after you use a WordPress plugin to create a mobile-optimized version, check out TechCrunch’s browser version compared to its mobile site:

techcrunch_desktop_mobile

WordPress, which powers TechCrunch, has a number of plugins that can optimize your site for mobile—all you need to do is install one of them.

Wapple Architect will display the mobile version of your website to visitors with mobile devices. It supports AdMob and Google Adsense, and allows you to retain the URL structure of your current site, instead of having to create a new subdomain for the mobile version.

wapple_plugin

WPtouch is another popular WordPress plugin that, like Wapple, is fully customizable to your needs. There’s also an option for mobile visitors to switch back to the desktop browser version if they wish to do so.

wptouch_plugin

The WordPress Mobile Pack transforms WordPress blogs into mobile sites quickly and easily, while offering a range of customizable features. Again, you’ll have the ability to manage your ads through AdMob or Google Adsense. With this plugin, however, you can view mobile analytics apart from your desktop analytics.

wordpress_mobile_plugin

By using these plugins, you ensure that those visiting your site from a mobile device will see the mobile version only. Problem solved.

However, if you’re looking for more customization, or you’re not using WordPress, check out Onbile.com.

Instead of building a mobile site from scratch or installing a plugin, Onbile lets you build a slick mobile interface with no coding. You can choose from several themes, customize the pages, and link in your RSS feed.

how_to_use_onbile

Once you’re done building, grab the redirect code and place it in the index of your site, and you’re ready to go.

Here’s the transformation of my website:

samph_desktop_mobile

Unlike WordPress plugins or Blogger mobile sites, however, the free version of Onbile requires that you keep the Onbile advertising banner on your mobile site—not the best choice if you’re looking to keep your mobile site monetized.

Still, using WordPress plugins or sites like Onbile that let you build your own HTML5 mobile site can be a great quick-fix for anyone looking to appeal to mobile traffic without having to get their hands dirty with code.

In the next section we’ll discuss some more in-depth methods of creating a great mobile presence with responsive web design. The feint of heart can skip to the last section!

Using responsive web design

Responsive web design is a way to build mobile capability into your existing site. This method is much more difficult than building another version of your site and redirecting, such as with Onbile, and it requires a deeper strategy and planning to pull it off.

For another great example of responsive web design in action, check out the Boston Globe’s site. Note that as you change the size of your browser, the content of the site changes as well.

boston_globe_site

small_boston_globe_site

This is made possible by media queries, which control the adaptation of site layout and content based on certain conditions, such as screen resolution, orientation, and pixel density. Media queries are placed either in your master CSS file, or in a separate file; it’s really up to you. Having them in your master CSS file means you have one less file to load, but having a separate file for responsive styles makes them easier to maintain.

However, no matter which method you choose, you must place your responsive styles after your main styles. This is because browsers render code from top to bottom. If your responsive styles are placed above your main ones, they won’t be activated when they’re needed.

Here are some sample media queries that you can run to adjust the layout of a page when a visitor’s screen resolution is a certain size.

1. Make a layout that adapts to a max screen width of 600 pixels (likely a phone):

@media (max-width: 600px) { CSS goes here }

2. Make a layout that adapts to screens between 768 and 850 pixels (likely a tablet):

@media (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 850px) { CSS goes here }

The last step to a successful mobile site is to add the viewport meta tag in your header. This determines a device’s width and informs the mobile browser, making it a necessary supplement to media queries. In order words, media queries adjust your CSS to varying widths, whereas viewport tags determine the starting width of the device a visitor is using right now.

In addition to device width, viewport tags can also assign initial and maximum scale. Here’s an example meta viewport tag:

meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width; initial-scale=1.0; maximum-scale=1.0;”

Here, initial-scale should be set to 1 so the correct responsive styles are displayed for your specific mobile device. The maximum-scale value can be whatever you want, though it’s important to note that zooming on a mobile device might cause some site elements to break, similar to zooming on full-width browsers. If you want to disable zooming, set maximum-scale to 1.

Let’s not forget to monetize

For any blogger who uses AdSense, it will be fairly easy to keep the mobile version of your site monetized. And if you don’t already, you can use AdMob, another Google advertising service designed specifically for mobile devices, to serve mobile banner ads to your mobile site.

Still, there are several common problems with advertising on mobile sites:

  • No Flash: It was slightly shocking to developers when Apple announced that Flash would not be supported on their mobile devices. Sites built with Flash were relegated to the broom closet, in favor of HTML5 and javascript. Many ads themselves, let alone entire mobile sites, are built with Flash. So, with limited support on Android devices, and no chance on Apple devices, Flash ads are a no-no on mobile.
  • Ad display size: The screen area of mobile devices is much smaller than desktops, so many ad sizes simply won’t do on mobile. The biggest victim of mobile is the vertical sidebar.
  • Ad file size: The speeds at which you can download data to a mobile device have still not caught up to those of a desktop. This means you need to be mindful of the loading time for your ads. Large files will take a while to load, and can also force your other content to load more slowly. When sites are slow to load, people leave.

However, those problems have some quick solutions:

  • No Flash? No problem: Instead of using Flash, try an animated GIF if you want a moving ad. Flash files are large, slow to load, and probably won’t even display on most mobile devices. Animated GIFs are a quick fix.
  • Getting the right ad display size: Square or almost-square ad units are best for mobile designs, because they’ll fit on most devices as long as you place them correctly.You can also use a rectangular adhesion banner that is fixed to the bottom of the mobile browser. Fixed banner ads have an identical pro and con: it’s always there. Be mindful of height, especially in landscape viewing mode, as a fixed ad that is too tall will cover up too much of your site. For a reference, check out the iab guidelines for digital ad units.
  • Fixing ad file size: Export your ad images using a “Save for web” or equivalent option in your editing software. This will compress the file size and make it acceptable for mobile.

How mobile’s your blog?

To prepare for the mobile traffic of the future, bloggers need mobile sites. Although some methods are more time consuming and difficult than others, there’s a way to do it for bloggers of all skill levels.

And with more and more data surfacing about the volume of mobile traffic, from Mary Meeker’s reports to the mobile search volume at the Olympics, going mobile is all the more necessary.

Do you have a mobile-optmized blog? How’d you build it? Tell us in the comments.

Thomas Samph, a product analyst, and Matt Convente, a front-end developer, both work at Grovo.com, an online training and education platform for cloud-based software.

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Comments

  1. muazfaris says:

    i totally agreed with you ! nowadays, people like to surf internet via phone rather than via computer.. so we need to use the opportunity to create income from it.. right ?

    • Yes more bloggers are on the go and so are the readers. Our sites should be optimized for mobile use.

      Great content here. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the post!
    The trend is obvious! The raise of internet users with mobile devices will continue in the future, so why not expand your brand by optimizing sites for mobile users. It would be smart thing to do.

  3. Erik says:

    Wapple it has a terrible pay plan, and if you build sites for clients, you have to pay every time. I suggest taking it off your list.

  4. Thanks for tips on having a mobile version of the website. Now majority of people browse websites on the phone and share the content. So it is important to have a mobile version of the blog … which automatically switches when it detects the mobile browser.

  5. I have implemented the plugin WPtouch on my blog. Now the mobile version looks good.

  6. John says:

    Thanks for the tips and the plugins
    I didn’t do anything yet, maybe waiting for the mobile screens to get bigger ;-)
    No seriously I’m gonna check your plugins, thanx

  7. I opted for a much easier way to do a responsive site — go with Genesis and its child theme Prose (other Genesis child themes may also be responsive).

    It’s been a HUGE hit with my readers — and over 25% of them access it on a wide variety of mobile platforms.

    Switching themes back in April was about one week of pain, even working with a consultant through Elance — just learning the new stuff and fixing a lot of “left over” problems from the previous (free) theme. It is so much better now, and has more than paid for the cost of the premium theme and the consultant.

  8. I donno m8, how many folks are accessing our blogs from mobile? I’ve hit problogger from mobile a few times, but that’s about it for blogs except my own.

  9. Rabin says:

    I use WordPress Mobile Pack to make my blog’s contents easily available for Mobile users. However I was not recieving any traffic from mobile users. I think I was doing some thing wrong. Can you point it out?

  10. Shelby Roth says:

    I really agree with your above plugins and tips! At most, the majority are all for mobile internet compared to computer for the reason that it is accessible almost everywhere and at anytime you need it. It is my choice also due to its simplicity to expand my brand by optimizing sites for mobile users! Thanks a lot for the great site, I enjoyed it!

  11. Nice post! I l love the info.

  12. Ayaz says:

    Hi Thomas! certainly these days the mobile usage has amazingly increased and with that website developers also work out to create both versions mobile and the system but there are lots plugins available to set the both version at a time.

    Thanks for sharing valuable info really love reading this :-)

  13. Shola says:

    Mobilizing my blog is definitely high on my To-Do list, and it has moved up to the #1 priority slot after reading this post. Since I’m on WordPress, I’m definitely going to try some of the plug-ins that you mentioned above. I’ve heard of WPTouch, but I haven’t heard of the others. It’s time for me to get crackin’–thanks for the useful tips!

  14. Rolando says:

    Great info. Well written. My favorite part of the entire post was “transformation of your website.” I actually favor the mobile version of it over the web version of it. :)

  15. Beryl says:

    Thanks so much for this. We had been wondering about optimizing our blog for mobiles. This answers the question. Need to get to work now on the plugin!

    Keep the great info coming please!

  16. Excellent article Thomas and thanks for the mobile ad resources at the bottom. Just what I was looking for.

    Cheers, Sean

  17. Awesome information. I think It will help my site to improve. I would like more like that. I am here. Thanks.

  18. Abhishek Raj says:

    Hey Thomas, nice post. But i am concerned about the possible duplicate content issues while using a mobile site. Suppose that i have a site at abc.com and a mobile optimized version at m.abc.com. Wouldn’t Google and other search engines treat this as a duplicate content ? Same content being distributed between two different IPs (one for desktop version and one for mobile version) ? Please reply…

  19. I’ve been using WPTouch plugin but never tried to monetize my mobile version of blog. Does its premium version allow me add adsense ads?

  20. infoinbulk says:

    Using mobile site and placing mobile ads is more profitable nowadays

  21. Marija says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been messing with this topic for years (that sounds terrible! :P) and never managed to make the mobile version of my site. Now I’ve installed the WPtouch plugin in 1 minute and it works perfectly, for what I see now.

  22. Onbile says:

    Thanks for including us. We hope you liked our tool. Follow us to keep yourself updated, we’ll be launching new interesting features soon!

  23. For users on Blogger Platform, mobile version seems rather dull and unprofessional. And personally, it doesn’t appeal to me and for the mean time have done away with it.