Every day someone is asking me about responsive WordPress themes. There is a huge push towards mobile friendly everything which is good if done right.
If you’re just starting to re-design your site, then I defiantly think that you should keep mobile in mind from the very beginning. That can be by picking a theme that is responsive from the start, or building out your own custom theme that has a mobile first approach.
However, if you’ve already got an existing WordPress site, then mobile becomes a bit harder. What bloggers tend to do is just grab a plugin that automatically makes their site mobile friendly and that’s not such a good idea.
There are some great plugins out there like WPTouch and Jetpack that allow mobile themes with just a few clicks. They are easy to install, cheap and make your site mobile friendly in just a few clicks, but what bloggers don’t often realize is how much they take away.
Where did your brand go?
When you enable a mobile plugin, you lose all your branding. Your logo, color palette and your identity is gone. Sure, you may be able to add a little of it back if the plugin you choose allows, but it’s but it’s not going to be anything like your desktop version.
Where are all the features and my customization?
Things like custom post types, widgets and custom loops no longer show. Since the mobile theme is a completely separate theme, you lose out everything you’ve customized.
When I enabled a mobile theme on my site, the homepage post images disappeared because they are a custom loop. On other sites I’ve seen had they had built custom slideshows, used featured images in the content and had some great customization via Advanced Custom Fields. When a mobile theme was enabled all was lost and all that was left was shortcodes and content that didn’t always work without visuals. Unfortunately no one realized how much mobile users were missing.
Are they really user-friendly?
Mobile themes automatically decide what to show and what to hide. They collapse menus, change font sizes, and mess with everything so that it’s more mobile friendly. Sometimes that’s OK, sometimes it’s just annoying. Does your navigation really work well in a drop down? Is it ok that we have no sidebars? Do your users know how to navigate this site?
Where is my advertising or call to actions?
There are a lot of blogs that depend on the ads on their site paying for the hosting. Once you enable a mobile theme they’re gone. If you’re not relying on advertising, you may have call to action buttons to drive downloads or sign-ups. Those disappear as well.
It’s things like this that often get overlooked when you can turn a WordPress site into a mobile optimized site in a matter of minutes. It’s like the webmaster is saying we care about mobile users but then give them a site that lacks all the features and functionality.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a mobile version of your site, but I am saying that the automatic mobile friendly plugins could be doing more harm than good.
The best thing to do if you have an existing site is to look at your site on a mobile device and ask yourself two questions.
- With a mobile plugin enabled, am I happy with what users get? Is all the information there?
- With a mobile plugin disabled, how happy am I with my site? Is it still usable?
Just because a site is not mobile optimized it doesn’t mean it won’t work well on mobile. I feel that my site works just fine without a mobile optimized version. Things look good, load well, and I feel it’s still usable. I’ll surely incorporate a mobile theme in the next redesign though.
The decision is up to you, but don’t just install a mobile plugin because you think it’ll make things better. Make and educated decision based on testing, analytics and what’s important to you and your users.