A few years ago, while vacationing on Cape Cod, I decided it was time to conquer my fear of water and try surfing. It was a beautiful clear day which allowed us to enjoy an uninterrupted view of nothing but sea with a few large boats in the distance. The waves were high enough that only about a dozen people were in the water despite the July heat. Thinking that bravery was all I needed to overcome my water demons–and ignoring the size of the waves–was my first error. After a long argument with myself, I finally grabbed a board and made my way into the water. As I paddled out, I kept thinking that my lily white arms could be beacons for every stinging and flesh-munching creature in the ocean. When I reached the place beyond breaking waves, I carefully positioned myself on the board so that no part of my body was in the water–and reminded myself to breathe. Fortunately, I didn’t have long to wait. My wave came and I was caught up in the most delicious ride. Lying prone on the board, I rode it all the way to the shore where I was deposited with a thunk.
And this is where I made my second–and most critical–mistake.
As I lie on the board, exhausted, congratulating myself for feeling the fear and doing it anyway, I saw my family jump to their feet. They were waving and yelling. What I mistook for cheering was actually their horrified realization that a huge wave was making its way toward shore while I lay motionless on the board, apparently oblivious to the oncoming danger. Just as I lifted one hand to wave back, I felt my face slam down into the sharp sand and I began tumbling around and around forever. I was caught in a rip current. When it finally lost its force, it spit me out onto the beach in a spot I didn’t recognize. I was scratched and scraped everywhere. The force of that wave was evidenced by the sheer volume of bits of shell and sand that my body would continue to release in various ways over the next seven days.
The Business Lesson
There’s no sense going through humiliating (and scary) experiences if you can’t take something useful away. Here’s what I learned. It’s easy to get so caught up in congratulating ourselves on overcoming business challenges and achieving goals that we don’t see the next big wave coming up behind us. I’m seeing this play out in numerous businesses right now.
Today’s Next Big Wave Is Mobile
The growing use of mobile devices is that wave. But it’s bigger than a wave; it’s a tsunami. According to a Gartner report, the last quarter of 2013 marked the worst decline in PC sales in history and the seventh consecutive quarter of decreasing PC sales. Meanwhile, tablet and smartphone sales continue to rise sharply. We’re no longer satisfied to have the world on our desktop. We want access to the internet wherever we go, 24 hours a day. The danger is in not recognizing that traditional websites are incapable of meeting the expectations of mobile visitors.
Since we can’t control when or where people access our websites, the only way to ensure visitors and clients have a good experience is to adapt to the many platforms and screen sizes currently in use. A responsive website does this by shifting and optimizing your content according to the operating system and screen size of the mobile device.
Mobile devices put the world in our back pocket & challenge businesses to adapt. <– (Click here to tweet this)
How To Test Your Site
There’s no substitute for actually viewing and playing with your site on multiple devices, but there are a few online services that will emulate iPhones, tablets and Android devices for you. The best one I’ve found so far is the HubSpot Device Lab. Input your URL and it will give you several previews which you can scroll through. I can’t vouch for how they handle pop ups. If you’ve made the decision to use pop ups (I don’t think you should but I know they’re still popular) you need to do some very careful testing. From personal experience, many pop ups make websites virtually unusable on mobile devices. Anytime I’ve brought that problem to the owner’s attention, they’ve been surprised–so I know that website owners need to give this one some extra care and attention.
Take a few friends out for coffee. Ask if you can pull up your website on each of their devices. Pay particular attention to load times. A site with lots of graphics might look beautiful on a desktop but if it takes more than a couple of seconds to load on a mobile device, your risk of losing mobile visitors is high. If mobile visitors have to pinch and zoom to read your site, you have an immediate project to tackle. Business services and recruitment firms need to pay particular attention to the sign up process. If you haven’t optimized online forms for these devices, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Remember the old adage about first impressions? It holds true online. You won’t get a second chance at a first impression.
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