Create a Mobile Version of a WordPress Blog

Posted on Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, Mobile, Social Media

Congratulations, you’ve created a great blog.  The design looks great, the content is engaging, readers are commenting, and perhaps you’ve even figured out how to monetize it.  But do you know where you’re traffic is coming from?  Better said, do you know how your readers are reading your blog?  On their computers, on their mobile phones, on their tablet PCs or iPad?

For The Search Agents, we get a relatively low percentage of traffic from mobile – approximately 3% of total visits.  But this number has been steadily trending up, and we have been getting more visits from a wider range of mobile devices including iPhones, iPods, Androids, Blackberrys, and NexusOnes.

This shift toward mobile consumption of The Search Agents is consistent with a broader update of smartphones, and an increase in web surfing on the go.  ComScore just published a report from its MobiLens service which found 42.7 million people in the U.S. now own smartphones, up 18% from the previous quarter.   In January, Forrester analyst Seth Fowler, published an intriguing study on “Engaging Smartphone Users.”  Two key conclusions:

  • Smartphone users have higher levels of engagement with their phones. 35% of smartphone users browse the mobile web, compared to only 4% of featurephone users.
  • Smartphone users engage more frequently with more “mobile friendly” sites. Smartphone users who felt a mobile site was easy to use were 4 times more likely to access it than those who found the experience difficult or inconvenient.

These reports validate what most of us see every day:

  • More people are buying smartphones worldwide
  • More smartphone owners are browsing the mobile web
  • More mobile web surfing takes place on smartphone-friendly sites.

Online marketers are responding with new ways to engage with customers on their cell phones.  Either through mobile versions of their traditional web site, branded apps, or some form of mobile advertising, most have found some way to fit mobile into their marketing mix. But what about bloggers?

Mobile version of a blog

In many ways, blogs are tailor made for the mobile platform.  Blog posts are primarily text content which loads quickly and can be scanned and consumed easily.  For the most part, mobile visitors to a blog aren’t interested in all the branded elements, sidebars, and navigation options.  They are probably fans of your blog already, and have come to your blog simply to read the latest posts and comments.

Most web versions of blogs don’t render particularly well on small screens.  Even smartphones such as the iPhone and Nexus One make it a challenge to read a blog on the go. When I looked at the desktop version of The Search Agents on my iPhone, I didn’t think it was horrible, but the reading experience was less than ideal:

The blog loaded correctly, and I could get to any post I wanted, but a few shortcomings of the standard mobile version:

  • Each post is really small.  The iPhone allows you to magnify the screen, but navigating around the page and scrolling through a post isn’t great.
  • The site caused my iPhone to freeze on occasion.
  • Each page loads really slooooooooooooooooooooooowly

WordPress offers a number of different plugins to create a mobile theme for your blog.  A few months ago, we installed WordPress Mobile Edition but couldn’t figure out how to customize the look and feel of the blog.  Perhaps this is actually really easy,  but the settings tab on the admin site didn’t provide any options to make any adjustments to the blog’s appearance and I didn’t want to bother our developers to start working  in the underlying code.   The result was a really bland, RSS-like version of our blog:

I hunted around for another mobile plugin .   The best one I found was from a company called BraveNewCode.  Their WPTouch plugin went live on wordpress.com in October, 2009 and has gotten rave reviews from prominent tech bloggers such as Stephen Fry and Leo Laporte.

WPTouch was really easy to install and has a ton of great features to create a branded, mobile version of your blog.  And after my experience with WordPress mobile, having more branding options was a nice bonus.   I’m extremely fortunate to have a team of creative design professionals at The Search Agency who have done an amazing job building The Search Agents brand.  When I looked into implementing a mobile version of our blog, I wanted to preserve the look and feel of our desktop version as much as possible.

My favorite part about WPTouch is the admin tool.  No working in PHP, no hunting down developers to start adjusting code.   Just go into your wordpress admin site, look under “settings” and start building your theme.  Even I could figure it out.  And after about 20 minutes of customization, I had a mobile version of the blog that was clean, included our icon and primary color scheme, and loaded really quickly:

After a few days of use, the key benefits of WPTouch have been:

  • Easy Customization. You don’t need to be a programming genius (I can vouch for this) to manage the layout of your mobile blog.  WPTouch allows you to choose the title, colors, and font style of the entire page.
  • Icon management. Easily add your blog’s icon or favicon at the top of the page.
  • Inclusion of blog thumbnails. For each of our posts, we include a square picture or “thumbnail” to give the blog a more magazine-like feel.  WPTouch will include these pictures next to the latest posts. If  you don’t use thumbnails in your blog, WPTouch allows you to show the date, or just remove this box completely
  • Comment indicator. WPTouch will include a red circle with the number of comments for each post.  The indicator looks remarkably similar to the iPhone’s indicator of new messages, e-mails, calendar items, etc., which helps build a consistent user experience between iPhone applications.

  • Easy commenting and sharing. WPTouch includes tabs to share each post via e-mail, various twitter applications, and social networking sites such as De.icio.us, Digg, and Reddit.

The major downsides I found with WPTouch include:

  • No custom headers.  WPTouch doesn’t allow you to include your logo, or make any customizations beyond colors, font style (seven to choose from), and the addition of custom icons.  I’m sure this is to reduce the overall load time, but I would have preferred to upload our logo and tagline to the masthead.
  • No links to author’s bio pages. Each of our authors had a dedicated page with a picture, website, brief bio, and summaries of each of their articles.  Author pages aren’t included anywhere in the navigation, and WPTouch doesn’t provide an option to include hyperlinks from each author’s name.  There’s also no way to reach the “about us” page from the navigation bar.

So you certainly trade off a few features for an improved viewing experience on the mobile platform.  I’m assuming most mobile visitors to a blog are either regular readers, or navigated to a particular post from an e-mail, search, or social media site.  In either case, they’re likely to be more interested in the content than the branding and there’s no doubt the mobile version makes it much easier to read, comment on, and share each post.   If your readers prefer the desktop version, WPTouch includes a big “ON/OFF” switch to disable the mobile theme.

OK, time to take out your smartphone and check out the new mobile version of  The Search Agents.  Or perhaps you’re been reading this post on your phone already.  In either case, you’ll definitely want to give the enhanced commenting and sharing a feature a try.  After you share this cool new plugin with your network, why not leave a comment and  let us know what you think?

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12 Responses to “Create a Mobile Version of a WordPress Blog”

  1. Rachael Keck says:

    Thanks for the great information. WPTouch seems to be a great option for me because I am not a great coder and I don’t have developers to spend time on this.

    One question – Isn’t WPTouch only for touchscreen smart phones? That leaves out most Blackberry users. Do you know of a similar option that will work for all smartphones?

  2. Alec Green says:

    Hi Rachael,
    Thanks for your comment. Correct, WPTouch is only for touchscreen phones. I have installed both WordPress mobile and WPTouch on our blog. For blackberry users, WordPress mobile should apply the plain text version (shown in the middle of this post). For smartphone users, WPTouch applies the enhanced version.
    Hope that helps.
    Alec

  3. Antony Swans says:

    If you are interested to make a professional mobile version of your website you should consider consulting our specialists MobilizeToday.com. If you use WordPress, the task becomes a very simple one. We can make a hand-made mobile friendly version of your website or you can download our FREE mobile
    compatible WordPress theme Möbius

  4. Carl says:

    This looks really great, Alec. There is nothing like the combination of smart, talented people and great technology!

  5. Kathie Eken says:

    Where have I been? I just found your website on Google. Fantastic article! I appreciate you taking the time to share this.

  6. thanks for that info, turned out to become extremely useful.

  7. i am actually looking to monetize my blog with adsense mobile ads . can you tell me how this can be dome here

  8. Mobile dating is one of those things that are slick to implement. Why? Because there so many diverse platforms you have to account for. Their is numerous cellular devices men and women use for their mms dating desires. Can someone cater to all gadgets? Possibly it is, but it surely wouldn’t be realistic. Instead of trying to make a place for all mobile phone people for connecting, it might be better to generate diverse sites for folks from exact products to date. There are numerous formats it’s better to appeal to the more popular products and let people gradually up grade to prospects devices in lieu of reduce or eliminate web site functionality for the rest.

  9. Txt message dating will see an outburst in the next few months. With almost everyone and their dog having access to a phone, it’s inevitable that people will look for ways of reaching out to the dating world through their devices. In fact, it’s already happening to some degree. People carry their android almost anywhere they go. Making sms dating so simple anyone can do it.

  10. i completely agree with that but as im from france and my english is not that smashing im not sure if i interpreted everything correct. I would love if you could post a translated variation of your articles, so i can read them more easily. promise to read over again presently here!

  11. Ralf says:

    thanks for that info, turned out to become extremely useful.

  12. Hi there, all the time i used to check weblog posts here early in the dawn, because i
    love to find out more and more.

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