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In the remodeling industry, aesthetics matter. Although, you wouldn’t necessarily know this if you looked at remodeling company websites from your mobile phone or tablet, something I spent a lot of time doing yesterday at the 2014 Remodeling Show and DeckExpo in Baltimore.
Normally, at the Blue Corona booth, we have a laptop connected to a larger monitor as well as a few iPads. This year, we decided to leave some of the gadgets at home and test out good old fashion palm pressing (and free beer). Without a computer, I felt naked. It wasn’t long before I started pulling up lots of prospect websites from my iPhone (and my Google Glasses).
What I saw was surprising.
Despite all the stats about the growth of mobile device usage, very few remodeling companies have a decent mobile web presence. In the Remodeling Show’s welcome letter, Paul Sullivan, 2014 Chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, wrote that the remodeling industry is changing rapidly.
You’d never know it from looking at The Sullivan Company’s website from your iPhone (Paul owns The Sullivan Company).
Are You Mobile-Ready?
Mobile-ready is not some sort of state of mind, nor is it some buzzword—here today, gone tomorrow. According to Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst at Google, in order to be considered mobile-ready, your website’s content must be available, legible, and usable to visitors on all devices.
When Gary mentions “available,” he’s referring to Google bot as well as human visitors. Google bot must be able to crawl the content of your website. Humans need to be able to find your content as well. Flash can trip up Google bot and, because it’s not supported across many mobile devices, it can prevent content from displaying for human visitors as well. That makes for a bad user experience, something Google has constantly implored webmasters to prevent.
At first glance, The Sullivan Company doesn’t have an issue with accessibility, but I’ve got 20/20 vision and I was s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g to read the content.
The usability of The Sullivan Company’s site wasn’t much better than the legibility of the font—at least not from an iPhone. Think about the circumstances in which someone might visit your site from their mobile phone—other than mine, which were somewhat unique. They’re probably looking for directions to your office and/or to call you to confirm an appointment or tell you that they’re running late.
A website optimized for mobile would feature a click to call button and a click for directions button that would utilize the smartphone’s GPS to provide turn-by-turn directions. The Sullivan Company’s site has neither feature.
As an aside, The Sullivan Company is also not accurately tracking their website. Remodelers and builders measure things all day long, so you’d think that more of them would be interested in accurately measuring their marketing performance. Paul would have absolutely no way to accurately determine his site’s visit-to-lead conversion rate, a metric that’s critically important for maximizing website performance.
The Rise of Mobile
For very small remodelers, those that can exist on word-of-mouth and referral marketing alone, not much action is necessary with respect to mobile. However, for remodelers running sizeable companies and/or those that want to really grow their businesses, mobile needs to be high in the priority list for 2015.
Just look at these trends:
The blue line in the screenshot above represents U.S. visits to a custom kitchen remodeler’s website from all devices. The orange line represents U.S. visits from Apple iPhones; the green line represents U.S. visits from Apple iPads.
Marketers have been hyping up mobile for years. In 2012, mobile finally took off. In 2013 and 2014, it has continued to climb, and it really doesn’t look like it’s ever going to come down.
There are four ways to make your site mobile-ready. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to briefly touch on three of them: i) creating a mobile-specific website, ii) building a responsive design website, or iii) the hybrid approach.
Mobile-Specific Remodeling Websites
Some remodelers have attempted to get mobile-ready by creating separate websites seen only by visitors using mobile devices. A snippet of code placed in the <head></head> section of their main website’s HTML source code detects the device being used by the visitor to access the site and then redirects visitors using mobile devices to a different website—typically housed on a different website URL—something like “m.bluecorona.com.”
There are a few advantages to using mobile-specific websites, but there are some disadvantages as well.
One advantage of having a mobile-specific website is that they are quick and inexpensive to build (at least initially). A mobile-specific website can often be set up for less than $1,000. The primary advantage of having a mobile-specific website is that you can vary the content to take into account any difference in the intent of a mobile visitor vs. someone visiting your site from a desktop computer. Someone visiting your remodeling company website from their iPhone isn’t likely to spend hours browsing your photo gallery (although these days, you never know). They’re most likely looking for directions to your showroom or your contact info.
The primary disadvantage of using a mobile-specific site is that they are difficult to maintain and keep error-free over an extended period of time. Every time you add a page to your main website, you have to add a corresponding page to your mobile-specific site (and vice versa). If you don’t do this, Google may flag your site as not having a mobile-ready site (because not all your content is available to users on mobile devices).
Responsive Remodeling Websites
Another option remodelers have for making their website(s) mobile-ready is to have their website coded (or re-coded) using responsive design. With responsive design, you have one website—one set of HTML code—but the code automatically adjusts various visual attributes on the web page based on the type of device being used by the visitor. For example, a horizontal navigation that looks great and is fully functional for a visitor on a desktop device adjusts it size and shape for visitors on a mobile device.
The primary advantage of responsive design websites is that they are easy and inexpensive to maintain—once built and optimized. Because you only have one website, any time you add a page to your site, it’s automatically optimized for visitors using any type of device.
Of course, this advantage is not without drawbacks. Responsive design sites can be slow unless optimized by a professional web development firm (and even then, sometimes keeping them fast requires ongoing tweaks). Since site speed is a known Google organic ranking factor, a slow site is not something to take lightly. Switching from a standard non-responsive website to a responsive site also requires re-building your website. This can be a significant and lengthy endeavor, as some remodelers have no doubt experienced.
The Hybrid Approach
There’s another drawback of responsive sites—one that’s often overlooked by business owners. Responsive sites display the same content (text)—albeit reformatted—to all visitors (regardless of the device they’re using). There’s no problem with this IF your visitors have the same basic intention regardless of the device they’re using. However, if your visitors’ intentions are device-specific, you might want to consider adopting another mobile-ready strategy—the hybrid approach.
The hybrid approach to mobile-readiness typically starts with a site that utilizes responsive design for the vast majority of pages. Then, for pages where visitor intent might be device-specific, mobile-specific alternative pages are created. For example, maybe you want your mobile visitors to be taken to Google Maps when they click your contact page while you’d prefer to keep desktop visitors on your site.
Below, I’m going to give you a few examples of mobile-ready sites. I’ll also show you some that are… well, let’s say not so mobile-ready.
Berriz Design is a high-end design/build firm serving Washington, DC; Northern Virgina; and South Florida.
Their site is built on top of a responsive WordPress framework that automatically adjusts various site design elements based on the visitor’s device. When viewed from a mobile phone, for example, the site features large, easy-to-read fonts, good text-to-background contrast, click-to-call phone numbers, and a mobile-friendly portfolio/gallery.
Practically all the information on the site is also exactly where you’d expect to find it. This is important and often overlooked. Some remodelers put things like their logo or phone number in unique places, perhaps to be novel. That’s a bad move. As consumers spend more time on the web, they’re being subtly trained on where to look for certain things—and they expect to find them in those places.
Your logo should go at the top of the page, preferably on the left side of the screen. Your phone number should also be at the top of the page. On desktops, your phone number should be in the upper right corner. On a mobile device, it’s also acceptable to put it at the top of the page or to replace it with a click-to-call icon.
Mobile Grade: A
Like The Sullivan Company’s website (mentioned at the start of this post), Tabor Design Build’s website content is very difficult to read on a mobile device. Even with my perfect vision, I can’t even begin to read the navigation menu or the body copy of the homepage without several manipulations of the page. When you’re on your phone and in a rush to find someone’s contact info, the last thing you want to have to do is expand a page with your thumb and index finger and scroll side to side—still squinting.
The phone number is a tad easier to read than the one on The Sullivan Company’s site, but it can’t be clicked to call. A lot of remodelers target upscale individuals in their 50’s and 60’s. I’m in my 30’s. If I’m finding this stuff hard to read and remember, how well do you think that audience will do given the same tasks? Not very well.
The photo gallery, a key aspect of any remodeling website (albeit, less important on a mobile device), is viewable, but largely unusable from an iPhone.
Mobile Grade: F
Chris Wright is a recognized leader in the design/build and remodeling world. According to his Twitter bio, he also mentors other contractors on the business and craft of remodeling. Considering all this, I was shocked when I pulled up Chris’ website on my iPhone and found this.
From what I’ve been told, Chris is a forward thinking guy, so I expected to find something ahead of the curve—something different than that of a typical, local remodeling company. The WrightWorks site displayed to visitors on mobile devices is the standard website. Zero accommodations made for visitors using a smartphone.
While the WrightWorks website looks great when viewed from a desktop screen, it’s painful to view/browse/read on an iPhone or small tablet. The phone number is nowhere to be found on the homepage, and the fonts used (both size and color) are extremely hard to read. None of the phone numbers are click-to-call numbers and the web forms aren’t the easiest to complete either.
Chris, when you’re ready to go mobile, drop me a line!
Mobile Grade: F
Really Not Mobile-Ready
Brothers Services is another well-known local company to folks in the Baltimore-Washington region. Based on their size and some of their other online assets, you’d think they would have their act together when it comes to their mobile web presence. Negative. Their mobile website—at least when viewed on an iPhone with iOS 7—is a friggin’ D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R!
If anyone with their head screwed on straight ventured into their Google Analytics account (Google Analytics > Audience > Mobile), they’d see that the volume of visits from mobile devices for home improvement companies is absolutely exploding. Given this, why wouldn’t they create a better mobile presence?
They’ve got content that won’t display properly, content that overlaps with other elements on the site (rendering it completely illegible), the list goes on and on.
Mobile Grade: F-
BOW’s website represents an interesting case of a company that’s getting a lot of things right, but has overlooked a few small details. Details matter when your target audience is a high-end, well-educated consumer.
BOWA’s website is built on a mobile friendly content management system (CMS), but it’s not quite mobile-ready, per Google’s recommendations.
Photo galleries and portfolios are critically important for architects, design/build firms, and remodeling companies, and BOWA’s gallery doesn’t work well on devices without Flash.
Flash and mobile devices go together like wood and termites.
Mobile Grade: C
Conclusion & Takeaways
All and all, I reviewed about 50 websites this week. Despite some of the harsh grades I’ve given above, the sites mentioned are not even remotely close to the worst I’ve seen. To really get a good perspective, you’ll have to check out the benchmark report we’re putting together from our analysis of more than 10,000 remodeling and contractor websites. If you’re interested in looking at that report, which is still being completed, visit Blue Corona Insights or drop us a line.
Mobile browsing is on the rise. Savvy remodelers are working hard (NOW) to get their websites mobile-ready. Mobile-ready means that your website’s content is available, legible, and usable. Based on your business and your overall web marketing strategy, there are a number of ways to address mobile. Each has their own pros and cons.
If you’d like help:
- Assessing your site’s mobile-readiness
- Creating a digital marketing strategy that connects to your business goals
- Making your site mobile-ready
- Generating more leads and sales from the web
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers