Build a WordPress mobile site with no technical expertise
A WordPress mobile site is a great way to make your website accessible to all. I recently published 10 tips to create a great mobile site. Now I’ll help you find the best WordPress mobile site builder for people with little or no technical expertise.
The latest trend in WordPress web design is responsive design, in which websites are designed to automatically scale up or down depending on the user’s screen size. This is all well and good, but making a website responsive can be a big job. You almost certainly need a professional WordPress developer to do it, which not everyone can afford. A simpler (and therefore cheaper) option is to have a full-size version and a separate WordPress mobile site.
But finding the best WordPress mobile plugin isn’t easy. There are several WordPress plugins and other services designed to let you create a DIY WordPress mobile site, so I decided to put them to the test.
I was looking for a WordPress mobile site builder that met the following requirements:
- Make it easy to build a WordPress mobile site without editing any code or using advanced technical skills.
- The WordPress mobile site should look professional and reflect the branding, colour scheme etc. of my main website.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive review of each option, as my aim was to replicate the experience of the average non-technical website owner. This means that if I discovered that something wasn’t good enough, I quickly moved on to the next option.
The best mobile WordPress plugin
The most obvious place to start my search was to look for the best mobile WordPress plugin. After all, it is a WordPress website. I read lots of reviews to decide which ones to test. Most were so badly reviewed that I didn’t even bother, but WPtouch did catch my eye.
The mobile WordPress plugin WPtouch claims to allow anyone to create stunning smartphone and tablet versions of their WordPress website. Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed – although it is the best mobile WordPress plugin I found.
The plugin was easy enough to set up and activate, but the mobile site it created wasn’t very impressive. There are a couple of options for changing the colour scheme, but overall you have very little control over the design. The plugin makes little attempt to match your WordPress mobile site with the design of your main site, so it doesn’t reflect your brand identity very well.
There were some technical problems with the mobile site too, which you would need a bit of technical know-how to fix. For example, it didn’t render all the HTML correctly. There were several HTML tags visible on the mobile site (e.g. for the images and some of the text formatting) – not very professional!
The WPtouch mobile WordPress plugin seemed to assume that my website was a blog. Surely the plugin developers know that these days, WordPress is much more than a blogging tool! This meant that it presented the website homepage in a blog format, listing the posts in date order. Unfortunately, the posts on this page were actually slides from a slideshow, so it was completely inappropriate to present them in this way! If your homepage is an actual blog or static page then fair enough, but the plugin misinterprets other formats and there weren’t any obvious options allowing me to fix this.
I’m sure WPtouch could be set up to work much better with a bit of technical know-how, and the Pro version includes some additional features. However, my challenge was to create an effective mobile site without this knowledge – so I moved on.
Other WordPress mobile plugins
I trialled several other WordPress mobile plugins and kept having the same problem: they all apply a mobile-specific theme for your mobile site. Some have a choice of themes, but none of them allowed any real customisation without recoding the theme itself.
I don’t agree with the idea of having one theme for your main website and a completely different one for your mobile site. Your website should convey a consistent brand identity regardless of the device it is viewed on. Yes, the layout should adapt to each device – but the overall design and branding should not.
Mobile WordPress themes
If you’re choosing a new theme for your website then there are some available – for example, those by WPtap – that come with both a full-size and mobile version. This is a nice, simple option that allows both versions of your website to use the same branding. But to be honest, if you’re looking for a new theme for your website then why not go the whole hog and choose a fully responsive theme?! So the appeal of this plugin is limited.
Of course, my challenge was to create a professional mobile site to reflect my existing website design, so this option wasn’t really suitable.
Other options for your WordPress mobile site
There are alternative solutions which allow more control over the design of your WordPress mobile site. The following mobile site options are not specific to WordPress, but they are WordPress-friendly. This means that they can be used to create WordPress mobile sites, even though they are hosted services rather than plugins.
Mobify offers a free service that makes it quite easy to create a mobile site. It has a useful tutorial to help you set things up (although make sure you don’t accidentally exit the tutorial like I did, as it’s almost impossible to find it again!).
I did find Mobify a bit confusing and difficult to navigate. But the worst thing is that you need to edit the CSS code to have any real control over the design and colour scheme of your mobile WordPress site. This didn’t meet my requirements, so I moved on.
Don’t bother – I considered trialling Octomobi for about 10 seconds, until I realised that you have to maintain your mobile content separately from your main site. This is just silly when there are services available that automatically sync the content between your mobile and main site, so I moved on…
I started the free trial of Gin Wiz‘s build-your-own version, but got put off by the limited choice of themes. None of these matched my brand, so I didn’t continue.
The Advanced Editor is more flexible but you pretty much have to build every element of your mobile site from scratch (although you don’t have to use code, which is good). It would have been helpful for it to create a suggested mobile site to get me started, which I could then edit using the Advanced Editor. I played around with it for a few minutes, but got quite confused and gave up.
My recommendation – DudaMobile
Now that’s more like it! DudaMobile allows you to create a free mobile website with no technical know-how – and it even matches your main website!
The DudaMobile website creates an excellent first impression as the homepage instructs you to enter your website address and create your WordPress mobile site at the click of a button. Very impressive.
DudaMobile cleverly analyses the CSS that controls the design of your WordPress website and uses this to design your mobile site. Although it’s completely non-technical, there are plenty of useful options that help them get it right – you can choose your industry sector, blog or non-blog, navigation menu layout and much more. DudaMobile even gives you a choice of colour schemes based on the colours it finds in your CSS.
You can hide any sections from your main site that you don’t want to appear on your WordPress mobile site, to make things as simple as possible for mobile users.
You can go into as much detail as you choose. You can accept the first version of your WordPress mobile site that DudaMobile creates for you. Or you can spend a couple of hours fine-tuning each page to appear just how you want.
The only downside is that the free version requires you to place a DudaMobile link and advertising on your WordPress mobile site, which isn’t very professional. However, the cheapest paid plan is very reasonably priced (currently $9.99/month) given the level of customisation available.
DudaMobile was way ahead of the other options I tested. It’s easily the best WordPress mobile site builder for people without technical expertise. So that is my clear recommendation.
But it’s not perfect
The great thing about DudaMobile is that it automatically syncs with your main website. The problem with DudaMobile is that it automatically syncs with your main website. No, that wasn’t a typo!
Sometimes, you want the content of your mobile WordPress site to be identical to your main website. But not always.
Although most web designers advise against second-guessing your mobile visitors and providing mobile-specific content, there are times when you need to do this. I wouldn’t want the maintenance nightmare of something like Octomobi which requires me to have completely separate content on my desktop and mobile sites. But auto-syncing solutions like DudaMobile don’t give me the option to have separate content.
What I really want is a WordPress mobile plugin that does the following:
- Uses my website’s CSS to create a great looking, customisable mobile site that matches my main site – like DudaMobile.
- Allows me to manage the content for my main site and mobile site from the main WordPress admin area. There would be a button to tick to synchronise a content block across both versions of the site, with an option to create mobile-specific content (or to hide a content block from the mobile site) if needed.
But since that doesn’t seem to exist yet, I’ll continue to recommend DudaMobile.
And if it does exist and I’ve missed it, please leave a comment below and let me know!