The mobile Internet isn’t going away… but your customers might if you don’t give them what they want.

When it comes to technology, change isn’t always obvious until it’s staring us right in the face. Some “experts,” for example, thought personal computers held no commercial promise, even as Apple and IBM started shipping thousands of them each month. Not too long ago, numerous industry insiders predicted that Twitter, Facebook and direct-to-consumer mobile apps would fail, even as they went on to tremendous success.

The point? Sometimes it’s easier to ignore the obvious than it is to make the right decision or investment.

That’s certainly the case with mobile web usage today. While most of us—from teenagers to senior citizens—are (almost literally) attached to our smartphones and tablets throughout our waking hours, quite a few business owners, managers and executives refuse to embrace mobile versions of their business websites. They insist the websites they have are “just fine,” or that they’ll get to it later when it becomes a necessity… even though the reality is that it’s been a necessity for more than two years.

PewInternet.org, a leading authority on Internet trends, provides some interesting facts about cell phone ownership and usage. As of January 2014:

In addition, cell internet growth over the last few years cannot be denied—from 31 percent in 2009 to 63 percent in 2013.

Even if a business didn’t have access to the same figures as those of us in the web design community—the ones which show that mobile web usage will overtake “traditional” laptop and desktop usage this year—they should be able to see that everyone around them is accessing the Web on the go. In fact, they’re probably doing it themselves.

Even more importantly, it doesn’t require a lot of time or money to make your business website mobile-accessible. You just have to keep a few key ideas in mind.

#1: Mobile internet usage isn’t going to decrease.
There is a reason we all love our smartphones and tablets: They are incredibly convenient. That’s especially true when we are on the move and need to get information, make a reservation, or look up an address or phone number. Couple that with decreasing prices for mobile devices, as well as the accompanying data plans, and it’s easy to see why mobile web usage is exploding. The bottom line is that this trend isn’t going to reverse itself. If anything, it will keep accelerating to the point where “traditional” computers like laptops and desktops will become the exception, not the rule.

#2: Mobile websites don’t have to be expensive or complicated.
For smaller businesses, the incentive to avoid mobile business websites is pretty easy to understand. If the business owner thinks they’re doing fine as they are, why spend money on something new they might not be entirely sure they want, or can even make sense of?

That’s an easy position to take, but it’s also the wrong one. Given the wealth of opportunity mobile computing represents, every business should be looking for ways to take advantage. And besides, making a cloned version of your existing website, or a scaled-back mobile version with a display that’s friendlier to small screens, doesn’t have to cost your company much at all—it’s usually just a fraction of the cost of a brand-new website.

There are a few downsides to dedicated mobile websites, however. First, while Google likes to display mobile-friendly websites in its search results because they’re accessible to more people, it will ignore pages that are simply duplicates of existing pages. So, creating a brand-new, mobile-friendly web presence means coming up with a different set of content, which can be a hassle. Also, most businesses get a lot of mobile visitors, but not so many to justify a whole new website. Luckily, there is another option…

#3: There is an easy, all-in-one solution.
Although the costs associated with mobile web design have come down pretty drastically, there is an even better answer for most businesses, which comes in the form of responsive web design. These are websites that automatically adapt themselves to the systems visitors are using, so a person using Internet Explorer on a desktop computer sees a slightly different version of your website than someone using Dolphin on an Android smartphone.

While responsive web design usually involves a little more expense than a simple mobile site, it can be implemented at the same time you make other upgrades. And as an added benefit, you’re left with only one website to maintain—meaning you get all the mobile web functionality you need without additional ongoing costs or time commitments.

Unless your web analytics say that you’re receiving an extraordinarily high percentage of customers and visitors through mobile devices (You are checking your mobile traffic, aren’t you?), a responsive web design is probably a better value.

#4: A mobile web presence can lead to bigger things.
In the short term, having a mobile-friendly version of your website means it’s easier for people to reach you, especially when they’re on the go. That can be absolutely critical for restaurants, retailers and others in the service industry, as well as businesses whose customers need to get in touch after hours or from locations away from home or work.

Looking at the bigger picture, though, going mobile can pave the way for apps, social media interaction, QR code specials and other low-cost, high-impact marketing opportunities. Everything starts with being accessible—you can go in many different directions once you have the right tools in place.

It’s easy to ignore something you don’t want to pay attention to, especially if you’re afraid it’s going to cost you money. But passing on this particular trend is not a good move in the short run or the long term, and you don’t have to break the bank to do so.

The mobile Internet isn’t going away… but some of your customers might if you don’t give them the convenience they’re crying out for. iBi