By Vidhan Rana

According to Nielson Company, 28% of U.S. mobile subscribers now have smartphones, cell phones with operating systems resembling those of computers. According to StatCounter, a website that tracks internet browsing habits of people around the world, the popularity of mobile browsing is increasing day by day. While less than 1% of the internet traffic in the U.S. was generated by mobile devices in January 2009, data from StatCounter shows that the rate is now around 7%. In countries like Japan and South Korea that are early adopters of 3G and mobile broadband technologies, the rates are over 10% of the total internet browsing. Though this number fairly small right now, the trends point out that up to a third of the internet traffic could be from mobile devices in the next five years.

Even Whittaker Associates’ own website, which gets a total of approximately 650 hits every month, gets around 30 hits every month from mobile devices (approximately 5 percent). Since we began tracking the mobile browsing data about a year ago, we have gotten 186 hits from mobile devices. Of those, 130 visits came from the iPad and iPhone (65 each). Android based systems have generated 30 hits total in the last 12 months. Again, these numbers may seem insignificant now, but the rate of increase in hits from mobile devices points out that Whittaker Associates should be paying attention to such trends and invest accordingly to make sure that our website displays properly on a mobile browser.

For economic development organizations the need to make their websites mobile-friendly is even greater. Most business executives and site selection consultants spend a large percentage of their time on the road. They check their emails, browse the internet, and do their research on the road. Chances are, your email with the link to your community’s website is being viewed fairly often on a mobile browser. If it doesn’t display properly on a mobile browser, your community may lose out on a business opportunity.

Some economic development organizations have understood the importance of this trend and have become early adopters of this technology. Longview, Texas recently redesigned its website and worked with EDsuite, a company based in Kilgore, Texas, to offer a fully functional and optimized mobile website. You can check out Longview’s mobile site by visiting in your mobile browser.

If you already have a content management system like WordPress or Joomla working on your website, it may not be so difficult to mobilize your site. There are plugins like MobilePress that will render your site to become mobile-friendly. But if you are really looking for a customized solution, you may need to work with developers.

I encourage you to analyze your website’s traffic sources. If more than 5% of your website’s hits are coming from mobile devices, it may be time to consider making an investment. A traffic tracking system like Google Analytics may be your first step to staying ahead of the mobile computing curve.