By Richard Stevenson, 1&1 Internet Ltd, www.1and1.co.uk, a global leader in web hosting

British businesses have worked hard to create visibility for themselves on the Internet and adapt to the needs of the online consumer. At the same time, there is clear evidence that more people are browsing the web on the go with devices such as the iPhone, BlackBerry or Android phone. IDC, a global provider of market intelligence, predicts that Smartphone shipments worldwide will jump by 55 per cent this year — 10 per cent more than projections it made earlier this year.

However, new research shows that a worrying number of UK firms may be at risk of losing the audience they worked hard to acquire as consumers now switch to browsing the Internet from a mobile device. Despite 64 per cent of small business owners having used a mobile device to surf the web in their private lives, more than half (53 per cent) have not yet checked the appearance or functionality of their own business website using this method.

The smaller screen and touch functionality of mobile devices can often make it necessary to adapt the design of websites. Furthermore, a significantly higher number of operating systems and browsers have to be supported as compared to local hardware like PCs. From companies that have examined their web presence from a mobile, 41 per cent admit their website has a reduced appearance from a mobile device, and 36 per cent know of reduced functionality. Worryingly, only 7 per cent of firms were confident they have optimised their websites for mobile usage, whilst 65 per cent have no plans to do so.

British business owners today place a low importance upon whether their website can be used comfortably from a mobile device. Only the minority of owners (18 per cent) believe that a mobile-friendly website would positively impact sales revenue, 23 per cent recognise a link to brand enhancement, and 31 per cent feel it could provide access to a broader range of customers. 43 per cent of owners agree that an optimised website could make a difference to the overall visibility of a business. The figures suggest that complacency on the issue has the potential to place firms at risk of losing website visitors and failing to engage with consumers.

Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that mobile-friendly website features are still not common place. Remarkably, only 1 in 4 firms have a location map on their website, or have location listings on popular search engines such as Google. Some 20 per cent of companies are submitted within local business directories. Only 2 per cent offer eCommerce functionality optimised for a mobile device.

Interestingly, the level of optimisation for mobile devices varies on an international scale. Spanish business owners are most likely to have checked their website for mobile usage (58 per cent), whilst German firms are the least likely (31 per cent). French companies have made the most efforts to optimise the design of their websites (13 per cent).

The data shows that many websites have not yet reached the Smartphone age. Businesses must ensure that when their website is viewed on a mobile, it loads promptly, functions correctly and comprises an attractive and fitting representation of them. Firms of all sizes must ensure they are online whenever and wherever the consumer needs them. By accommodating the mobility of their online audience, customer loyalty and spend can be enhanced. On-the-go web access is a trend that can be used to every business’s advantage.