How to make your WordPress site mobile friendly

How to make your WordPress site mobile friendly

Morgan Smith's Layout avatar

It’s no secret that mobile-friendly WordPress sites are the new norm, but despite how common they may seem, it can still take a little work to create a beautiful, responsive site. This guide will help you understand why it’s important to have a mobile-friendly site, how to build one on WordPress, and introduce you to the best tools to create a responsive site.

To make your WordPress site mobile-friendly, you need to:

  1. Understand why responsive web design is important
  2. Take the Google Mobile-Friendly Test
  3. Use a responsive WordPress theme (or create your own)
  4. Consider mobile-friendly WordPress plugins
  5. Use mobile-friendly opt-ins
  6. Think in terms of responsive media
  7. Prioritize site performance

Ready? Let’s dive in!

1. Why are mobile-friendly sites important?

In Q4 2019, 61% of Google searches took place on a mobile device. That means that over half the population is turning to phones and tablets over traditional desktop devices, so in order to keep up with them, your website needs to be ready to display on any screen size. A mobile-friendly design makes for a positive user experience and will help your users find what they’re looking for while on the go.

Besides UX, there’s another important reason your site should be mobile-friendly: Google. Starting in 2015 (the year of “Mobilegeddon”), Google implemented a major overhaul of its search algorithm to reward sites that are deemed “mobile-friendly.” The change came down to one crucial data point: whether or not your website is responsive.

This means that if your site reads well on mobile devices, it’s going to perform better in search results than sites that don’t. That’s a pretty sweet perk if you’ve done the work to create a mobile-friendly site! But it can also hurt your site’s traffic if it’s not quite up to the task of displaying on smaller screens.

Luckily, if your WordPress site isn’t mobile-friendly yet, there are plenty of tools to help you get up to speed and build a fully-functioning, responsive site. The first step? Benchmark your current design.

2. Take the mobile-friendly test

Your website may look great on one mobile device (like your own personal cell phone), but you really need to test it on a wide range of screen sizes to know if it’s truly responsive. Even if you happen to have a whole bunch of old phones lying around, that can be a time-consuming process to test it on every screen.

To simplify things, Google has gifted us all with a free mobile-friendly testing tool that will tell you whether your site qualifies as “mobile-friendly” or not. Just enter your site’s URL for a quick assessment of your site’s mobile design. If your website is fully optimized for mobile devices, you’ll get an enthusiastic little success message that looks like this:

If you’re seeing red, you’ve got a little bit of work to do. (We’ll get to that in a second!)

Pretty neat little tool, right? Well, it gets even better.

For all of you developers out there, Google also released a Mobile-Friendly Test API that allows you to test URLs with automated tools. The benefit of this is that you can quickly test more pages, but you can also monitor the most important pages on your site without having to manually turn to the browser tool all the time. Score!

Once you’ve used Google’s mobile-friendly tool to benchmark your site, it’s time to start making improvements. Let’s start with your WordPress theme.

3. Use (or create) a responsive WordPress theme

If you’ve recently installed a new WordPress theme, there’s a decent chance you’re okay in this department. If your theme has been around for a while though, it might be time for a little update.

First things first: Double-check your WordPress version and current theme version. If there are pending updates, start with those. I can’t speak for every theme out there, but some updates will contain mobile-friendly elements and may be enough to fix your problems. WordPress 4.4, for example, added some really neat functionality for responsive images (you can read all about that here).

If updates don’t do the trick, it’s probably time to look for a new theme or consider creating your own. Let’s explore both options.

The best mobile-friendly WordPress themes

Realistically, a lot of WordPress themes these days are responsive – it’s probably rarer for a theme to not be mobile-friendly. That being said, before purchasing a theme, double check that it displays well on any screen size. Test out the demo site, scale your browser window, and read any reviews you can find to look for experience from real users.

If you’re happy with what you see, go for it! But if something doesn’t look right, steer clear. Even if you thought it was the perfect match, there are so many WordPress themes to choose from that I guarantee you’ll find another that’ll work for your site.

If you’re looking at free themes, be sure to see what it looks like with your own content in place – as I’m sure you know, things don’t always look quite the same, so make sure it displays your content the way you’d want on mobile.

Not sure where to start? When you host your WordPress site on Flywheel, you’ll get access to over 30 premium StudioPress themes (including the Genesis Framework!) free with your plan. These themes are fully responsive so they’ll look great on any device, plus you can easily swap between them (instead of feeling stuck with the “the one” premium theme you decided to purchase).

How to create your own responsive WordPress theme

If you’d rather go the DIY route to create a mobile-friendly site, be sure to start from scratch or in a test environment – you should never make drastic changes like that on your live site.

I’d recommend using Local to spin up a local WordPress site right on your machine. This free app will allow you to experiment to your heart’s content while never breaking your current site (which is essential when going through a redesign). You can even import your existing site into Local, so you only need to start from scratch if you want to.

There’s also a feature called Live Links, which generates a shareable URL to the local site. This allows you to send it off to a client or pull it up on your phone, so you can easily test how the site looks on a mobile device.

If you create a child theme based on a responsive parent theme, you’re going to be in pretty good shape. If you’re starting from a totally blank slate and creating your own theme, just be sure to use media queries to establish boundaries for the design, and think elements through one at a time. 

Ask yourself how images should scale, what the navigation should look like, and if any of the content will hide on a mobile device. Here are a few tutorials that can help you out:

4. Use responsive plugins

Plugins add functionality to your WordPress site, so they don’t always add anything visually to the front-end. But in the event that they do add a physical element to your site (like a widget or CTA button) make sure it scales well on all screen sizes, or at least gives you the option to disable it on smaller screen sizes.

For example, a sidebar widget is a wonderful addition to a desktop site, but if it dominates the mobile design or doesn’t scale down, it’s not going to make for a very great user experience.

Like themes, just pay attention to the features of a plugin, and try to read reviews or find a demo before purchasing one. And whenever you activate a new plugin, remember to do a quick quality check of your site to ensure it’s scaling correctly across screen sizes.

As long as you’ve got a responsive theme and plugins that behave well on mobile, your site is going to be in really good shape for displaying on smaller screens.

5. Avoid adding pop-ups on mobile devices

If you’re trying to build an email list with your WordPress site, I’m guessing you have a variety of opt-ins on your site. Most email opt-in forms work just fine on mobile devices (assuming they scale and are easy to use).

Pop-ups, however, are a different beast. Google has started penalizing sites with intrusive interstitials, aka opt-ins that cover the content of a site. This includes pop-ups (whether they display immediately or after a user has been on the site for some time) and any other type of opt-in that a user must dismiss before accessing the content on the page. You can read all about Google’s stance on the matter here.

An example of a desktop pop-up we use here on Layout. We have them turned off on mobile, however, otherwise they’d take up the whole phone screen!

To keep your WordPress site mobile friendly and following best practices, avoid pop-ups on your mobile design. How you go about that will depend on the service powering your opt-ins, but most providers should have an option to disable intrusive pop-ups on mobile devices.

6. Strategize for responsive media

Whether you’re working with a portfolio site, a daily blog, or an eCommerce site, an important piece of the responsive puzzle is to consider the media on your site. That large background image on your homepage might look great on a desktop machine, but if it doesn’t scale correctly, it could lose all context and lead to a difficult viewing experience on a phone. So rule number one to responsive media? Think about how things scale.

If scaling isn’t actually the best solution for your site, you could also consider hiding certain elements when your site is loaded on a mobile device. This would help simplify the experience and get users to the most important content faster.

Finally, you also need to keep in mind the file size of the media you’re including on your site. Not only will this improve the mobile experience, but the desktop load time, too! Media files are often some of the largest on a website, which makes them the cause of loading bars and long wait times. To help streamline your site and boost mobile performance, try to optimize your images by using the smallest file size you can while still maintaining the quality you need. (For example, maybe your mobile site loads a smaller version of an image than the desktop!)

7. Prioritize site performance

Page speed has been important for a long time in terms of how your site is ranked in Google desktop searches, but as of July 2018, that’s now also the case for mobile rankings. Pair that with the stat from above that over 60% of internet searches are using mobile devices, and your site’s performance (on every device) is now more important than ever.

Images are a big part of the performance equation, but your code and WordPress host play a big role as well.

When it comes to your code, consider actions like minification (especially if working with a custom theme). Take inventory of all the plugins installed on your site, and deactivate and uninstall any that aren’t needed anymore. Basically, the more organized you keep the elements powering your site, the better off you’ll be.

As for your WordPress host, make sure you’re using a quality partner that includes services like caching technology, CDN, and infrastructure powered by reliable providers like the Google Cloud Platform. If you’re hosting your site on Flywheel, you’re set in all these areas. Plus we even offer our Performance Insights Add-on that will help you go a step further in your troubleshooting to make sure your site is performing at its best on every device.

As more and more people use their smartphones or tablets to access the internet, site designers have to adjust to address those usage patterns. So, is your site ready for your mobile visitors? What aspects of your site have you had to change? What tools did you use to create a responsive design? Share your experience in the comments!

Get access to 30+ premium (and mobile-friendly!) StudioPress themes

Save yourself some time (and money!) by hosting with Flywheel and getting access to StudioPress themes and the Genesis Framework. The themes are fully responsive and easy to customize, saving you time when trying to build a mobile-friendly site. Plus Flywheel’s powerful platform will keep your site’s performance flying, helping those page speeds stay fast and your site ranking well.

This article was originally published on 22-17-2017. It was last updated 10-2-2020. 

Comments ( 47 )

  1. James

    February 6, 2020

    Thanks for sharing this post!!

  2. nowseo

    February 11, 2019

    Most of the WordPress themes are already responsive, but it still got mobile not friendly error.

  3. indtens

    February 5, 2019

    great article!

    but I am still having trouble managing the mobile version

  4. Alex

    February 2, 2019

    Most of the Wordpress themes are already responsive in 2019. Even if someone's site is not responsive, changing the theme is the bet.

    Plugins can also make a site responsive, but I personally prefers to change the theme.

  5. abhi singh

    January 27, 2019

    wordpress is the great place to start you blog thnks for the information

  6. Athar Bhat

    January 19, 2019

    Hi Morgan,

    The article and the information are really nice and helpful. I was wondering if there is any plugin on WordPress that we can use which can auto optimize our site for mobile devices?

    Athar Bhatt

  7. AlSEOPerth

    January 1, 2019

    Nowadays, web designing is in-demand. Anyone with knowledge of web designing can create a design for a website. But, having knowledge alone is not enough to create a good and responsive web design. It is important to know the basics of good web design. Thank you for sharing this information!

  8. Belta

    November 15, 2018

    Thank you for educative post. My site is loading slowly but your tips I hope will be helpful in making it load perfectly on phones.

  9. Junaid Ahmed

    October 16, 2018

    Mobile websites are a must for all business, it is an important factor that all developers and testers should also check the responsiveness of their web pages in various devices. Use to perform cross browser testing for free.

  10. emma

    September 26, 2018

    Amazing Post.

  11. Nikki

    September 14, 2018

    Awesome post!

  12. prekast nedir

    August 24, 2018

    Great post. Thank you admin.

  13. yangin merdiveni

    August 19, 2018

    Thank you for this article.

  14. Wish Promo

    August 10, 2018

    AMP website is most important for Google Ranking. I Feel AMP web pages are future. Because these Pages are very much good in speed.


    August 4, 2018

    thanx for sharing for this its really helpful for my website

  16. extratorrent proxy

    August 1, 2018

    Very helpful post thanks for sharing keep it up..

  17. Britt Dreisbach

    July 23, 2018

    There are tons of great questions here! Be sure to check out the article on testing for mobile usability problems, too.

  18. Pallav

    July 20, 2018


    My website is on Wordpress, but it's not user-friendly, and I cant change its theme. So, is there any plugin which can ease my work for creating hole website again. Or any more techniques to optimise it. I have already optimised images.

  19. ChatRoom PK

    July 11, 2018

    I have recently created my website, I want to make it mobile friendly because I am using an old WordPress theme and it's not mobile optimized. I am going to try your techniques to make it mobile friendly. Thanks for sharing it.

  20. Kevin

    June 28, 2018


  21. roy smith

    June 28, 2018

    Great Thank You I like this Blog about to define well seo friendly website

  22. Vikash mishra

    June 22, 2018

    very usefull post:) thanks for sharing

  23. sevgililer günü

    May 17, 2018

    Very nice and helpfull post, thanks for sharing.

  24. Wish

    May 2, 2018

    Very useful insights I ever needed. Thanks for sharing the information :)

  25. Texas Inshore Fishing

    April 30, 2018

    I’m trying my hardest to create a mobile friendly blog but I’m still stuck on creating a new one or just editing the template I have now. If somebody creates a new blog for me do they have to constantly update it every time WordPress updates their templates?

  26. korirm

    March 11, 2018

    Very useful insights I ever needed. Thanks for sharing the information that seems to be useful in making a mobile friendly site. I personally benefit from your tips.

  27. Justme

    March 3, 2018

    The only thing Google is looking for in the test is one meta tag:

    Obviously it is necessary, but it's no guarantee that the site renders well on a mobile device.

  28. Vijay Chavda

    March 2, 2018

    Thanks for sharing. I want to know about some mobile friendly plugin.

  29. Les

    February 21, 2018

    This is such great advice!! Thank you!

  30. William

    February 20, 2018

    Thanks Alot.
    You nailed it. mobile visitor increasing day by day. Visitor wants quick response. Thanks for guiding in such a proper way.

  31. Asha

    February 20, 2018

    It is true that mobile devices are used more than traditional computers for web browsing so people has to make mobile theme responsive.Very helpful Information. Thanks for sharing.

  32. Charles

    February 7, 2018

    Thanks a lot for the great tips. Just found out that my theme was too heavy, it was totally slowing up my site. I have to try out the Thesis framework. A lot of my friends recommended it to me in the past too. Thanks again!


  33. Sam

    January 31, 2018

    You truly nailed it. Mobile visitor are going to increase day by day and most of visitors want quick and responsive website. Thanks for guiding in such a proper way.

  34. allegation corner

    December 26, 2017

    Best tutorial article.i have read all things written and learn a lots of things .

  35. Soumya Roy

    December 11, 2017

    Informative post. Any site we have on any platform or CMS, we have to make it not only mobile friendly but also mobile usable and fast loading.
    Check GSC for mobile usability errors and speed test tool to check the speed and mobile speed suggestions.

  36. David Cross

    November 28, 2017

    If you are a webmaster, you have probably heard, that Google has started mobile indexing. This means, that if your website is not mobile friendly, you can expect for a drop in rankings.
    This article is great for showing you how to quickly and easily transform your WordPress site into mobile friendly website. Thanks!

  37. Kelly Avila

    November 26, 2017

    nice and useful article. Your article will be helpful for me.Thanks for sharing it with us.

  38. evden eve nakliyat

    November 24, 2017

    Very nice and helpfull post, thanks for sharing.

  39. Emenike Emmanuel

    October 21, 2017

    Thanks for sharing. But my own case is rather a different and difficult one.

    My blog is not displaying properly on mobile. It's showing half screen. I have tried everything to resolve it but it's not working.

    • Emenike Emmanuel

      January 7, 2019


      My blog was displaying half-screen before but I have been able to correct it. It is okay now.

      Thanks for this useful and evergreen content.


  40. John Paul

    August 28, 2017

    is that possible if build mobile version without plugin or responsive themes?
    cause i search, that was possible if we use htaccess but i found so many script code make me confused

  41. haris

    August 15, 2017

    nice article thanks

  42. Michal Jurczuk

    June 27, 2017

    Hello, if you want to get more users and earn more profit from your WordPress website, you should create mobile apps. Now we can help you to create fully native Android and iOS apps, even for free, check

  43. karan singh

    June 13, 2017

    Thanx For Such an useful article for all bloggers.

  44. John

    April 24, 2017

    Thanks for the post Ryan. However, I would like to know how to go about creating a mobile website. Do I need to create another theme (mobile)? How do I go about this process?

  45. Valentine

    April 21, 2017

    Thanks for the information but I have to optimize my own theme in such a way that it will be mobile friendly but still yet I don't get the full percent.
    Must someone use those mobile friendly themes that is not even nice when looking at it.

  46. Narinder kumar

    April 4, 2017

    Thanks for sharing great article about WordPress mobile friendly its really helpful for my blog

  47. Sushma Gurram

    February 19, 2017

    Sometimes, even though the test runs and displays it is mobile friendly, it is actually not. So, I can't rely on the google test all the time.

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