Mobile Website Design & Marketing 101 – Making Your Site (Gasp!) USEFUL

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It goes without saying that mobile search and data usage is exploding – Comscore reports that in 2008, 20.8 million U.S. subscribers used a search function from their mobile device. “But wait,” you might say. “That’s only 9.2% of total U.S. cellular service subscribers!” That’s true (and strangely accurate!), but it’s a whopping 68% more than 2007! Revenues and ad spend are dramatically increasing as well, and as more and more mobile devices ship with full HTML-capable web browsers included, you can expect to see the dividing line between traditional web search and mobile use blur and overlap.

Clearly, this is a venue that any forward-thinking company needs to appear in. But rather than simply throwing their current website’s content into a mobile-friendly format, how can businesses take advantage of this new medium in a strategic way? Hmm – the wind is just right for a checklist!

  1. The Biggest Mistake. DO NOT DO NOT simply throw your entire website at mobile users. If you own a car dealership, there’s no reason to slow down the visitor’s site experience by steering them towards a testimonials page. That’s great for your traditional website, where visitors will spend more time browsing around, but for mobile pages, you want to keep the focus on fast, easily actionable content. Ask yourself: why would people need to get to your site on a mobile phone? Think of time-sensitive issues – in the above car dealership example, why not offer a form to schedule maintenance? How about an option to sign up for a SMS (text) campaign to remind customers of oil changes and tire rotations? Remember…
  2. Your site is not a billboard.This is actually really important to traditional websites as well, but essential to mobile sites. Your site has to actually offer something of perceived value, otherwise…no traffic! No one would voluntarily sign up for longer commercial breaks on TV – why would they go to your site unless it gives them something that they need? Tone down the sales pitch and focus on offering users something that will benefit them more immediately.
  3. Functional issues – not everyone has an iPhone! Eventually, mobile web browsers will be powerful enough to navigate every website in the same way your PC’s browser does – but it’s not there yet. While it’s true that most users of smartphones (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) spend a great deal of time browsing on their device, only designing your site for them is ignoring a huge portion of potential visitors. Some basic functional guidelines:

    -No Javascript, such as in navigation menus; some handsets don’t render this correctly.

    -No Flash elements, pop-ups or other graphically-intense objects – remember, you want your site to be FAST.

    -Include numbers by each navigation option for users navigating via their phone’s keypad. It’s much easier to hit “7” rather than the “down” arrow 6 times.

    -Make sure text is big enough to be read on smaller displays. Keep scrolling (horizontal and vertical) to a minimum.

  4. Who are you targeting? Google likes to divide mobile users into 3 distinct categories, based on usage patterns. What can you offer these groups? Keep in mind, there is a bit of overlap here – and, as always with mobile, your focus should be on easily accessible, relevant content.

  • Repetitive Now – these folks are constantly checking the same places for the most recent info. These are things like stocks, sports scores, breaking news, etc.
  • Bored Now – users that surf simply because there’s nothing else to do. They’re on the subway, the bus, the plane, that 3-hour accounting meeting. Games, trivia, and other easily digestible content really appeals to this group
  • Urgent Now – the focus for these users is on functionality and efficiency; they need information NOW, with no frills or roadblocks. This can include things like weather, directions, and most local searches.

As always, the focus here is on strategic implementation – without a overall plan of what you want to offer and who you want to target, your mobile initiative could be crippled from the start.

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