A Scenic Tour of the Online World

How and Why To Mobilize Your Website

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

As the popularity of smartphones has grown – and grown and grown – the question of how to best serve mobile users has grown with it. We have the option of creating dedicated apps, mobile-aware websites, or just sitting tight with your site as is.

Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. As with every other digital communications question, the answer depends almost entirely on

  • Your audience
  • Your message
  • Your goals

As you evaluate those key factors, here are a few scenarios for the different approaches.

Basic Sites
If you have a very basic “brochureware” web presence, there’s probably not much reason to create a mobile-specific website. Users will be able to use their phone’s built-in capabilities to view your site. (Like the iPhone’s two-finger stretch/zoom feature.) There’s probably very little ROI for the expense of adding mobile-specific features.

Design-Heavy Sites
If you are a designer – graphic design, shoe design, interior design – and your site has to illustrate your design chops with animation, rich-media navigation elements and elegant page transitions, you’re probably using Flash.  (This is changing as Javascript libraries have become more accessible and will change more as HTML5 becomes more widely compatible with the major browsers.)

Since Flash is definitely not mobile-friendly you’ll want to create a version of your site that conveys your brand without all the Flash bells and whistles.

There is certainly an ROI to be had here since you’ve lost an entire segment of the market with a Flash-driven site. If you have retail shops, at the very least you want mobile users to be able to find and contact you easily from their phones.

Transactional-Heavy Sites
For sites where visitors interact heavily with the site, you can create a mobile version of the site that focuses just on the transactional areas, or mobile apps that make those transactions easier than a website would on a tiny screen.

Retail banking is an excellent example. Their apps typically allow you to find the nearest branch or ATM, check balances while out shopping, even scan in checks to deposit in some cases. The full set of features may not be available since the vast majority of users don’t need all those features when they’re out and about.

For specific uses like this, an app can be a better choice than a mobile-specific website.

Information-Heavy Sites
A large music festival has a lot of information about the schedule, performers, venues, etc. Its website is probably quite information rich. And it might be a very difficult site to navigate on a small screen.

In this case, a mobile-specific site can be built that brings the information sorting and filtering to the front, and dispenses with or pares back the less essential information. A visitor on a mobile device is likely to want to know who’s playing tonight, where are they playing, and how do I get there.

Making the Transition
We encourage our clients with existing sites to look closely at their analytics data. Frequently we can get a sense of what percentage of the audience is using mobile devices, what pages they’re focused on, etc. This data makes it easier to build a case for what should be included in the mobile version. (Of course, it’s important to recognize that mobile visitors may not be using a feature they would like to use because it isn’t built mobile-friendly.)

So usage patterns and other audience information can help you decide whether to leave things as is, build a mobile-specific site, build an app, or some combination.

The tools you can use to make the transition vary, as well. Content management systems like Drupal and WordPress frequently have add-on tools available that simplify the process. There can still be quite a bit of work to customize the mobile experience to your needs, but the tools allow the mobile version to be integrated with the web version, making editorial maintenance much easier. You have one set of content to update; the CMS does the work of making sure that content is displayed appropriately depending on the visitor’s device.

The mobile market is growing too rapidly to ignore. At a minimum you should be monitoring your site’s usage statistics and evaluating whether a strong ROI can be created with a mobile app or mobile-specific website. Any new digital initiative should include plans for future mobile capabilities, even if your research indicates that mobile is not a current priority. Given the pace of growth in the mobile arena, it will be soon.

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