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3 Focuses for Mobile Web Design

Kate Morris
Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Mobile marketing is a new and exciting world full of new promise and new customers. But it isn’t an easy transition for marketing managers across the world, especially the one-person marketing teams. There is a host of conflicting information on how to develop a mobile site. Let’s clear up what you should focus your attention on when developing a site for a mobile audience.


I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve come across some fundamental points before we go on:


  • A mobile-friendly experience for users is necessary.
  • Mobile users search and browse in their own unique way.
  • Not all mobile phones are created the same.
  • Not all screen sizes are the same.

Once you know these four things, the real mobile web design conversation can begin. What we aren’t going to tell you is that you need a mobile domain, that you need a separate mobile site completely or how to code your site once you’ve got a great design. These are decisions for you and your marketing, IT and SEO teams. Rather, we are covering the most important things to consider for creating the best experience on a mobile phone.


Goals and Purpose


The first focus you need to have is what you want users to do on your mobile site. This may seem like a “well, duh” kind of tip, but many mobile sites are built without this goal in mind. Businesses know they need a mobile site and design it as they would a desktop website only smaller! Your first step should be to investigate your current mobile user usage patterns. Use your current analytics program to determine what mobile browsers and handsets are used, and then talk to your IT team to get stats from your log files. You are going to want to know what content they access most, what their search terms are and what pages they leave on. Looking at bounce rates for mobile users will aid in what pages are just not helpful to mobile users as well.


Most mobile users on your site are not there to read; they want reviews, an overview, contact information or maybe to accomplish something. There should be a clear path to get them in and out of your site as fast as possible with that purchase or information. What is most relevant for you is going to depend on your business, but do know that the funnel gets shorter on mobile.


If you are still at a loss, ask your customers. Surveying current customers can provide more insight than any other method. Ask them what they want to do on your mobile site and give them that. Start simple and expand later.


Simplicity


On that note, simplicity is really where it’s at with mobile websites. You are going to want to simplify the navigation, giving your users only the options they need to get things done. Ensure they can get to your address and clickable phone numbers. Long contact forms are just not necessary.


There are a number of technologies to throw out the door when dealing with mobile. Flash support is iffy on most mobile devices; limit the flashy stuff when developing for mobile users. Javascript is being developed more fully for mobile devices and can be used to make a web app out of your site.  And finally, the development of HTML5 is giving designers on the web a better chance to stand out on desktops and mobile devices.


Flash


The main issue with Flash is the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Apple refuses to support Flash and with it still being the top selling hardware it is not something that should be ignored. If you have followed SEO at all over the years, you should have a distinct dislike for Flash. The same goes for mobile. It isn’t that the sites aren’t pretty, but when the site doesn’t work, that hinders every effort you’ll make to promote your business.
Think about it. Some night you are trying to decide where to go for dinner. You’ve seen the reviews on Yelp!, now you want to see the menu … and you get this on your phone:

 

blank screen image


Here is the original site:


Flash Home screen image

Major difference in usability and style, huh? I’m not saying not to have a Flash site, though the SEO in me asks you not to. The point is that if you have a Flash site, be sure that the content relevant to a mobile user is available on a mobile version of the site that is not built in Flash.


Javascript


There has been a lot of noise about native apps and web apps. There are many sites that are foregoing developing apps in favor of using Javascript libraries to make their sites more app like through a browser. Mashable covered a number of web app frameworks last year that use Javascript to make a site act like an app, simplifying interaction and delivering content appropriate for mobile users. There have, however, been some issues with Javascript in the past. Be sure that when in development you always know what devices your users are visiting your site with, and test with those devices before launch.


HTML5


The other technology that mobile developers are beginning to use to do some awesome things without Flash is HTML5, the new superhero on the block. Names like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and Netflix are developing sites for mobile devices. Some even argue that YouTube’s HTML5 site is better than its app. I am not going to go into how to do all of this madness, but if you want to learn more about HTML5 and developing for mobile, HTML5Rocks.com has a great guide to mobifying your site.  


Testing


After all of that talk about technology, my final piece of advice is this: Test what you do. No one can tell you what is best for your site and your company. Ask your users, solicit feedback and expense a new iPad. (Shhh, don’t tell them I told you to do that, but you need one to test right? Right.) Testing is your best friend, don’t lose a new site on the world unless you are sure that people can link, share and get stuff done on your site without even thinking. This is the job of your site, to make things easier on your customers. The more you do that, the easier users can contact/buy/share. And that is the reason we are all here, isn’t it?


Other resources about designing a mobile site:

What other things can make or break a mobile site? Let us know with your comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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