Let’s talk mobile

In summary For any website - mobile or not - there should be a specific action you want your visitors to take once they are on your site.

Mobile website or app? Before you answer, it might be a false choice. It feels like it’s on the forefront of everyone’s mind these days – how to engage visitors on your website while they’re using mobile devices. Apps are no longer limited to games, note-taking, to-do lists or email, but are being embraced by more and more companies as a way to communicate with customers while on the go. But, there are other options to consider when looking to go mobile that are not only more economical, but make better sense for the small- to medium-sized company looking to increase brand recognition and awareness.

Apps are king, but are they overkill?

True, as Jakob Nielsen writes, downloadable apps are currently king when it comes to offering the best user experience to your mobile visitors. Functionality is better integrated with the capabilities of the device, and other components (such as the camera) can be integrated into the user experience. However, apps are expensive. They require research and time to make the same experience available to all users. More than that, they require developing the same app in multiple formats to be available to iPhone users, Android users, Blackberry users, etc.

Even further, apps require maintenance. Android alone has multiple “active” versions of their operating system being run by users at the same time, just across current phone models. Testing must be done to ensure the best possible user experience isn’t being hindered by an incompatibility with the majority of users. And, to top it all off, users must be proactive in both downloading (and potentially purchasing) your application and allowing maintenance updates to be installed.

It’s an investment on a completely different level to create a mobile app, and an inappropriate one for most companies looking to just make their content available to mobile users. I tend to agree with this factsheet that apps are best served to companies who need to provide an online tool or service (such as e-commerce) as opposed to every company seeking to optimize their existing web presence.

So, what’s best for the rest of you just looking to “be there” for users browsing the mobile web?

The short answer, from where I sit, is a mobile-optimized website. But still, there are a couple of options to consider before building one.

As is always my suggestion for any website – be it mobile or not – there should be a specific action you want your visitors to take once they are on your site. The content that you put on the site should help users achieve this goal.

Most websites have anywhere from one to a small handful of acceptable actions they want users to take before clicking away or closing their browser window, but do all of those actions translate to the mobile audience? I tend to think not for the average small- to mid-sized company website.

Responsive and adaptive web design are terms being thrown around the industry as the hottest new thing for designers and developers to be able to do. Both of these approaches take your existing website and make it flexible so that the information is better displayed and easier to read on the smaller screens of mobile devices. While this is a fantastic tool in some cases and definitely a neat trick in others (depending on the content of the website), for the small- to mid-sized business it can muddy the waters for the mobile user and make the expected action less clear, particularly if it is the only approach employed to make a site mobile-friendly.

How so? The bottom line is, these companies want customers and potential customers to make contact with them, either through a phone call or by filling out an email form. Regardless of if they also want to capture leads through other means such as whitepapers or by signing up for a newsletter, this is the hands-down end result that many companies we meet with want from their site visitors.

For the mobile audience of these companies with a standard “brochure” website, truncating the content to include basic About information, locations and a clickable phone number is what we tend to recommend as the best means of communicating with the mobile audience.

It’s simple, but effectively makes use of three key components of the mobile device:

  1. Small screen real estate
  2. The ability to make phone calls
  3. GPS or, at the very least, mapping applications installed on the device

Studies have shown that presenting a user with too many options can actually scare them into doing nothing or, at the very least, hinder their ability to make a decision quickly. By limiting the options on the initial mobile homepage, it because abundantly clear to users quickly if they have found what they are looking for and to take action. For those that need more information, the option is always present to view the “full site” on their mobile device, where the same actions are still clearly available to them.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that we turn to on the web, and each website’s needs are individually evaluated before we make a cut and dry recommendation. In general, however, the Strategic Insights’ approach to mobile falls in line with what Jakob Nielsen predicts will be the way of the future: a simple, functional mobile website is the way to go.