Designing a website to sell your products used to be pretty simple, because you knew your audience. They would be viewing the content in their homes on a 15- to 21-inch screen, and most likely would be using Internet Explorer. Things have changed. Today's website visitor may be on a home computer using Internet Explorer, but could just as easily be on Safari or FireFox. There is also an increasing probability that visitors are on an iPad, or browsing from a mobile device. The obvious truth is that more users access websites from far more devices, using different browsers, than we could have ever imagined. The fact that a monitor can be replaced by a four-inch screen means developers need to plan accordingly.
As more buyers are purchasing smartphones, which, unlike traditional mobile devices, are able to replicate a desktop browser, it has become necessary to render content to fit the smaller screen. According to a study commissioned by Google and conducted by independent market research firm Ipsos OTX, 79 percent of smartphone owners use their phones to help with shopping, whether to compare prices, find product information, or locate a retailer; 74 percent use them to make a purchase, and 70 percent use them while in-store. And while only 43 percent of U.S. mobile phones are smartphones, the number increases dramatically for younger users, as 62 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 own smartphones, with numbers increasing every month. Not only are users on mobile browsers, they are on different operating systems. A Nielsen study indicates that 40 percent have Android phones, 28 percent iPhones and 19 percent Blackberrys. This means that a one-size-fits-all approach is not ideal in today's mobile environment. Flash elements may look good on a PC's web browser, but because they do not display on Apple products, iPhone and iPad users will be left with an empty screen.
Because content needs to be optimized for mobile users, more companies are recognizing the need for a dedicated strategy. This may or may not include developing a separate mobile site. Jacob Gube, writing on Mashable.com, notes, "If you can install a tool like Google Analytics on your site yourself, you'll be able to use these tools. These tools work by detecting the user agent of your site visitors, which is just fancy talk for finding out whether a visitor is using a regular web browser or a mobile web browser. If the user agent is a mobile browser, users are redirected to your website's mobile version. The common practice is to assign the mobile version of your site with a sub-domain such as m.yourwebsite.com. In this manner, your site traffic is forked into two segments, giving all of your site visitors an optimal browsing experience."
Using Google Analytics also allows you to see the breakdown of user activity on the site. Through the Mobile Devices tab, you can see which mobile operating system visitors are coming from (Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Blackberry, etc.), number of pages per visit, average time on the site, percent of new visits, and bounce rate, which gives a better understanding of the website's audience. If your company does not have a dedicated mobile site, it is necessary to check how the site will look on mobile devices. Sites such as iPad Peek, which shows how a site is orientated on an iPad, and MobiReady, which shows how mobile compliant and accessible the site is, are good tools to see how the site looks and operates on mobile devices.
Creating a good-looking mobile site begins with optimizing for the smaller screen. Utilizing single column layouts is vital, so users can simply scroll down without having to go side-to-side to see all of the content. In addition, it is important to remember that without the benefit of a mouse, mobile websites require large buttons that can easily be pressed using a finger tap. The goals for desktop and mobile sites also differ in key areas. A desktop site can have a little more pizzazz, but the mobile site needs to get to the point far quicker. Mobile users are usually not happy when loading times are slow, so it is best to keep the mobile site as basic as is feasible, and make substance much more important than style. Brian Casel writes on Mashable, "As a general rule of thumb when converting a desktop site design to mobile format, you want to simplify things wherever possible. There are several reasons for this. Keeping file size and load times down is always a good idea for a mobile site. Wireless connections, while faster than in years past, are still relatively slow, so the faster your mobile site loads, the better." There is also a major difference between the development of the homepage and internal pages, as the homepage needs to contain navigation and branding, while internal pages need to focus on the products. Because you do not want to increase load times by having too much content, images need to be placed wisely.
Like a desktop site, putting together a mobile version of a website is often a give and take between design and content. As Sherwood Stranieri notes on Search Engine Land, "Designers favor a 'don't make me think' approach, giving their users visuals and navigation, but holding back on copy. SEOs, of course, are always pushing for more content, mindful of the search engines' appetite for a page that focuses on keywords. This debate gets interesting when applied to mobile websites. On the desktop, the question of how much copy is too much can feel very subjective: SEOs push, and designers push back. In the mobile space, the designers have a stronger point to make: that 21-inch monitor is gone, replaced by a four-inch screen with tiny fonts. The need for brevity becomes more significant, and hard to argue against." Many people also believe that the task of putting together a mobile site is too expensive for them to do at the moment, and only practical for giant retailers such as Amazon and Target. However, there are hundreds of designers that can put together mobile versions of a site for cheap, or even free. Some prominent examples:
- MoFuse offers optimized websites for more than 5,000 different devices and browsers, which can either be built by MoFuse or the user, for one low monthly hosting fee.
- Mippin builds mobile apps for different device platforms, allowing content owners to build apps for Apple, Android and Blackberry, quickly and easily.
- iWebKit is a file package, built on simplicity, that is designed to allow the user to create iPhone, iPod and iPad compatible websites and apps within minutes.
- MarketLive is designed to allow shoppers to easily order from their phone, as well as providing on the go customer service, swipe and click ordering, personalization and support for consumer's phone and tablet preferences.
Putting together a mobile version of your website may be extra work, but it will positively affect your bottom line. As browsing and shopping on mobile phones and tablets increases, it is important to know how your site looks on these devices, and to be aware of the necessity of a quick-loading, functional mobile site.
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