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The road to a fantastic mobile website

The road to a fantastic mobile website Linda Eskin

No company has money to waste on ineffective efforts. So when designing a mobile website for your business, how do you get the most bang for your buck? You need to be efficient and create a site that achieves your business goals.

The good news is that mobile sites should generally be simple -- smaller, more focused, visually less complex, and not as wordy as your regular site. So there's less work to do. Doing less is great, but the trick is doing it well. How do you create a site (or collaborate with your agency in creating a site) that still addresses the needs of your visitors?

Get connected. Want to meet up with the companies that are leading mobile into the future? Check out the exhibit hall at ad:tech San Francisco, April 11-13. Learn more.

Whether you are building your site in-house or working with an agency to create a great mobile experience for your customers, knowing how to think about mobile will help you reach your destination. For the purposes of this article, we'll think in terms of the small-screen devices one might carry everywhere -- phones, mostly.

OK, let's get packing!
Creating a mobile site is a little like going mobile yourself. When you pack for a trip you only take a few things. There are some necessities you have to have, but many more things you choose to leave behind. You often think you need all those things in your house, day-to-day. And some truly are important -- sometimes. But you somehow get along fine without them for a week on the road, right?

When you think of creating your mobile site, think like you are packing for a trip. Yes, at home you need your legal papers, clothes you only wear once a year, and shelves of books. But when you travel you can do without those things. Use the same thinking for your mobile site. Do I really need this? Can I live without it? Is there a smaller, lighter version that would do the job as well?

Pack light. Take only what you'll really use.

The realities of life on the road
There is sometimes a disconnect between how people spec and design mobile sites, and how people use them. You want to get your message across, make a statement, and increase engagement with your brand. You'd like to funnel visitors into a conversion path.

The very talented people designing your site usually have young eyes and perfect color vision. They sit at desks in quiet, well-lit rooms, and work their magic on beautiful big monitors.

On the other hand, the people who visit your site may have old eyes and varying degrees of color deficiency. They are rushed, tired, and distracted. They are riding in the car at night on a rough road, or walking down the grocery store aisle, with its glaringly shiny floor and a thousand things competing for their attention. Their reading glasses are on the desk at home. Their phone's screens are smudged and scratched. And their kids are running around screaming.

They want to know if your store is still open and how to get there. They'd like to see if your restaurant has a kids' menu. They need your phone number so they can see if you have the part they need in stock. They need to read reviews for the appliance they are standing right in front of and considering taking home with them today. They want an answer, and they want it now.

It's tough out there. Do your best to help them out.

Walk a mile in their shoes
It's easy to imagine many of the things your site visitors might want or need from your site. But does it work for them, really? What are you missing? Are you serving them as well as you could? How can you know?

If you already have a mobile site, you can test it and look for opportunities to improve it. If you are working on creating your first mobile site, you can test the competition's site or other sites that are similar to what you envision yours will be. Look for opportunities to do things better. Learn from their successes and failures.

Either way, this is best done with real people in real situations on real devices. If you can't round up actual test subjects, be the test subjects yourselves. Take your team on a field trip. Yes, away from your desks, in the car, on the road. Go to one of your stores or restaurants. Shop for your products or for your competitors' products. Notice what works and what doesn't.

A journey of discovery
What you will find when observing people in the wild or on your own field trip may surprise you. In fact, it should surprise you. That's why you need to do it. You can't anticipate everything your site visitors will want to do or will experience when they try. You have to go out and see for yourself.

This is where you notice that everyone scrolls right past the five paragraphs of carefully crafted copy you thought were terribly important. You could hear shoppers complain that they can't read the warranty information without their glasses (which are out in the car). You might see that someone found reviews for the competition's product in seconds because each of the company's sale tags had a scannable QR code printed on it, and yours didn't. You might find that because of the way your contact information is formatted, the search app on the device offered to auto-dial your ZIP code and phone number, as though it were one big, strange phone number.

Here are some basic things to try, or to encourage your test participants to try, to get you started:

  • Find your business (location): Is your address is clickable? Does it launch a map app?

  • Learn something specific about your business (hours, whether you allow dogs, whether you have a gluten-free menu, etc.)

  • Check on something (Is it in inventory? What is the daily special? When will the service technician arrive?)

  • Call your business. That device in your hand is a phone too! Actually find the number and call it.

  • Look up something about a product. Research something that you aren't seeing when you are standing there right in front of it (ratings, allergy info, compatibility, etc.)

  • Poke around. Are the links and buttons far enough apart to be easy to click? Even for people with big, clumsy fingers? While riding in the car?

Seeing the world through another's eyes can be an enlightening experience.

Are we there yet?
You're never really "there." There will always be ways to improve your site. Optimize it continually. Review and test your site regularly. Devices change, and there are new apps to test. People's expectations change, and the environment changes. New features become available and more common over time. "Liking" something on Facebook hasn't been around long, but it's expected now.

Your mobile site affects your business beyond the web. If customers can't find your location, if it's easier to call your competition, or if the site for the restaurant down the street answers people's questions more effectively, you could lose their business.

What's more, even people who seem to be shopping on your mobile site might "abandon" your intended conversion path and head straight to the checkout line. So you have to take traditional measures of site success with a healthy dose of skepticism. Look at the big picture.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So hit the road!

Linda Eskin is a senior experience planner at Red Door Interactive.

On Twitter? Follow Eskin at @lindaeskin. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Linda Eskin is a Senior User Experience Analyst at Red Door Interactive. Her goals are to increase conversions and retention, and reduce support costs, by making our clients' Web sites and applications work better for the people who use them. Her...

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