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How to design and develop for mobile sites

How to design and develop for mobile sites Mark Simpson

We all know mobile is one the biggest revenue opportunities for any marketer these days, so let's cut to the chase: This year alone, smartphone sales will double, and app sales will reach $15 billion. Consumers have come to rely on mobile devices for shopping, price comparisons, work, banking, social interaction, on-the-go research, and the overall management of their lives.

Mobile has officially reached a tipping point, meaning that where having a presence in the mobile world -- whether through an app, a mobile site, or both -- used to be an option, it's now a necessity. But if you really want to be a true mobile player, you have to go beyond just "being there" and find a way to insert yourself into your consumers' daily lives. Mobile consumers expect a unique, personal, and relevant experience, so tap into a few key digital strategies that your online marketing counterparts are already employing to launch a successful, ROI-driven, and competitive mobile site.

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Determine what's relevant in the mobile environment
Not every aspect of your brand's website is relevant -- or can be translated -- to your mobile environment. The trick is figuring out what your customers need from you and how they want to interact with it on their mobile device. To do this, I'd recommend applying a solid mix of good old-fashioned common sense and aggressive testing.

The common sense part will involve getting comfortable with the mobile platform as a whole. It's hard to master a platform you're not comfortable with. So, get your hands on a few different devices -- an iPhone, iPad, Droid, and BlackBerry should get you off to a good start. Start to download apps of all shapes and sizes on each. Also, visit sites that you know were built specifically for the mobile platform. Sites like Foursquare and Mashable have done a good job of making their sites accessible in the mobile world. What patterns do you notice? What website components have smart marketers left off their mobile sites? What features make the apps and sites more user-friendly?

In order to confirm your theories, you're going to want to get some solid user data -- something that can be accomplished through multivariate and A/B testing. The idea behind this kind of testing is that by changing even the most minor detail on a number of variables -- such as the color and size of a "submit" button or a word in a headline -- you can drastically increase or decrease the overall ROI. So while you may have recognized some common patterns among successful sites, you might not have known that a difference in headline placement or button aesthetics may have made (or cost) the issuing company millions of dollars.

Determine your winning mobile content, over and over -- and over
After you've got the knack for testing your site content and have started using your new-found data to make some objective decisions about your mobile site, consider keeping some of the key tests in place, in addition to keeping yourself educated on the latest and greatest mobile market mood swings.

With the aforementioned testing and optimization techniques, marketers are looking for the "winners" -- also known as the best-performing content that turns visitors into customers -- but they must be aware that constant changes in customer types, preferences, and attributes are inevitable in an on-the-go environment. As you're sitting there with your five different devices, think about how differently each of these devices display a site or application. It's impossible to launch a different mobile strategy for every single device on the market, but using your already-in-place testing solutions to your advantage will help your mobile sites roll with these changes.

So, pick out a few areas of your site that are key to conversion rate success and let the tests keep running. Continually optimizing your best content ensures that your consumers always receive the content they need, how they need it, and when they need it most.

Design for a small screen
This may sound like an obvious one, but with the vast variety of smartphones and tablets now available, ensuring your site translates to the small screen is imperative. Nothing will drive away consumers faster than a poorly designed, low-resolution, and misaligned site. In addition to sizing your site according, be wary of the amount and type of content loading on certain pages. Overuse of heavy graphics and Flash can kill page load speeds -- and add frustration for consumers already experiencing slower connection speeds from browsing via cellular networks.

Don't forget to personalize
Mobile devices are an extension of each visitor -- set up and customized to their lifestyle and preferences around email, contacts, applications, calendars, etc. -- so it's a no-brainer that you need to personalize the mobile experience. But how do you go about doing that? Put yourself in your consumers' shoes and ask some questions: What experiences stand out as the most positive with my favorite mobile brands? Why do I like them? Is the content targeted for me? Is it tailored to my lifestyle? What originally drove me to a certain site or app? What time of day was it? The list goes on.

Understanding these factors is essential to designing a mobile platform that will attract and then engage your target audience with the right content and best experience. Knowing how individuals interact with your brand, as well as the technology they're using to do so, will provide you with the best opportunity to nail your mobile strategy.

Here you're going to need some help from technology. Technology will save you time and resources when gathering insights in to things like improved brand retention, loyalty and customer lifetime values, increases in revenue per visit, and deeper visitor insight for refining future campaigns. In fact, I'm not sure how to go about half of these things without dedicated technological solutions. You'll also want to find a trusted solution to discover each customer's known interests and needs on an individual level, set up recommendation campaigns on key product and checkout areas within days, and maximize the yield of key real estate and promotional areas. From here, you can watch your mobile customers' loyalty (and spend) skyrocket.

Promote cross-channel communication
It's important to remember that your mobile strategy must connect with the rest of your marketing initiatives. Even in the wake of the mobile boom, consumers will continue to engage with brands across channels. Whether a user connects via a website, mobile site, call center, or brick-and-mortar store, his or her brand experience must be consistent and personalized to his or her preferences and needs -- regardless of the channel. Unfortunately, very few marketers take advantage of multichannel marketing tools that can create a 360-degree detailed view of each customer, and empower effective, automated website personalization during their mobile experience and beyond. Plan for multichannel marketing now -- don't play catch-up later.

Mobile site development and usability are challenging, unchartered territories for most online marketers. But starting off with a few key practices will ensure your brand mobile's strategy will not only be armed and ready for this big year of mobile, but make a huge splash in customer satisfaction and your revenue goals.

Mark Simpson is founder and president of Maxymiser.

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Mark Simpson is Founder and President of Maxymiser, a global conversion-rate optimization company.  Since moving from the UK to launch the company in the U.S. in 2010, Mark’s focus has been on launching MaxMOBILE ™, a proprietary...

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