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7 steps to a rockin' mobile website

Jim Somers
7 steps to a rockin' mobile website Jim Somers

In just a few short years, mobile sites have evolved from a "nice-to-have" to a competitive necessity for organizations of all types. We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in the way we access information, communicate with our customers and colleagues, and -- most importantly for marketers -- do business. According to Gartner, mobile devices will overtake PCs by 2013 as the primary channel for web access.

Yet, many companies are still playing catch up. A recent survey uncovered that an estimated 70 percent of businesses still don't have a mobile website despite strong proof that mobile-optimized sites can generate more than twice the average traffic per user than sites that are not optimized. And for those companies that have deployed mobile sites, many have scrambled to develop a quick solution that meets their immediate needs without an eye for what will make it effective and tie into a larger mobile business strategy. While a sexy mobile site may be easy on the eyes, it's important for organizations to consider how it helps enhance the overall business -- whether that means driving more revenue, deepening engagement with audiences, or increasing productivity.

If you're looking to create a mobile web strategy, or revamp what you're already doing, it's not as easy as copying your traditional website. The user intentions and the actual device parameters for mobile sites in fact make this approach more harmful than helpful. Mobility brings both special challenges (limited real estate) and unique opportunities (such as built-in cameras and click-to-call capabilities) that must be factored into the equation.

Before you jump in head first, here are the seven best practices for mobilizing your site. Inspired by some of the most successful mobile sites out there today, these tips are proven to drive long-term business benefits and superior user engagement rates.

Set objectives for your mobile site
No website project has ever been successful without a clear understanding of the target audience. At the very start, sit down and create a profile for the mobile users you want to build for, and ask yourself what their needs will be. Will they be looking for information? Looking to buy? Looking for customer or technical support? After you answer these questions, you can start the process of building out content and a design that's directly tied to your mobile users' behavior and their needs, ultimately enabling you to serve them better.
Rule of four: "Four clicks or less to content"
Mobile users have limited time and patience. Page levels should be limited, and navigation extremely clear and intuitive. As a good rule, build your site so that any content is accessible in four clicks or fewer from any given page. Use a wireframe to plan out the pages and how each can be reached with minimal clicks in advance. If something is taking five clicks or more, it's time to simplify.
Eliminate dead-end pages
Dead-end pages refer to those that require users to back-track to find what they need. Easy navigation is key to a great user experience, and dead ends only cause visitor frustration at best, and site abandonment at worst. Ensure that all your mobile web pages link to other parts of the site. Add links to the bottom of long pages to avoid making users tediously scroll back up to the top of the page to get where they want to go.

Use graphics, but sparingly
Graphics add a pleasant visual element to any website. In addition to creating a sleek look and feel, they can also enhance the overall user experience if used properly. By the same token, they should be used to accent content, and not to overshadow it, particularly on mobile websites. Too many graphics slow page download times, which can further frustrate users and clutter the limited screen real estate on mobile devices.

Two words: Concise content
Even just a few sentences can quickly fill a screen on a mobile device. Be concise with your content and offer only pertinent and relevant information. If you need to share more information than you can easily fit on the screen, consider creating alternative opt-in channels for users to get more details, such as email or text alerts.

Don't just extend your site, enhance it
Copying your existing main website to create a mobile site may seem like the easiest way to mobilize your content, and many companies choose this approach, but it can be a major misstep. Just as with applications, the best mobile experiences are ones built with mobility in mind and that take advantage of all the technical possibilities that are impossible with traditional websites. There are endless opportunities to get creative, so look at how you might leverage GPS capabilities, built-in device cameras, and even augmented reality for an engaging mobile experience.
Actionable, interactive content is key
Keep in mind mobile users are not just browsing content but are also seeking information from you. Consider adding options for them to easily call or email you, or add forms where they can request more detailed information on whatever it is they're seeking. Mobile payment or support features can also help users do more with your mobile site. So if these tips are relevant for your customers, consider building these functionalities in as well. By making your site action-oriented, you will not only be better serving your visitors, but better serving your bottom line.

Having a strong mobile presence is vital for any brand that relies heavily on the web to communicate with its customers, prospects, and partners -- which today includes most companies. By following these seven simple tips, you'll be on your way to mobile success.

Jim Somers is chief marketing and strategy officer of Antenna Software.

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