While the industry has been talking about and executing on mobile for quite some time, mobile website design is still within the infancy stage. In speaking with many marketers and agencies currently entrenched within the mobile market, I have learned there are many assumptions made during the design process. When overlaying these conversational themes with mobile website evaluation (through use of on-site consumer feedback), there is a need to define these assumptions in an attempt to save those on a path to a flawed design.
Assumption No. 1: Create the design based on best-guess about reason for usage
From the beginning, one of the value propositions of mobile sites (an assumption, by my definition) is that consumers are using mobile sites to make purchase decisions while in the store at the shelf. Let's take a moment to dissect this, as I often hear that this proposition triggers brands to invest in mobile website design.
A few questions to think about when building a site for this type of mobile usage:
- Are consumers aware of or thinking about the mobile site while in store?
- Will consumers take time to slow down their shopping trip and check out mobile site offerings or are there other times of convenience?
- What is the likelihood of making a connection with the shopper? How many mobile sites can they actively visit during one shopping trip -- one, three, 12?
Seeing how mobile usage is growing, mobile site visitors are probably inclined to use these sites above and beyond a trip to the store. If this is the case, isn't it important to build a mobile site that caters to other needs beyond just an in-store visit? Choosing the wrong items to incorporate into mobile design is sometimes more detrimental to the brand than not having a mobile site at all.
For instance, in the case featured above, mobile visitors were using the site to find a store that carried the product ("where to buy"). However, the mobile site design was suited for an in-store experience only, hence overlooking a "store locator" feature on the m-site. Overall, when exposed to the mobile site purchase intent decreased 21 percent (leading to the conclusion that designing a mobile site with "guesstimates" is ineffective).
Assumption No. 2: Design mobile site based on popular web pages
Quickly revisiting assumption No. 1, marketers assign a unique behavior and strategy to the use of mobile sites. So why more often than not are we relying on behavioral analytics from the main brand website experience to guide the mobile design? Ultimately, it is safe to say that website behavioral metrics can lead the mobile design astray.
In my experience, it's more about figuring out how consumers envision using your mobile site, where they see it fitting into the daily routine, and when they prefer to use the mobile platform for brand related information. This will set the design on an educated path about what areas and content to include. More than likely, there will be some overlap in behaviors from the website to mobile, but it is important to recognize that this is not the case for all brands, all categories, and all mobile sites.
When dissecting a site based on assumption No. 2 in the illustration below, a key feature -- ratings and reviews -- was not present on the mobile site while it was available on the PC website. The explanation behind this was that the products section was most visited on the full site and ratings and reviews were not often accessed as a top priority. However, once launched, the mobile platform called for ratings and reviews and a product comparison tool, which had been originally eliminated during the design phase.
In this instance the two assumptions discussed (best guess and popular web page) mislead the mobile strategy, with the sole need left unfulfilled. Perhaps these named assumptions are made because the consumer's point of view about platform similarities and differences are ignored in the first place -- leading to the need to form an uneducated guess.
Assumption No. 3: One size fits all for mobile strategy and development
Building upon assumption No. 2, we learned that websites and mobile sites often have different strategies with different content needs, which is enough supporting evidence to claim a "one size fits all approach" is not always the best choice for mobilization. To further explain what a "one size fits all" plan looks like, the example below relies on this model.
When simply asking around the office for thoughts about each experience, we received strong indicators of confusion regarding the "white space" located on the right side of the parent site. Atypical, but in this case the mobile layout actually outperforms the main parent site. However, in both cases, we received complaints about the excessive scrolling architecture (which is driven by and optimized for mobile design).
Yes, "one size" uses fewer resources. Yes, it's a cheaper alternative. And yes, it's timely. But isn't there a factor that should receive more weightage? That is, the experience is then not packaged for a mobile or PC end user. And instead of fitting all, it fits somewhere in between.
Avoiding assumption-based designs
In my experience -- when analyzing mobile findings -- results are generally either above or way below expected performance with a low percentage performing on par. This says to me that there is still confusion surrounding design and mobile performance. Incorporating consumer feedback into the design either before, after, or both before and after launch is the fastest way to overcome the assumptions mentioned above. More often than not, this type of research re-directs the initial mobile design strategy to an immediate consumer-friendly, adaptable approach.
This is verified in my discussion with Janelle Aslam, product director:
"As a marketer, it's important to clearly understand the reasons why a consumer is visiting your website or mobile site before redesigning. I've seen countless examples of brands wasting thousands of dollars by redesigning their sites for what they 'assume' to be the correct content. Prior to redesigning the Salonpas website, we partnered with Inflexion Interactive Planning and Analytics department to ask exactly why our consumers were visiting our site and what intention they had post visit. We confirmed the findings above that the majority of consumers where looking for more rich product information, and in a mobile setting, where to buy the product. From these findings, it was easy to prioritize and simplify our web design, and we were able to reduce the time to build both pc and mobile websites in 10 percent of the time that it took during my last website redesign effort which used more 'hueristics' vs. real consumer science."
And lastly, do me a favor from here on out. Please avoid making mobile design assumptions (because, as the old saying goes, we all know what that can lead to...).
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"Smartphone like blueprint drawing" image via Shutterstock.