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Mobile Web: Responding to the smart phone user

The next time you upgrade your mobile phone, the chances are that it will be a smart phone. And with more than half of all mobile users already using smart phones, the chances are that your customers have one too.

salsa 19 June 2012
Mobile Web: Responding to the smart phone user

The next time you upgrade your mobile phone, the chances are that it will be a smart phone – that is, if you don’t own one already. And with more than half of all mobile users already using smart phones, the chances are that your customers have one too.

Businesses have been slow in adapting to this trend. A recent survey by Optus found that less than one third of businesses have websites that is suitable for browsing on smart phones. However, this figure has increased 12 per cent from 2011.

Salsa Digital’s Adam DeGiorgio says he is definitely seeing increased demand from clients – both new and old.

‘More and more people are coming to us and asking about mobile websites,’ says DeGiorgio. ‘A lot of our existing customers want to know what is involved in setting up a mobile site and whether they actually need one.’

And it’s not hard to see why businesses are starting to take notice. Google found that 95 per cent of smart phone users search for local information using their phone, and 61 per cent of those users actually call a business. Counter this with the Compuware study that found a third of users turned to a competitor’s site after a bad mobile experience, then you have a compelling case for having a mobile-optimised website.

‘I can’t think of a business or organisation that does not need a mobile site. Whose customers or audience don’t use a mobile device?’ asks DeGiorgio. ‘If you are a consumer business, it is critical to have a mobile site. But the need is less significant for some than others.’

And it is pretty easy to determine the level of need, at least at a basic level. Web statistics tools such as Google Analytics allow you to see how many users are accessing your site via smart phones and tablets. It can also provide interesting insights into how people are using websites on a mobile device.

‘When we go through the analytics with our clients, what we usually see is constant, month-by-month growth. On average, the traffic from mobile devices has doubled in the last year for most of our clients,’ says DeGiorgio.

But he cautions that the numbers, though growing, are still relatively small – 10 to 20 per cent of total visitors. And this should dictate how businesses approach their mobile web development.

‘You may not need to recreate a complete web experience on a mobile site,’ says DeGiorgio. ‘Our advice is to keep it simple, at least until the traffic from mobile devices becomes significantly larger or clients demand more functionality.’

In many cases, Salsa suggests creating a simple, secondary site optimised for mobile users. This cost-effective approach is usually a cut-down version of the main site, containing only three or four pages.

‘Ideally you wouldn’t have that duplication. But customers may not have the budget or the need to re-engineer their current site for mobiles and are happy to manage two websites,’ says DeGiorgio. ‘And most visitors on a mobile site are mainly after contact details or basic information about the business or organisation.’

Re-engineering an existing site to handle mobile devices can be costly, especially if the existing content is not suitable for mobile devices. In such cases, ‘the content needs so much rework that it is easier to maintain two different version of the site,’ says DeGiorgio.

But what if you need a website that displays similar content and functionality, whether accessed via a desktop or mobile? Then maintaining two separate websites can cause significant overheads.

‘In cases where there is a clear need, you would consider a responsive website,’ says DeGiorgio.

A responsive website is simply a website that adapts to show different layouts and content structure based on the screen size being used to view the site. Responsive sites can be optimised for smart phones, tablets or even large-screen televisions. But it can add anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent to the cost of development.

One aspect that you should consider for a new website, whether you decide to have a mobile optimised site now or not, is how the content is structured. By having content that can potentially be adapted for mobile sites without any change will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

‘One simple approach to this is to separate out the content into different sections,’ says DeGiorgio.

Content should be written in such a way that important information is contained in the first few paragraphs and more detailed information is placed in a separate section below. This structure allows for easier mobile optimisation.

But the key is to have something, anything, optimised for smart phones users, for when – not if – they come looking.

‘Getting something up and running should be the priority,’ says DeGiorgio. ‘It can be complicated, but it does not need to be at this stage.’

You can find out more about Salsa Digital’s mobile site development here:

http://salsadigital.com.au/toolkit/mobile-development

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