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Mobile : Think Mobile First

Web and email design for a smartphone and tablet world

February 2013 By Wacarra Yeomans
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Mobile site and email traffic continues to skyrocket. In May, GigaOm reported that there are 5.5 devices per household, and they see that increasing to as many as eight by 2016. You can learn an incredible amount about your content by looking at the way your mobile audience behaves on your website.

A recent study by Foolproof reported nearly half of consumers would not engage with a brand after having a poor mobile Web experience, and nearly 60 percent said they viewed a brand as "being in touch" with their consumers after a positive mobile experience. Even when you look at your own behavior, how likely are you to revisit a site after having a frustrating mobile experience?

Marketers face a huge challenge. Customers are becoming more savvy about marketing, and their lives are a blur of offline and online interactions with friends and favorite brands. What increases the challenge is people on smartphones and tablets expect to do the same things on those devices that are possible on a desktop—but they have very different constraints. When you don't make it easy for consumers to complete an action, they won't. Marketers are leaving impressions, clicks and conversions on the table when you don't create a seamless mobile Web experience.

By planning and designing the mobile experience first, you can greatly improve your desktop version of the same content. To do so, marketers need to understand the constraints smartphones and tablets place on consumers and really align your marketing strategies to their behavior.

Every channel has constraints. In email, you have different rendering rules for each mail client. In direct mail, marketers find workarounds to print what you want. Mobile viewing provides a new set of limitations. By embracing these constraints, you can find innovative ways to talk to customers. The book "Mobile First," by Luke Wroblewski, has a good method for outlining constraints:

• Network: There are a substantial number of phones that are able to get on the 4G LTE network. Oftentimes, that network is even faster at loading Web pages than some desktop computers. Most phones, however, are still on the 3G network, meaning they have slower loading times. There are also certain places (sometimes even a corner in the house) where consumers don't get service.

Back in 2009, Google presented a report on the impact slow load times can have on performance, citing slow load times as decreasing consumer activities for up to five weeks after it was fixed. Bottom line, if it's fast enough for mobile, it'll work on the Web.

Screen Size: You have 20 percent of the space you're used to … most of the time. Phones are getting larger while tablets are getting smaller. The first step is realizing 40 percent of the people you are talking to could be on almost any device size, which admittedly can be a little daunting. It forces you to really decide what's important. Mobile audiences force us to get to the point. We have less space for links and copy, and our images have to be smaller so they can load. Every pixel becomes valuable real estate.

Location: People use their smartphones everywhere. A recent report from Our Mobile Planet (which is part of the Think With Google initiative) shared that the top five places people use their smartphones are at home, "on the go," stores, restaurants and at work. All of these places indicate consumers are multitasking, meaning you rarely have their full attention for more than a few seconds.

Because mobile consumers are navigating the Web with a device that has the resolution of the newest Macbook Pro, but the microprocessor of a computer from 1995, they are going to take the path of least resistance. And we can learn from them.

Flickr has 60 items on its site navigation, yet only had room for 6 on its mobile site. The designers were able to cut down by focusing on what content was most relevant to their mobile consumers and looking at where they are clicking.

Take a look at your site analytics. What are the top three actions mobile consumers are taking on your site? Are they looking at your contact page? Does your site ask them to take an action that would be better suited for a desktop? Could you enable functionality for them to send themselves a reminder? Do you have some pages that don't see any mobile traffic?

Going through this exercise allows a large organization to come together and agree on what matters most. If you're able to ask your consumers to do one thing each time they come to your website, what would it be? Now how can you make that experience as easy as possible for someone on a mobile device to complete?

We're used to having unlimited real estate on the Web, and it's hard to simplify because I'm sure all of the content is wonderful. If you only have a couple seconds of visitors' attention, they need to understand what you're asking them to do.

There are three things you can do to take a mobile-first approach to your digital designs:

1. Mobile Audit: Review your site's conversion path on a couple different devices. How many clicks does it take you to go down the conversion path? Is it possible to get it down to three or less?

2. Plan for Mobile: Include mobile messaging in your project plan. Start your brief by writing the plan for the mobile version. Be sure your mobile audience is included in your list of segments or demographic data. Include a section for a one-sentence strategy statement. I like the format of: "You should ________ because _____(one compelling reason) _______."

3. Invest in Copywriting: You're lucky if consumers read more than 20 of the words you've put in front of them. Make. Each. One. Count.

With a mobile-first approach, you can bring more clarity to your messaging and streamline the amount of content you're presenting your customers. Enabling a better mobile experience will let customers know you "get" them, and they will continue to engage with your brand on their next 50 devices.

Wacarra Yeomans is director of creative services at San Bruno, Cali-based marketing services provider Responsys. Reach her at


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