Mobile-optimized content will reign supreme in 2015. This requires brands to ensure that their content strategy takes into consideration varying screen sizes. With a smaller screen comes a bigger responsibility. Businesses need to reinvent the way they interact with their audiences across mobile, social and email, or else they will risk losing them as customers.
Mobile plays a vital part in content, email, search and social media marketing. Take into account these stats:
- 63 percent of Internet access is made on a mobile device. —Pew Research
- 48 percent of emails are now opened on a mobile phone or tablet. —Experian Quarterly Email Benchmark report (Opens as a PDF)
- 46 percent of mobile users say they are unlikely to return to a website they had trouble accessing on their phone. —Gomez
- 74 percent of tablet users perform searches more than any other activity. —eMarketer
- 71 percent of people use their mobile devices to access social media. —Adobe
The simple takeaway from these stats is that a brand's approach to marketing will be outdated if it hasn't already adapted to appeal to mobile users. Consumers will continue to migrate from desktops to mobile devices; the companies that don't include mobile functionality in design and marketing will ultimately lose both current and potential customers.
Where to Start?
The next step is to start planning your mobile strategy.
Keep in mind that consumers want the same experience on their smartphones that they would get on their PCs.
Start by considering the following questions:
- What are your business objectives? Specifically, how do you do business with your customers?
- What are the costs and benefits for your business?
- What do you want your consumers to do when they come into contact with your business on a mobile device, and what must you provide to get them to take that action?
- What is the best route for your company in regard to mobile?
Then consider: Do you want to build your website to be mobile-friendly, mobile-optimized or responsive?
"Mobile-friendly" refers to a site that displays accurately when viewed both on your desktop/laptop computer and a mobile device. While it will appear smaller on a phone, and may not work perfectly on a touchscreen tablet, a mobile-friendly website will be perfectly functional. Many developers view mobile-friendly as a "best practice" for all website developments. As you start building your mobile-friendly website, consider how you can implement the following features:
- Tappable phone numbers, physical addresses or email addresses that can trigger a call, directions or email messages from your mobile device with one simple touch.
- Slideshows or image rotators that function without Adobe Flash support, as some devices—like Apple's—don't support Flash.
- Small image sizes to allow for fast loading over mobile connections.
A mobile-optimized site is a far more advanced website. Mobile-optimized means that the site has been specifically formatted for smartphone or tablet devices. Larger navigation buttons, reformatted content and differently optimized images appear when the user is on an iPhone, Android or other mobile device.
Reformatting allows the website to easily engage a large mobile audience when key buying decisions come up. More and more consumers are turning to their mobile devices right in the store. Having a website developed that allows users to easily navigate and engage from the small screens of their handhelds means reaching a decision faster.
Think about the following formatting elements when considering a mobile-optimized site:
- "Thumb-friendly" simplified navigation with large touchpoints, especially for critical contact information.
- Reduced graphics that don't interrupt the appearance of critical information, such as product listings or paid content.
- Avoid making users type unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Give users the option to view the desktop version of your site.
Responsive design is a method of developing a site that is completely flexible, regardless of device. Rather than detecting a specific browser type or device type, the website automatically orients itself based on the screen size of the device. A combination of reformatting and re-optimizing the site as a whole gives a practical flexibility beyond imagination. Below you will find some key advantages to taking a responsive design approach:
Enhanced User Experience: Responsive design encourages simplicity and provides a consistent device-neutral experience for your audience.
Scalability and Versatility: Responsive websites are suitable for virtually all devices going forward without having to account for a different make and model of device.
Easy to Maintain: Because responsive sites require only one build, you will only need to manage content once.
SEO Impact: Responsive websites are awarded higher rankings from Google and streamlined on-page SEO strategies. And since 61 percent of people only look at the first page of search results when conducting a search on their smartphones, it's imperative that your site be optimized for mobile.
Each of the above approaches has its pros and cons. Let's discuss some of the downsides of each:
• Mobile-Friendly: This approach is the easiest to implement, as you are simply assuring that your desktop-targeted website doesn't break when viewed on a mobile device. This, however, requires the consumer to zoom in to areas on the site in order to read much of the content. While you will keep costs down, you are mostly ignoring your mobile consumers. Increasing the size of buttons and menus will make it easier to navigate on a touch-screen mobile device, but can lead to issues with layout and require you to redesign your layout regardless of having chosen this approach.
The mobile-friendly approach requires the mobile consumer download the same content as the desktop user when viewing a page. If you have large, high-quality imagery, video or other "heavy" content, this may cause long wait times for mobile users.
• Mobile-Optimized: Essentially, you are designing two separate websites, one for your desktop consumer and one for your mobile consumer, with this approach. This means updates to content need to be implemented twice. You may also need multiple versions of image assets in order to keep the size of mobile content down to what's reasonable over a mobile network. This also leads to some additional work. You should expect longer lead times and more hours to deliver updates.
• Responsive Design: This tactic is often described as a "build once, deploy everywhere" approach. In theory, this is true, but the practice of executing responsive design websites requires more effort than many marketing managers anticipate when first starting out.
The design effort requires you to first decide how many "break-points" you will support. A break-point is essentially a screen size (or range) that you will specifically design a layout for. So, if you want the site to automatically adjust its layout to support desktop, tablet and mobile devices differently, you have at least three layouts to consider.
You can get more granular in your design, breaking mobile and tablet devices into subcategories based on size (i.e., small, medium and large), but this means a new layout for each subcategory. While this can provide consumers with a layout that is tailored to the screen they chose to use, it can also increase the cost and time it takes to deliver.
Choosing to ignore mobile consumers when designing your website is not really an option. At the same time, the choices you make in the way you support your mobile consumers can lead to costs and timeline extensions that you just weren't prepared for.
It is best to do a little research, consult with an expert in the field and assure that you establish appropriate expectations. Select the approach you will take based on the time and budget that you have, but don't ignore the relationship you want to establish with your growing mobile consumer base.
Greg Hoy is VP of mobile solutions at New York-based mobile engagement platform provider Hipcricket, Inc. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mobile is going to continue to grow as will its use as a way for brands to interact with their customers. However, the mobile device is far more personal than your email inbox. Fortunately, there are ways to implement a mobile marketing strategy that delivers relevant information that your customers want to receive. By understanding how your customers want to engage with you will help you build loyalty and in turn, help you see faster returns on your marketing investment.
Greg is a 12-year mobile industry veteran and vice president of mobile solutions at Hipcricket, Inc., where he's responsible for the vision and strategy to deliver consumer experiences that increase mobile engagement and lifetime value across mobile messaging and advertising, mobile websites, social media and branded apps