The Web is more mobile than ever. Being able to deliver a user friendly view of your organization’s digital presence has become increasingly important to be competitive, gain market share, and increase customer satisfaction, user base engagement and loyalty. Needless to say, smartphone and smart device use is on the rise.
Here are some compelling stats published in October of 2010 by ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database.
- By the end of 2010, there will be an estimated 5.3 billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, including 940 million subscriptions to 3G services.
- Access to mobile networks is now available to 90% of the world population and 80% of the population living in rural areas.
- People are moving rapidly from 2G to 3G platforms, in both developed and developing countries. In 2010, 143 countries were offering 3G services commercially, compared to 95 in 2007.
- Toward 4G: a number of countries have started to offer services at even higher broadband speeds, moving to next generation wireless platforms; they include Sweden, Norway, Ukraine and the United States.
Things to Consider for Getting Started
Before you go through the process of determining which mobile strategy is best for your organization, it’s helpful to start with addressing the following items.
- Define your mobile look and feel and determine if your website will have a different, maybe more scaled back, layout than your primary site.
- Determine whether or not to pursue an SMS (text) strategy.
- Assess your web technology: Is your website currently leveraging a content management system (CMS) to create, manage and publish content? Is it mobile friendly out of the box? Is it using flash? Are there sophisticated renderings, layouts and user interactions? Some content management systems like the Sitecore CMS come with full mobile support out of the box.
- Determine if additional hardware is required.
- Define which mobile strategy you should pursue.
- Analyze mobile page traffic and page usage patterns to determine if different and/or more personalized mobile layouts would be more effective.
- Periodically monitor and adjust as needed.
Common Mobile Strategies
There are currently three prevailing strategies to help get your web presence mobile: 1) make your entire site mobile friendly; 2) make a portion of your site mobile friendly; and 3) develop and deploy mobile applications. There are reasons, pros and cons, for each approach.
Before we jump in, it’s important to start with understanding your audience’s needs. Using personas for this is quite helpful. It allows you to remove yourself from the equation to help focus on your user’s needs. Go through the exercise of defining all of the perceived goals and needs for each persona. Plot them out on a spreadsheet with goals down the side and each of the three approaches listed below across the top.
Finally, fill in the blanks with a numeric value score you believe will be created by pursuing the strategy. This is the most important step. The number should take into account both “the scope of feature” and “how much value is created to both the user and your organization.” Don’t rush this step because this should be the largest factor in your decision making process.
For the “scope of the feature” component, you should consider: how many pages on your site would be needed to deliver this feature (i.e., a shopping cart that encompasses many pages vs. a single contact us page); if you need help with promotion of this feature (i.e., via an app store); if additional development work is needed to deliver this feature; security considerations; and what are the time and cost considerations.
You may need to create several of these matrices depending on how detailed your analysis needs to be with regard to “value to user” and “value to your organization” component. Once you have your value numbers, add them up and see what you get. The sample spreadsheet shown below could be used for this exercise.
Once totaled, if more than one strategy looks appealing, go through a cost analysis and a ROI study to help with making your final decision.
Making Your Entire Site Mobile Friendly
In some cases, it’s important to create a mobile friendly version of your entire site. This approach is most commonly used when either the site does not have a lot of content, or there are not many different types of content. Basic sites that contain few pages where each page contains uniquely valuable information are usually good candidates for this approach.
Typically, the only development effort needed here aside from detecting the browser and device as being a mobile one would be applying your mobile device rendering (layouts and look and feel). No conditional rendering would be required to only show a portion of the site because everything would be made available.
Making a Portion of Your Site Mobile Friendly
When organizations require a specific set of content and functionality to be available on mobile devices, it’s usually best to make a portion of your site available on mobile devices. This strategy primarily focuses on eliminating unnecessary content, navigation and other website elements with the goal of providing the most relevant information and “call to actions” for your mobile user base. The key difference between this approach and the one above is that although both approaches usually eliminate high resolution images and other bandwidth intense elements, this approach removes pages and/or potentially entire sections of your website to better “cut to the chase.”
Implementing this option requires either a physical separation of content and pages (i.e., the full view vs. the mobile view), or programming code in the rendering of the site on mobile devices to allow for only the portion of the site you want visibly to be published. This is where utilizing a content management system that supports mobile can really come in handy; you would have one version of content, two layouts (i.e., two HTML views), and would be able to more easily determine which view to render without maintaining two separate copies of the content item.
Developing and Deploying Mobile Applications
Creating mobile applications are usually the best option for the following scenarios:
- when the functionality you want to deliver is very specialized in nature,
- when the feature is more like a web application rather than a website, and/or
- you need help with product distribution through social and viral channels.
This approach typically involves more of a development lifecycle, registering with application distribution centers, and “usage” costs associated with leveraging those distribution center channels (i.e., an app store for example).
An important point to consider is different mobile devices require applications to be built in different programming languages, which requires additional development time and support to be cross-platform friendly.
These three strategies are currently the most common you will see out there. There are several cases where more than one of these strategies is appropriate (i.e., a portion of website for mobile viewing in conjunction with a web app for iPhone and Droid).
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