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Feb. 7, 2014

The Path to a Smart Mobile Strategy

Smartphones and tablets are the most important consumer delivery devices in business. Don’t believe it? They recently supplanted laptop and desktop PCs in terms of time spent on devices. And there's still plenty of room for them to grow, with overall usage not yet reaching the 50 percent mark. As a result, businesses need to develop a strategy that places mobile design front and center or risk falling behind their competitors.

Aurelie Guerrieri, a mobile consultant and a co-chair of Women in Wireless, has helped build mobile businesses at SimplyHired, MobPartner and SendMe. She says there are many ways in which businesses can develop a mobile strategy to keep up with the mobile revolution.

Before thinking of redesigning a site for mobile use, however, businesses must understand it requires a serious commitment of resources. Engineers must consider the fact that, like any framework, conversion engines have significant limitations, and companies planning to deviate from the standard use cases may be better off developing their own frameworks library.

“QA on mobile is typically costlier, as there are so many devices to test on,” Guerrieri says.

Websites should undergo a full analysis of logs and prioritization of the most trafficked devices, desktop or mobile, before they get started.

Take the website of the Washington Post. If it receives more than half of its page views from mobile devices, and these views lead to higher ad revenue, then the paper's designers need to create pages that better serve mobile interaction and keep readers engaged. If a majority of respondents open Monster.com’s jobs newsletter on their phones, then the website needs to invest in a well-designed email-newsletter program.

Evaluating a Responsive and Mobile Design

Dedicated application development takes most of the attention in mobile strategies today, but it’s not the only strategy that works. Dedicated apps are beneficial for many businesses, such as gaming, but Guerrieri says responsive design geared toward different-sized mobile screens is more important.

“A mobile website should be your first line of defense, before an app,” she says.

Guerrieri says companies need to scrape their site to deliver responsive, dynamic design. Developers should evaluate how text renders, how images scale and how 'tappable' all buttons are.

“In mobile design, the details that ease the experience have a huge impact on conversion,” she says. If a button of a purchase order doesn't have the right contrast color or provide a satisfying, professional experience—or worse, does not render in size relative to the size of the screen—it needs to change.

While responsive design is critical, efficient navigation paths are also important. Designer Theresa Neil released the results of a recent navigation study that evaluated the most common design decisions of top-ranked retail mobile sites and the reasons they were successful. They include the use of multitoggle menus, skipped subnavigations to highlight sale items, highly visual off-canvas menus (best for clothing) and “Mega Menus” that simplify large product hierarchies. The common denominator in all the strategies is that they brought the user closer to their buying interests in a beautiful and compelling way.

Another important feature that affects both responsive design and navigation paths is load time. The faster the site, the more it will affect conversion rates.

Fostering and Adopting a Mobile Mindset

Analysts agree that businesses need to embrace mobile-first as their new mindset, regardless of previous thinking. Adults now use mobile devices to buy anything they want, including high-end retail items, which previously were thought to be either too expensive or too emotionally involved to enable a transaction online. Times change, and so do buying habits.

Only a few years ago, websites with lots of text were thought to be unfriendly to mobile devices. Now, long-form content has risen in popularity due to users' greater comfort with reading incisive content on mobile devices like the Kindle and the iPad. This comfort is also a result of the natural outgrowth of search-rank algorithms from search engines, which "use content quality as a key metric for how sites rank."

If people are reading longer, taking more pictures, working, and sharing and creating content through mobile devices, the commerce market needs to serve those needs. Especially since 25 percent of people ages 18–44 can’t remember not having their phones with them.

Stand Out from the Mobile Crowd

Designing for mobile should go beyond look and feel. The best mobile experience not only is “fast and delightful” but also impresses users by using mobile-specific features like geolocalization or notifications.

“For example, a store recognizing I am in its vicinity and sending me a special offer to buy that pair of shoes I looked up on their e-commerce site,” Guerrieri says. “[A business] needs to take an omni-channel approach. This involves rethinking the company’s business and processes that might unlock new product or service opportunities.”

New products that enhance the mobile experience include video and other visual content. Guerrieri likes micro-video in particular because, like texting, it’s “tighter and more efficient” with a mobile viewer’s time. A service like Vine, with its six-second video limit, can help a brand convey its message in a hip, swift manner.

The rapid deployment of mobile products to international markets is another important feature. Mobile phones are the main device for most business users around the world, and designing localization features into an interface, like detailed cultural iconography, can go a long way toward building consumer loyalty.

Know Your Digital Audience

The key to any mobile or digital starts with data and research. Companies must understand their audience and their behaviors in order to develop a mobile device properly.

But what are the main checkpoints of the process? Here are a few questions every company should answer before finalizing a mobile strategy:

  • How much of your total traffic originates from mobile devices?
  • What is the percentage of smartphone and tablet users?
  • What is the role of video and audio in the lives of your consumers?
  • Why do users visit your site?
  • Where do they stall in their pursuit for information?
  • What are the most important social networks for your audience?
  • Which pages do they visit the most and how much time do they spend at each?

By incorporating user behavior and addressing user needs, companies can build a mobile experience that resonates with customers and results in better sales.

[image: bagiuiani/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos]

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR
Jose is a technology expert with experience in covering cloud computing, startups and enterprise IT.
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