Mobile web solutions provider offers a step-by-step guide of considerations.
We recently discussed device detection and fragmentation problems with mobile web solutions firm, dotMobi, as part of an ongoing mini-series. Now, marketing manager Martin Clancy offers insight to the questions companies need to consider before leaping headfirst into the mobile web...
dotMobi has focused exclusively on the mobile web since 2005, when our founders* came together with a vision to spur the growth of the mobile web. Since then, we have been carrying out that mission through a variety of different offerings including independently run resources for mobile developers and marketers (MobiForge and MobiThinking) as well as offering device detection solution DeviceAtlas and mobile site publishing platform goMobi as well as the mobile specific .mobi domain.
It’s this track record in mobile that brings many companies to us for advice when trying to answer some of the questions on the intricacies of implementing their mobile strategy in what is essentially a complex and nuanced environment.
To that end we often advise people to ask themselves or their agency to answer some simple questions before embarking on the mobile journey:
1. What are your business goals?
Decide what your goals for mobile are as a part of your overall online strategy. If you’re an e-commerce business, you’ll want to drive sales. If you’re a brand, it may be to build awareness and engagement. Whatever kind of company you are, your mobile strategy should meet clear business objectives.
2. What levels of mobile traffic are you seeing?
Understanding your existing traffic is essential to getting your mobile strategy right. Once you have a good understanding of what devices are actually visiting your site, you can make decisions on how best to cater for that traffic. Analytics should inform data-driven decisions on what your users are doing.
3. Are your analytics correct?
4. Should you just concentrate on native apps?
A mobile app is not a full mobile strategy, regardless of how many different OSs you target. Your customers still need to find it and download the app before using it. Don’t forget each mobile ecosystem has its own submission procedures, and each time you update your app, you will run up against these.
A true mobile strategy embraces all of the mobile devices. Right now, the mobile web is the only way to reach your entire audience in one fell swoop and updating your site is seamless.
5. Should you go for responsive design?
Responsive design is a much talked about technique to make a website adapt to different devices. Using the technique it is possible to serve a single HTML document to all desktop browsers and most smartphones. This attractive concept means only one experience has to be designed and maintained.
However, responsive design often gets confused with building a "proper" mobile website. Responsive doesn’t deliver a mobile specific experience because it strives to deliver the same experience; this one-experience-fits-all approach and a limited range of addressable devices won’t be suitable for all websites.
6. What is your budget?
Without a clear idea of budget constraints, it will be difficult to prioritise your mobile strategy.
Native apps need to be promoted and there is a separate development cost for each platform. Although solutions exist to wrap a mobile web site as a native app, native elements are often needed and each additional platform means more complexity in interface design, testing and maintenance.
Developing a good mobile web site versus a native app is almost invariably cheaper, assuming you're doing something that "can be done" on the web.
7. What should a good mobile site do?
First and foremost it should meet your customers’ needs. In general, a lighter, simpler page results in a better experience. For mobile, people are more likely to be hunters than gatherers: they know what they want and the experience needs to quickly get them to where they need to go. On desktop, users are more likely to browse for things they might like.
A mobile site can include elements not present on the desktop site. Having knowledge of the device helps make decisions on:
* Using tel: or wtai: hyperlinks, so that the user can click-to-call phone numbers on a page if the device supports them.
* If the device has GPS, you should ensure that the user's location is picked up from GPS rather than forcing them to enter location data in a form.
* If the device has a touch-screen, you should adapt your CSS to ensure that items are big enough to be easily tapped with a finger tip.
8. What devices will your site work on?
If you are outsourcing your mobile strategy to an agency, agree the range of devices it will work on (and be tested on). This will typically include recent iOS and Android devices but it may be worth seeking a wider range if you think that your customers are more varied e.g. tablets, RIM, Windows’ Phone. Web firms who are not up to speed in mobile often take a reductive approach that just works on iOS and more popular Android phones. Device coverage should always be validated against your analytics.
9. How will device fragmentation be addressed with one mobile site?
There are multiple approaches to handling diversity. A common approach is to take a small number of basic templates grouping phones according to their specifications/capabilities, for example non touch-screen phones, smartphones, tablets and low-end phones and then further finesse the experience by resizing images to fit exactly into the resolution in question. Other sites use a more fine-grained approach that alters every element on the page dynamically according to the access device. But you need to know what the requesting device is first.
10. Is there a device detection strategy in place?
Device detection allows any website to accurately identify the capabilities of each accessing device in real time. This device information allows the site to make decisions about which experience to show a users or how best to format the content before sending it to the user. Google, for example, optimises page weight for different devices. Having device detection in place allows you to ensure that the site works well and delivers a much richer experience on different devices and is the approach favoured by 80 per cent of top Alexa companies.
dotMobi was founded in 2005 by a consortium made up of Ericsson, Google, GSMA, Hutchison Whampoa, Microsoft, Nokia, Orascom Telecom, Samsung Electronics, Syniverse, T-Mobile, Telefónica, TIM, Visa and Vodafone. It is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Afilias.