So You’re Ready to Build a Mobile Site?

Nine Tips and Tricks For Creating a Successful Mobile Experience

The first question you have to ask yourself when preparing your company’s mobile solution is: Are you going to create a downloadable application, or are you going to create a mobile website? It’s a challenge to get a consumer to download an app for one branded device, and the cost and upkeep for multiple platforms can easily get into six figures. Creating an app that only works on the iPhone, leaves Android and BlackBerry users behind. Instead of going with a limiting mobile app, manufacturers and retailers can instead create a mobile website that works on every web-based device available while costing far less to maintain and update.

If you decide to go with a mobile website, it shouldn’t be a carbon copy of your regular site that’s formatted to work on phones and devices. There are key differences, advantages and disadvantages to using desktop versus mobile for the Web. Understanding and applying these to your mobile site is key in creating an effective user experience that will have them sharing it with friends and coming back for more.

  • Detection software.  The last thing you want to do is create a new URL for your customers to remember.  With a simple detection software script, your site can determine the type of device (iPhone, Android, etc.) that is visiting your URL and format the site to be viewed best on that particular machine. This is the only way to go mobile.
  • Simplification. On mobiles, simpler is better. Since there isn’t nearly as much screen space on a mobile device compared to a desktop, every pixel of space needs to be carefully planned. Think less about graphics and flashy videos and more about text and simple navigation. The text itself should be large enough for your viewers to read without having to squint or manually zoom in. The images should use the space efficiently, and should show off your brand at every opportunity. Remember, the dwell time for consumers on mobile is much shorter than desktop. If you frustrate them with an overly complicated layout that is difficult to navigate, they will have a negative experience, probably won’t share your site with friends, and possibly won’t return to the site at all.
  • Fingers, not mice. One thing that many of us forget when we’re busily browsing on our mobile devices is that we use our thumbs and fingers to navigate. While teeny-tiny text hyperlinks are easy to click on with a mouse, they’re painful to press with your finger. It’s even worse when there are a bunch of them packed together, and you end up pressing the link next to the one you intended. D’oh!

    Make sure that buttons and text are large enough to comfortably press without hogging up too much screen space. There’s also more room to be stylish and creative as well.

    Another important note about mobile navigation is that a lot of people don’t enjoy filling out forms with a touch-screen keypad. Keep any forms simple and only ask for the information you need. Try to use pull-down menus and check-lists as often as you can, so users aren’t always forced to type with their touch-screen keypad.

  • Don’t cram. While creating a mobile site, an understandable tendency is to cram as much information as possible. Don’t be afraid of white space! Not only can it be aesthetic, but it makes it easier for users to navigate content and press links that they want to visit.

Now, you’ve got your mobile site all ready to go. It’s sharp, clean, and easy to navigate. Don’t just stop there! There are still plenty of neat tools that you can utilize for mobile.

  • Store finder.  Imagine a customer on your social networking site seeking to find a store that sells a certain product they’ve read about. They can click or search for a link to the manufacturer’s mobile Web site and find a nearby store that carries the product. Convenient!

    A store finder tool utilizes a phone’s GPS (much like Google Maps) or a zip code to find stores near the user’s current location. This is a huge advantage for both retailers and manufacturers, as it promotes a certain brand and brings customers physically into the store (as opposed to buying online).

  • Customer reviews. In the new economy of embracing social networking, it is easier than ever to connect with your customers. Like a store finder, customer reviews are a dynamic and unique mobile tool.

    Consumers don’t want to have to print or write down data to bring into the store when they can scan a QR code and receive instant feedback on a brand or product.

    As in the finance industry, the natural food channel needs to be careful about monitoring customer reviews. Certain claims made by your customers could put you in a grey area with DSHEA compliance (e.g., a customer claiming that a company's product cured their diabetes). We strongly recommend using one of the following approaches:

    1. Hold all reviews until you have approved them for public viewing.

    2. Attach a link to a disclaimer onto every review. That way, reviews can be posted immediately without moderation.

  • Social networking. There are two important points about social networking that need to be understood. First, over 35% of all social networking in August 2011 was done on mobile devices, so if you have your consumer landing on a non-mobile site, you are creating a frustrating experience for that consumer. Second, many webmasters with little to no mobile experience think that creating a mobile site is just changing their desktop site to fit on a mobile device. The thought of tying in social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter seldom crosses their minds.

    How is your site going to interact with customers via social media? For starters, the “Share” and “Like” features on Facebook are goldmines for increasing your presence in the social networking scene. They allow consumers to share and comment about products and specials on their own Facebook walls. Not only is this kind of advertising free of charge, it’s also highly effective—people are more likely to trust their friends’ judgment over advertising. The same can be said for Twitter and Blogger as well. If the experience is not easy and convenient while browsing your mobile site, they will not take the initiative to go further.
  • Click-to-call. Click-to-call is a feature that allows consumers to press a phone number on a Web site and call it without having to clumsily navigate their phone.
  • e-Retail. According to Forrester Research, mobile commerce is currently less than 4% of all ecommerce. Even with this small number, most manufacturers ask us to tie their desktop ecommerce feature to their mobile site as well. Accomplishing this through your existing shopping cart business logic is the best way to do this and avoid the PCI compliance issues you would have to address. 

Hopefully, this article has helped you to formulate a better mobile battle plan. The most important thing to remember is that desktop and mobile are two entirely different beasts, and sites created for both must utilize the strengths (and undermine the weaknesses) of each platform.

If you would like to stay up-to-date on the ever-changing worlds of mobile marketing and social media, please follow Digital Earth Network on Facebook!



Geoffrey Robinson is founder of Digital Earth Network, a leader in the emerging world of mobile and digital marketing content and associated applications. Geoffrey was the former founder of Eye Force Productions, a web based advertising company, and has an extensive professional background, particularly in the Natural Foods industry, in sales, marketing, business operations, consulting, Point of Sale technology and other related verticals.


Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, Oct. 21, 2011