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Which mobile presence is right for your business?

October 30th, 2012, by

Whilst mobile browsing accounts for an ever-growing proportion of your website traffic, there isn’t one ‘standard’ approach for catering for mobile visitors. The information you provide to a mobile audience and the methods used to present it should be considered on a case by case basis; user demographic, business sector and budget all dictate which solution suits best. With this in mind we look at four approaches and ask; which mobile strategy is right for your business?

1. The simplest approach: Adjust your desktop site

The simplest and cheapest option is to simply adjust your existing desktop website. This basically comes down to testing it with the most popular devices (your website statistics are useful here) and making sure everything works i.e. all the functionality is accessible, products can be purchased, pages can be seen and forms filled in. The aim here is to ensure that whilst the user experience is far from optimised for a smaller screen, no visitor with a mobile device is prevented from using your site (and so forcing them to go elsewhere.)

  • Pros: Quick & cheap. A good first step.
  • Cons: The user experience is not optimised for mobile.

2. The next level: Responsive design

To further optimise a website for a mobile audience we can employ CSS features called ‘media queries’ that detect the available screen size, device orientation and screen resolution. These features allow your website to behave differently for desktop, tablet and smartphone users, with further considerations to whether the device is being held in a landscape or portrait position. These tools mean true optimisation of the layout and appearance of a website can be undertaken; font sizes adjusted, buttons & navigation elements made ‘finger friendly’, layouts adapted to tall portrait and wide landscape screens.

A truly effective responsive design should ideally be built into a website from the beginning, however good results can be achieved by retro fitting media queries to address issues where navigation elements are too small etc.

  • Pros: Reasonably quick to implement requiring only CSS changes. Allows for full layout optimisation for mobile users.
  • Cons: Does not effectively allow optimisation of the content.

3. Full optimisation: A dedicated mobile site

A dedicated mobile site is one that runs on a secondary domain, i.e. http://m.visionexpress.com/. As a dedicated site runs independently of the main desktop site, it allows full optimisation of both the layout and the content for mobile users, without any effect on the desktop site. This means content which is highly relevant for users who are mobile (contact details, opening times, directions) can be moved to a position of prominence, whilst less important content (terms & conditions, file downloads) may be made less obvious or removed altogether. Images and video content can also be optimised both in proportion and file size, for the smaller screens and slower connection speeds.

It is recommended to use processes on the web server to detect the device being used and redirect to the mobile/desktop site accordingly, however you should always give mobile users the option to browse back to the desktop site (and maybe vice versa).

  • Pros: Allows full optimisation of the user experience, for both content and layout. Allows you to tailor the experience for users who are ‘on the move’ who will have different requirements to those at a desk.
  • Cons: Depending on the solution, may require maintenance of two websites (content, design, etc.)

4. A full mobile app

Whilst there has been plenty of buzz around mobile apps, they are not right for all businesses and audiences. In part this is due to the significantly higher cost of developing a mobile app, but also due to you target audience; they may not wish to install something on their handset in order to access your content, but rather just browse and go.

A full mobile app certainly has its place however; an app can be highly effective in providing your users (or even your staff) with useful tools, and the effectiveness of apps for delivering interesting interactive and viral content is clear to be seen. An app can interact with the mobile device in ways in which a website can’t: GPS, camera, notifications, contacts etc. and in situations where these handset features are required an app is the right tool for the job.

More often than not a mobile app is not a replacement for a mobile-optimised website, but rather a partner for it. EBay, Rightmove, Facebook & Twitter are all examples where a mobile app sits alongside a dedicated mobile site and the desktop site too.

It’s important to point out that there are two options available when considering a full mobile app; ‘native apps’ and ‘web apps’:

  1. A native app is the type of app we’ve all seen in the app store on our smartphones. These are full applications written in a device-specific language by specialist developers. Whilst seen as ‘proper’ apps, they’re generally costly to produce and often require coding for each specific device (iPhone, Android, Blackberry etc.). Getting some types of application into the app store or marketplace can present challenges also, and you can’t submit an app for approval until it’s be designed, developed and tested.
  2. A web app is something in-between a native app and a dedicated mobile site. It’s generally written in a web-programming language (e.g. PHP) and hosted on a web server. It is available to users outside the app stores, which means there isn’t the approval process, but there isn’t the coverage available associated with becoming a ‘featured app’ either. A web app doesn’t have full access to all device features – notifications, contacts, etc. – however HTML5 does provide features such as offline storage and location detection.
  • Pros: A fully-optimised experience, making use of device features like GPS, camera etc. A popular native app can provide a source of revenue through app store sales.
  • Cons: The most expensive option here. A full mobile app is often an addition to a mobile site.

Costs

If we were to plot the costs of implementing the above strategies on a chart, it may look like this:

You can see the costs rise sharply as the complexity and completeness of the mobile presence increases. Note that within each band there is an upper and lower scales of costs also; a highly complex responsive design may equal the cost of a basic dedicated mobile site.

So which is right for your business?

Looking at the range of customers we provide web services for, options 1, 2 and 3 would suit most businesses. Option 3 (the dedicated mobile site) lends itself to larger sites already experiencing strong levels of traffic, sales or interest from mobile users. For those businesses who offer products to buy online, we have an ‘ecommerce for mobile’ bolt-on for your existing site which can allow you to present an online store with mobile-optimised content and layout at a greatly reduced cost. Contact us for details on this package.

For smaller websites, or those presenting brochure-style information content, a combination of options 1 (Adjust your desktop site) & 2 (Responsive design) are likely to be most suited to your business.

What next?

Now you’re interested in catering for your mobile visitors, your next steps would be to think about planning your mobile strategy and then to contact us to discuss the options.