The online world is going mobile and small screens are increasingly coming to represent big business.
“Roughly one in seven searches, even in the smaller categories, are happening on a mobile phone, but how many of you are putting one seventh of your resources into mobile?” asked Google’s Head of Mobile Advertising Jason Spero.
According to Google, mobile searches have recently quadrupled in the US and it’s a pattern that’s being seen throughout the world. Many commentators suggest that mobile searches will overtake static searches overall by 2015 but in India and China mobile already leads the way, according to StatCounter’s global statistics. In many emerging markets, mobile phones and other devices provide an alternative where reliable and affordable static connections might not be readily available. Even as the broadband infrastructure in these nations catches up, Internet habits that have become deeply ingrained are unlikely to be shaken off.
A recent report by the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) explains: “Mobile phones are a cheaper and more convenient way to access the internet for [residents in] China’s vast rural areas and for the enormous migrant population…The emergence of smartphones under 1,000 yuan [$157] sharply lowered the threshold for using the devices and encouraged average mobile phone users to become mobile web surfers.”
The increasing worldwide prevalence of mobile Internet usage provides a compelling reason why you should be optimizing for mobile devices. Next comes the question of how.
Keep it simple
The way people consume information on mobile devices is different to static desktop computers and laptops. The size of the screen, the differing interface and processing power and page loading times must all be addressed when optimizing for mobile devices.
The most important rule of thumb is to keep things as simple and streamlined as possible. You should still maintain a recognisable brand identity. A visitor to both your mobile site and your regular site should recognise familiar elements but on your mobile site it should be trimmed back to achieve maximum functionality. People do increasingly casually surf via mobile devices but they tend to want the most important aspects and information on a site to be clearly and simply presented.
Visual design and navigation
Clear simple designs usually work best. Single columns sized to fit the relevant screen prevent the visitor from having to scroll sideways, which can be a pain if you’re trying to find a specific piece of information on a mobile site. The use of clean white space can be a good way to present information but content should in any case be clear and easy to find, read and navigate.
Navigation is another hugely important aspect. Visitors are less likely to make numerous clicks on a mobile device, especially if there’s an issue with page loading times. Try to make sure your most important information and functions are available on the landing page and that other important content is available in a minimum of further steps.
Tablets can be easier to physically navigate than smartphones, but on any mobile device the way people access and enter information differs from the way they would use a desktop. If the main input device is a person’s finger this can be far less accurate and controllable than a mouse pointer, especially on a small screen. Try to avoid clickable text links, images and small ‘hotspots’ in favour of clearly marked buttons. Similarly, drop-down menus that allow you to choose from a range of options are generally better than blank fields for the visitor to enter text. Where the visitor does have to enter text (such as entering personal information when making a purchase) make the input fields as clear and simple as possible.
The majority of mobile surfers expect load times on their smartphone to be the same or only slightly slower than their desktop. Almost half of users say they would wait for ten seconds or less before abandoning a site and trying somewhere else.
Flashy graphics and animations that might look great on a desktop might not have the same effect in the condensed space of a smartphone, and will also be likely to substantially increase load times. Too much Flash can be very system intensive and it’s also worth remembering that Apple products (which account for around 30% of the market) famously don’t support Flash.
As with your content, take a long hard look at your images and decide if they’re really necessary. Embedded audio and video can present another issue and it’s often better not to have media that plays automatically as soon as you open the page.
It all comes back to keeping things simple and giving your visitors a clean, useful and enjoyable experience that they will hopefully want to repeat.