4 best practices for creating a customer-friendly mobile site

Here's the basic tenet of feng shui: With the mindful arrangement of objects in relation to one another and in the context of their environment, one can attract positive energy and good fortune, and generally usher in the good. That sounds manageable, right?

Published: 06 Sep 2011

Here's the basic tenet of feng shui: With the mindful arrangement of objects in relation to one another and in the context of their environment, one can attract positive energy and good fortune, and generally usher in the good. That sounds manageable, right?

In theory, yes, but when you start bringing outside forces to bear—a sense of where things are supposed to go, an irrational desire to bring in the new while holding on to the old, the notion that more really is more—things get a lot more complicated.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the mobile commerce space. For years, marketers have been working to perfect their e-commerce sites, figuring out what clicks and doesn't click with consumers, and creating just the right energy for happy shopping—and buying. Now, they're tackling the new mobile revolution head on—with the exact same strategies and the exact same websites!

Mobile sites are not the same as websites. Full stop.

The screens are smaller, the keyboards are smaller, and the experience people have browsing your site on a smartphone is completely different from how they view it on a computer screen.

Marketers need to take a step back and realise that mobile is a new environment, one that demands a new design and a new approach to keep their customers and win new ones.

Only by prioritising your mobile strategy and making it a key element of your overall e-commerce planning will you be able to prove its worth—via customer retention, measurable revenue, and a stellar return on investment.

So what does it take to create a harmonious, customer-friendly mobile site?

1. Learn to let go

It's easy to get carried away with offers, content, and information on your website; after all, you have plenty of real estate to work with. But simply replicating that scope in mobile form is like trying to fit your Barcalounger in the breakfast nook: there just isn't space.

As you begin building your mobile marketing strategy, start by removing items from your website that are superfluous.
How do you decide what's essential and what's gratuitous? You're likely already storing a lot of analytics data about how your consumers interact on your site. Use that information to determine what your customers need from you, what can (and should) be translated to your mobile environment—and what you can dispose of.

But space is not the only factor to consider: load times and screen rendering are just as important. Get out that smartphone of yours, type in your brand's URL, and take note of the load times and overall layout. Are any large graphics or Flash pieces killing the mobile experience? What is hard or easy to find?

Hold on to what works, get rid of what seems clunky or cumbersome in a mobile browser, and if there's must-keep content that will need new presentation, make note of that, too.

When designing your mobile site, less is definitely more.

2. Create a harmonious space

Once you've cleared out the clutter, it's time to focus on making the best of the remaining content.

The first step is to get your hands on the Big 3 mobile devices—iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry—and view your site on each. Next, spend some time visiting mobile sites within your industry or of competitors, and download various types of apps on each device to understand what works—and what doesn't. Do you notice any patterns? What items do you like and dislike? What features and design components seem to be the most user-friendly... or unnecessary?

Though some of your impressions will be subjective, you'll gain a sense of whether your mobile site is set up to perform properly on a small screen. Within that context, you'll be able to focus on improving and optimising successful elements, rather than wasting time on the irrelevant or unnecessary.

Whether you're simply looking for general inspiration or cross-industry best-practices, look to the successful mobile sites, such as those of Google, Amazon, or eBay.

3. Get a second, third, and fourth opinion

You've renovated and redecorated, but you'll know if you got it right only by testing your new look. A must for e-commerce sites, multivariate and A/B testing are just as important for mobile commerce sites.

With few tried-and-true best-practices for mobile conversion, even the most experienced marketers can't predict what elements of a mobile site will drive desired consumer behaviors. Small elements, such as headline placement, button color, or tone/copy tweaks can have a significant impact on sales—but you won't get it just right until you test.
But don't rest on your laurels: Mobile sites, like their online counterparts, are at the mercy of the ever-shifting demands of consumers and the marketplace. Developing your mobile site isn't a once-and-you're-done project. Mobile requires the same continual care and feeding that traditional websites do.

4. Make your mobile site comfortable (and personal) for everyone

No matter how the small the space, with the right personal touches it can feel like home. Your apartment might be the size of a shoe box, but when it's your shoe box, everything just feels better.

The same can be said for the mobile environment. Yes, there's a lack of real estate to play with, but you can make the mobile experience just as custom and personal as you can on a standard website—and, along the way, draw in and win over your customers. It's up to you to make every visitor feel comfortable and wanted—and eager to visit again and again.

Segmented personalisation will allow you to capture behaviours and attributes about your mobile visitors to create content tailored to their location, their time of day, or even their brand of mobile device. Personalisation can also be specific to each visitor: Users can be targeted by previous searches, past purchases, the time of their last visits, and even their activities in your physical store, call center, or website.

Personalising the mobile shopping experience is an essential practice if you want to be on top of the mobile commerce game.

* * *
It's a lot to take in, but before you walk away thinking these best-practices seem too daunting to achieve, rest assured that technology resources can help you automate these processes. Just as feng shui experts and interior designers exist, so, too, do personalisation experts who can save you time, budget, and internal resources as you achieve your mobile commerce goals.

Whatever path you choose, know that every successful mobile site specifically addresses both the demands of the medium and the needs of customers.

(By Mark Simpson, Founder and President Maxymiser. The article first appeared on Marketing Profs).

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