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5 keys to the perfect mobile site

November 5, 2010


Tim McLaughlin is founder/president of Siteworx

By Tim McLaughlin

It is an all-too-familiar scene: You are happily browsing the Web on your sleek new smartphone when, all of sudden, you land on a page that is so ill-suited to mobile viewing – so clunky, so inelegant, so frustratingly inoperable – that it completely destroys the mobile experience.

Why is this such a problem?

Well, for starters, any user experience designer will tell you that the Internet, and particularly the mobile Internet, is meant to be unobtrusive. Successful mobile experiences are fluid and seamless.

But when a Web page is not optimized for mobile viewing, it shatters the illusion. Users become painfully aware of the technical mechanisms inhibiting their enjoyment of the Web.

And then, right on cue, they leave.

Today, with 40 percent of U.S. adults accessing the Internet via mobile devices, a poor mobile viewing experience is almost certainly costing your organization dollars, brand equity and user loyalty.

But even supposing you have the will to optimize, you will still need the way.

How exactly does a marketer create an effective Web site for the mobile viewer? And what separates a great mobile site from a dismal one? Here are five tips.

Successful mobile sites use the native features of today’s mobile devices.
Contrary to popular belief, mobile optimization is not just an exercise in reduction.

Mobile devices offer your site a host of capabilities that your desktop computer cannot replicate such as geolocation, multi-touch, and click-to-call.

Hence, the best mobile sites make strategic use of these and other features to achieve richer, more intuitive user experiences.

Successful mobile sites are optimized for key user tasks.
With limited screen space, mobile sites have to be selective when choosing which user tasks to facilitate.

Thus, smart developers always begin with a thorough analysis of a mobile audience’s priorities and behavior.

From there, an effective mobile site streamlines its interface around those documented user keys, eliminating obstacles to functionality such as cumbersome text-embedded links or uncooperative drop-down menus.

Successful mobile sites maintain brand relevance and consistency.
Streamlining a mobile site should not mean stripping it of its branded identity.

Rather, an effective mobile site delivers a familiar look and feel without compromising functionality.

The trick is to think strategically about screen real estate, combining form and function to eliminate large branding elements without obvious user benefits.

Successful mobile sites perform well.
Think sluggish performance is problematic on the desktop Web? Well, it is downright fatal on a mobile platform.

To appease the mobile user, site loading and rendering times must be drastically shortened. That is why smart mobile developers stay mindful of file sizes and minimize homepage content to avoid big initial lags.

Successful mobile sites minimize or eliminate Flash and other proprietary formats.
Non-standardized Web technologies such as Flash will never be supported by some of the major mobile platforms.

Thus, effective mobile sites use Web standards such as HTML5, which ensure universal performance and functionality.

It is as simple as that – sort of.

FOLLOWING THESE guidelines will certainly help you get started.

But make no mistake: There is little margin for error with your mobile optimization. Do it poorly, and you are essentially training your audience not to interact with you on their mobile devices.

Fortunately, there are scores of development and design tools and services available to help with your mobile optimization – everything from automated tools to full-service interactive agencies. However you decide to proceed, now is the time to do it.

So go forward. The Internet is depending on you.

Tim McLaughlin is founder/president of Siteworx, Reston, VA. Reach him at

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