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Revisiting the question of catering to smartphones

July 10, 2016

teen on smartphone

Photo: Pabak Sarkar (CC)

Chances are you’re reading this post on a smartphone.

You may have arrived here through a social media link, or my weekly newsletter. So you’re also checking your favorite channels and reading your email from your phone.

Why not? You have it with you all the time, you can keep up with your friends and family, plus work-related updates and questions.

Is your website helping or hurting fellow mobile users?

I ask, because I prefer using a laptop for my work and surfing. It’s light, it has good battery life, and I can have dozens of tabs open. But that’s not how the world sees my work.

They’re using phones, from their desks, from their beds, from their cars (sigh), from their kitchen tables and their walks and their conference rooms. All I can do is make sure my posts and pages load fast, read cleanly and cater to on-the-go readers.

You have several options to meet this audience halfway …

1. Do nothing. Let them continue to suffer through your site loading on a tiny screen like it’s still 2006. This is a good way to lose a lot of mobile consumers who are one or two steps away from making a purchase.

(This site is an example of doing nothing, albeit with a WordPress theme that auto-loads a mobile version. Most sites have no such alternative.)

2. Use responsive design. I’ve implemented this solution on many of my sites through WordPress themes. Basically, the site detects the screen size and displays content in a format that works well at that size. If you’re on a desktop browser, you can see it in action by making the window wider or narrower.

I’ve come to realize that while this is an easy solution, it can be a bad choice for pages with many elements and one goal, such as a lead generation form. What works on a desktop browser can be a terrible experience on a mobile browser.

3. Use a mobile-only design. I’m coming around to this approach, because it forces companies to think specifically about mobile users. Their needs are different and more immediate than those of someone sitting at a computer.

It requires smart planning and execution. It also requires more resources, because updates often require work on both the main site and the mobile site.

4. Make an app. I’m talking a real, completely from scratch, app designed for mobile users. Not apps that are basically reskinned mobile sites (I’ve seen plenty for news, weather, sports, banks and on and on).

These apps can be free or offer in-app purchases, or have ads, or sell subscriptions or a pro version. Typically, the best ones cater to users based on their location, based on their needs (to find a venue, to look up business hours or department phone), or to comparison shop. They already have an affinity for your brand, having downloaded the app previously.

• • •

This is not a conversation we should be having in 2016. It’s very likely that for however long we have websites, mobile usage will continue to dominate over desktop usage. The possible next stage, apps, might cement it.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: Open your site on your phone, and imagine if you’d go any further.

Chances are you’ll need to refine your approach now and every year to follow.

• • •

Learn more ways to serve your readers and
customers better in my free weekly newsletter …


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