A mobile target

June 28, 2012

With the increasing popularity of mobile devices, it is no wonder that mobile strategy has risen to the surface of most companies’ minds. According to the Google Smartphone Survey released early last year, 50% of the US population will have a smartphone by the end of 2012. Among current users surveyed, 95% have looked for local information, with a majority of those taking action within a day. The actions that were taken? 77% have contacted a business, with 61% calling and 59% visiting that business. For local companies, this offers a pretty nice lead to tap into. Crafting a mobile strategy is a complex issue and there is no one size fits all solution. The criterion for your company’s strategy should be based on business goals, budget, and user goals and habits that can be gleaned from analytics. There are several major paths to be contemplated for your strategy: Now I am sure you have run across the first two, but the last two – responsive web design and progressive enhancement – may be new to you. I am going to focus on these two. Responsive design is a web site that utilizes CSS3 (cascading style sheets, version 3) media queries with fluid proportion-based grids to adapt to the layout of the viewing environment. These sites also most likely use flexible images. Is your head spinning yet? Take a deep breath; it is not as bad as it sounds. The good news is that you will have a site with one code base that expands and contracts to fit your screen masterfully, constraining columns and images to the appropriate percentage of the screen, with the ability to optimize the layout for specific targets – mobile, desktop and tablet. Now the bad news. Most of your users – unless they are on a smartphone or a modern browser not named Internet Explorer – cannot utilize media queries, the underlying principle that makes this all possible. Now what? JavaScript to the rescue. Much like HTML 5, you need to lean on a few JavaScript libraries to force legacy browsers to support these new features. The second approach is Progressive Enhancement, which uses a layered approach that allows everyone to access the same base content and functionality of a web page while providing an enhanced version of the page for those with more advanced browsers. Since this is a content-centric approach, all content will be on the page and then enhanced at runtime. This will help with SEO; since search engine spiders do not run JavaScript, any content loaded with client side scripting will not render for them. With PE you can combine CSS3 media queries and then start to really optimize for the different segments. Now, you may be asking what the ROI is on PE or RWD. It will differ from site to site based on your goals. If your mobile needs are very specific and less encompassing, you may just want to make a standalone mobile site to serve up maps and some basic content. But if your goals are a little more aggressive, with that approach you now have 2 code bases to maintain, 2 places for errors to show up, and 2 places to QC. You can start to see where a little more upfront cost can quickly become justified with even a medium-sized site. More and more often a customer’s first impression is on a mobile device and if it is a poor user experience, one of these highly motivated prospects may just choose a competitor that has already taken the leap.