With the increasing use of mobile and non-traditional browsing among consumers, a unique opportunity exists for brands to interact with customers in more ways than ever. Increasingly more people are using mobile phones as personal computers; performing activities ranging from email to web browsing, and even shopping. Most sites are not optimized for ideal browsing on hand-held devices however.
Two factors come into play with a mobile-optimized site: the site design itself, and the ability of consumers to find the site through mobile search. Web utility MobiReady can help with the first part. The free tool can evaluate your current site for “mobile-readiness using industry best practices and standards” and give you a base point to start from. Of course, pulling your site up on a few mobile devices yourself will also give you some pretty good insight. If you find your site is rated poorly, or if you are having trouble viewing it, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Simplify, simplify, simplify. Get rid of any unnecessary images. Keep text plain and unadorned. If you don’t need it, hide it. In most cases, you will not need to create a separate site for this, you just need to attach a CSS file to your website that gives specific instructions to a mobile browser.
- Get organized. Good structure is more important than ever in the mobile arena. Try to organize your pages so that they may be read without style sheets if necessary. Make sure your links are clean and use a broken link to checker to make sure they all functioning. The overall goal here is to make the site as easy as possible to be rendered and navigated.
- Use cached data wherever possible. This will minimize the need to reload resources such as images and stylesheets, and lower download times. (This also means less cost for users on pay-per-use data plans.) Caching will also reduce the latency that is common on mobile networks.
- Avoid Flash, Java, and plug-in content. Although technology is constantly evolving, these are still resource-heavy applications, and support for them is limited. Use them only where absolutely necessary, and only with multi-device testing before launch. (Remember, there is no Flash support on mobile Apple devices.)
- Know your real estate. You have limited display space on a mobile device, generally about 2 inches by 3 inches. Be conscious of items hogging screen space, and where you place action items such as submit buttons. Users who constantly have to scroll every which way to find what they need will soon leave.
Screen real estate comes into play in another manner as well. There doesn’t appear to be any special algorithm for mobile search at this time, so the sort order of results on a desktop versus a mobile device are fairly consistent. As a result of the smaller screen size on mobile devices however, fewer search results can be displayed on each “fold” or page. SEO efforts towards high rankings are therefore more imperative in mobile than usual. The same SEO efforts you are conducting right now are going to continue to be important, with a couple of tweaks. One, make sure your site is able to be found in local search directories such as Google and Yahoo! Local. Often, mobile users are looking for quick info on something in their area. Second, if you haven’t yet jumped into the social networking pool, now is the time. A large portion of the time mobile users spend online is consumed by social networking activities such as Twitter and Facebook. At the very least, engaging in these communities will earn you brand recognition and, at the best, some serious traffic.
Mobile optimization and search is still an emerging market, but I guarantee you will be hearing more over the coming months. As mobile technology continues to evolve and smart phones become more ubiquitous, the web needs to evolve to meet the unique needs of mobile consumers. Mobile browsing will not go away, so it tantamount to the future success of any business to harness its power.