public relations

Going mobile will depend on customers

trends show businesses need a Web site for smaller format

CONTRIBUTINGMarch 21, 2011 

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.

2011 is predicted to be the year of the mobile Web.

One in four U.S. cell subscribers use smart phones, according to researcher comScore. But if last year's sales trends continue, more than half will be using smart phones and mobile Web browsers by year-end.

And Morgan Stanley analysts recently predicted the mobile Web will rule over desktops by 2015.

Is your small business or organization ready to handle this movement? Probably not. Web hosting service 1&1 Internet recently reported half of all small business owners haven't checked to see if their Web sites are optimized for mobile display.

There are big differences between mobile and traditional displays. While most Web sites look OK on a desktop or laptop, those same sites may appear clunky and be hard to navigate on the smaller displays of smart phones or tablet computers such as the iPad.

Having a mobile-optimized Web site can make your site stand high above your competitors and make it very easy for your customers.

While many businesses and organizations put a low importance on this now, it's clear you need to start thinking about it because that is where your customers are going.

You should be collecting data or analytics from your Web site. Google Analytics will tell you how many visitors are accessing your site via the mobile Web.

Those numbers can give you an idea of how quickly you need to move toward making your site mobile-friendly, said Christopher Penn, vice president of strategy and innovation at Maryland-based e-mail marketing firm Blue Sky Factory.

Penn said if the number of mobile Web visitors are higher than:

1 percent: You need to start thinking about a mobile strategy.

10 percent: You need to be turning on your mobile strategy.

25 percent: If your mobile strategy isn't in full swing, you are losing business to people who don't want to navigate an unfriendly site on their mobile devices.

How do you get a mobile-optimized Web site for your business? The first step is to determine what content needs to be on your site, said Brian McDonald, marketing communications consultant for design and marketing company MCDezigns.

Most mobile visitors want specific information and that should be easy to find, said McDonald, who is also marketing blogger at Squarejawmedia.com and has worked with Fortune 500 companies. As such, you should have your contact information easy to read and phone numbers clearly visible since viewers can click on your number to call you.

The site could be a stripped-down version of your regular site to provide customers with just the basics. Your core information is your products and services, contact information, map and directions, hours of operation and key staff.

Create a simple layout with your logo and minimal graphics, McDonald said. Each page could be an icon that links from the home page, and subpages should have a simple "home" link to take you back.

McDonald warns you shouldn't have a complicated navigation system on your mobile site. Keep it to three to five pages with short menu titles.

There are a variety of options for building such sites:

■ If you use WordPress or Blogger, there are plug-ins to install. If you use a different blog provider, see if there are mobile themes that will perform many of these functions.

WordPress has several mobile themes, and WPtouch offers free and premium versions depending on your site's needs. Make sure it is cross-platform friendly, working on the Android, BlackBerry and iPhone operating systems.

■ Use services such as MoFuse.com and Mippin.com that will create mobile versions of your Web site. Many have varying price plans and also free options.

However, none of the automated services can deliver exact renditions of a company's brand, cautions Bill Dotson, CEO of Lexington-based digital marketing firm WebMedley. Dotson added that tablet users are becoming accustomed to seeing a full site, so that's another item to consider.

■ You can develop your own .mobi site from the ground up. For that, you should consult a Web site developer unless you understand HTML and CSS, plus have the time.

Two-thirds of small business owners use the mobile Web for their personal lives. If you're in that group, think like your customers as to how to make a satisfying Web experience.

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