With mobile search surpassing desktop search in many countries, including the US, and Google now promoting websites in search results that perform better on a mobile device, a mobile-friendly site is now an imperative for all companies.
But before rushing headlong into design and build stages, there are a number of rudimentary, but critical steps that need to be taken to ensure success… or minimize the risk of failure.
These steps need to be taken in-house. An agency will assist with this process, if they are engaged as strategic partner. But as any company that has poured $$$ into a vanity app no one wanted well knows, if you commission an agency to develop a product for you, it is not their job to check you have done your due diligence.
The big picture
Smartphones outsell PCs four to one (IDC, March 2015), but it has taken many years for mobile/smartphone web use to rival desktop use. Assuming use of the Google search engine is indicative of internet traffic generally, then, as of May 2015, we have now reached a turning point, because more searches in the US, Japan and eight other countries (unspecified) take place on mobile devices than desktop, according to Google.
One barrier to growth of mobile web is the fact that bloated PC websites do not work well on a mobile device. The search engines want to change this. Both Bing and Google have introduced mobile-friendly badges to show people which sites will render well on a mobile device.
And in an April change to its search algorithm, dubbed “Mobilegeddon”, Google now demotes web sites that fail its mobile-friendly tests, when people conduct a search on a mobile device.
What is “mobile-friendly”?
This means the site will load speedily over a mobile connection and will display well, without needing to scroll left and right, with text large enough to read, navigation buttons big enough to tap, no Flash content and no irritating “download our app” pop-up ads.
This is the lowest common denominator. The next step up is the mobile-optimized site: this anticipates how the mobile user will want to use the site prioritizing appropriate content, e.g. address and contact details, and using the handsets functions e.g. click to call, click to maps/navigate.
Why does this matter?
If your site is as dependent as most websites are on search engines to deliver traffic, and/or if there is a likelihood that potential customers are likely to search for/access your site when they are not sat in front of a PC, e.g. when commuting, shopping, on the sofa or engaging with your billboard, print or TV campaign, then your site needs to be mobile-friendly.
The DNA of a successful mobile web strategy
The steps outlined in this article will help you get your priorities right. This is the first part in a series of how-to guides focused on the DNA of a successful mobile web strategy.
1. Who should own and manage the project?
Ultimately the project should be owned by a single member of the board or senior management of the company. Ideally this is someone unaffiliated with any of the various fiefdoms that will fight for control of the project, shirk responsibility and/or argue over who else should pay.
The project should be led by someone, preferably internal to the company, with suitable stature and authority to enable them to make decisions, without needing to get time-wasting approvals from each stakeholder (marketing, sales etc.) at every stage.
The leader reports directly to the project owner, but will liaise with the various stakeholders. The role requires the power to recruit, commission, manage and fire members of the team or external agencies. The candidate will have a good understanding of the business and empathy with the customer, and various stakeholders; with great project management, client liaison and business analyst skills, and a broad understanding of the disciplines: digital, user experience, technical, analytics etc.
In different companies this role will be called producer, project manager, or leader. “As boring as it is sometimes perceived, having buy-in from management and a really empowered team that knows what they are doing with an engaged C-Suite [CEO, CFO, CMO etc.] will make everything in all stages much smoother,” says Tom Eslinger, former Director of Digital and Social for Saatchi & Saatchi author of Mobile Magic: The Saatchi & Saatchi Guide to Mobile Marketing and Design.
2. What are the objectives? Are they realistic? Are they measureable?
A mobile-friendly site (or app) is not an end; it is a means to that end. Define your business objectives, these might include: create more awareness or improve knowledge of the company, products or services; improve customer engagement; generate more sales leads; sell more product online; drive more traffic instore.
Different stakeholders are likely to have different objectives. Once the objectives are agreed, then ask how mobile technologies can help to deliver on these objectives. Never lose sight of these objectives. Put them on the wall.
Ensure that the site (or app) delivers these objectives in the most simple and effective manner. The most important question to ask before embarking on a project, is: “What problem does this solve for our customers?” explained Erin Weigel senior UX designer & product owner at Booking.com to the Apps World conference in London. “It’s not simply about devices and implementation. It’s primarily about people, problem solving and possibilities.”
3. Who is the audience? Who, what, when, where, why and how?
Will the site service existing customers or potential customers? How old are they? How rich are they? Where do they live? Where will they be when they use the site? How do they find the site – search? What device are they using? How do they behave on the site?
Answering these kinds of questions will help you build user profiles of your typical or target mobile visitor. It is very useful (for everyone in the business) to create personas representing each category of typical customer.
“We have personas, with pictures and names, they’re called Caroline and David. We talk to them. When we build a new section of the website or app, we ask: would Caroline or David like it?” Francesca Cuda, mobile tech lead, at The Daily Telegraph, told the Apps World audience.
Personas are built on the analysis of data from various sources, including researching website traffic, social media and customer surveys. These will be covered in detail in a separate article.
4. What need are you servicing?
Establish what your mobile users want from your site. For each of your personas, create use cases. Web analytics tools and surveys deliver useful insights into user behavior, objectives and pain points.
Consider how your customers use mobile devices. Focus on context: Where will they be? What will they be doing? What do they want to know? What do they want to do? E.g. The customer is in town, searching for a restaurant nearby, which is affordable, has good reviews and has a table for four for 8pm.
Sketch out each scenario, known in the business as user or customer journey, as a flow diagram or cartoon strip on paper or using an online tool.
Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer, Somo advises…
Identify what your customer journey is – from awareness to consideration, research, purchase, post purchase and servicing. Identify where mobile is used on this journey by customers, and where it could be used, as well as how mobile interacts with other platforms (e.g. research a purchase on mobile, then buy on desktop or in store).
Next, identify where problems, barriers and friction lie for customers today and where these occur in your business and processes. Map these to the customer journey and prioritize to (a) improve customer experience (b) generate greater efficiency/ROI for your business. This gives you a roadmap for mobile.
5. Should you outsource or keep in-house?
Apart from the aforementioned project leader, your mobile-friendly web project will require a team of experts, with skills that include strategy, project management, user experience, developing, testing and business analysis.
Unless that expertise exists, in part or as a whole, within the business, the company is faced with the choice of trying to recruit staff or to outsource part or all of the project to an agency or agencies. The advantage of keeping the project in house is control.
It is on premises, under the watchful eye of the project leader and the project owner they report to on the board. It makes it easier to keep stakeholders informed and seek their help with problem solving. There is more scope for agility, to react as new essential requirements or opportunities arise.
The disadvantage is the increased danger that the scope of project could morph and deadlines slip; and it is difficult and expensive to recruit and retain staff that are in short supply. The advantage of outsourcing is giving the job to the experts.
Agencies should be expected to do the job to specification, on time and on budget. The disadvantage is they will never know the business, company, customers or other stakeholders as well company employees. And a mismatch of cultures, misunderstanding of brand identity, ill-defined goals, poor collaboration or reporting are all potential pitfalls.
6. How do you keep it real – with realistic expectations; timescales and results?
All projects have the potential to spiral out of control, with constantly changing specifications, costs, broken deadlines and unforeseen problems.
Risks can be minimized with careful pre-planning and a comprehensive strategic plan which outlines the goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), time scales and what is needed in terms of manpower and budget for every element of each stage.
The key stages are:
- Strategy (why the project is required).
- Discovery/analysis (what needs to be done).
- Planning (how it will be done e.g. UX, prototyping, testing).
- Production (doing it, testing it, redoing it, testing it).
- Launch (taking it to market e.g. promotional campaign).
- Servicing (maintaining and improving it).
The project needs to be agile, but can’t keep adding bells and whistles, according to stakeholder whim.
The key to mobile projects is speed to market. The important thing is to deliver the most effective product as efficiently as possible. All customers will agree that a working, useful, bare-bones service now, with gradual, well-planned improvements, is better than waiting six months longer for the “all-singing all-dancing” version. Business sometimes call this the “minimum viable product”.
A good way of focusing minds is get people to describe the end product. What does it look like? What does it do? Why will anyone want to use it? How do you convince them of that? Why? How? Really?
“Start at the end and work backwards. Amazon’s process for developing new ideas is that people have to write a press release with the headline describing the launch… Start with this: clarify the purpose, benefit and breakthrough aspects… Then work backwards to ensure you deliver on these points,” recommends Barney Loehnis, Chief Digital Officer at B2B consulting group Mercer.
Asking these six questions will help you get your mobile web project off on the right track. Whether you keep the project in-house or approach an agency it pays to have your objectives and reasons straight.
Like anything else in business, if your project isn’t built on firm foundations, the risk of failure is an order of magnitude higher. It is remarkable how readily companies rush into planning stages of their mobile projects – particularly mobile app projects – without doing the due diligence first.
The second part in this series will help you consider the merits of a mobile-friendly web site versus a native app or web app. (clue: a mobile app is not a substitute for a mobile web presence.) And it will consider the different approaches to mobile-friendly websites: responsive design, adaptive design and separate URLs.