Why you need a mobile version of your website and how to get started.
At the end of 2010, Google conducted a study, "The Mobile Movement: Understanding Smartphone Users," and its findings astonished many marketing professionals. It wasn't surprising that Google found that smartphone users frequently sought information about local businesses on their devices, but what was surprising was the users' widespread willingness and desire to act quickly on that information. The Mobile Movement study found that:
- 95% of smartphone users have looked for local information with their devices.
- 88% of these users took action within a day, indicating these are immediate information needs.
- 77% contacted a business, with 61% calling, and 59% visiting the local business.
Smartphones and other mobile devices are becoming a bigger part of consumers' daily lives. Many use them as an extension of their desktop computers in addition to communicating and accessing media. As this penetration deepens, more consumers will be using mobile search to make purchasing decisions.
This is exciting news for HVACR contractors because their business model is to serve a locally defined market and therefore ideal for mobile search and commerce. In fact, considering the research from Google and other reputable companies, you should assume that potential customers are looking for you with their mobile devices and take the necessary steps to make sure they can find you. Do this by creating a mobile version of your website.
How Mobile Websites Differ
While many mobile devices are enabled to access websites via a mobile-version of an Internet browser, standard websites display differently on mobile devices than they do on computer screens for a variety of reasons, including:
- Mobile devices have different operating systems than computers. The mobile version of the Windows or Mac software that runs your computer would not work on your mobile phone or tablet. This incompatibility can cause a website to display oddly or incompletely.
- Mobile screens are much smaller than computer screens. This causes usability problems, such as eye discomfort or the inability to view all of the information on a standard website.
- Mobile Internet speeds can be significantly slower than they are for a desktop user, meaning that impatient visitors won "stick around" for your website to finish loading.
- Usability differs. When building a website optimized for a computer screen, the web designer assumes that the user is sitting down, has access to a full keyboard, and has full use of both hands. These assumptions are rarely true for mobile-device users.
When was the last time you pulled up your company website on a mobile phone? Never? Do yourself a favor and test your company's website on various mobile devices. Unless you have a mobile version of your website, you probably won't like what you see.
Planning Your Mobile Website
If a digital-design professional will be building your mobile website, they should know all of the technical specifications for the dominate mobile operating systems. Just be clear that you want the site to be tested against as many operating systems as possible for both smartphones and tablets. (The major players each have their own operating system, i.e., Android, Apple, Windows, etc.)
If your existing website is well-coded and has been built using best practices, it should be fairly easy to make a mobile version of your site.
What's important for you as a company leader is to plan for how you want the site to look and function before engaging the design professional. Your goal is to plan a site that ensures visitors will have a positive mobile search experience, and, most importantly, that they will take action and contact you.
Start this planning process by looking at your existing website on a variety of devices and noting what is working, what isn't, and what features you want to carry over to a mobile version.
A word of caution — be selective. A mobile website is more of a tool then an online storefront. If someone wants to know the history of your company or read bios on the executive team, they can do that when they are sitting in front of a computer. If they are using a mobile device, they are in "action" mode and want to get something done — namely, find a contractor to fix a problem or fulfill a need.
You could also ask friends, employees and/or loyal customers to review your existing website and make suggestions on what they would want to see in a mobile version. Request that they explore tasks that a standard mobile user might do, such as finding a phone number, contacting you via email, or reviewing a description of your services or your service area. This will help you to understand how potential clients will go about finding information about your business.
Avoid using big images, videos, tables, or Flash in particular, which all take too long to downloadfor most mobile users. Minimizing the number of clicks is another vital element that needs to be considered when designing a mobile site. An additional click on the desktop may not be a big deal, but for a mobile user who is on the go, additional clicks or scrolling may cause irritation and result in the loss of potential business for you.
A good rule of thumb is to remove all the content that is not going to help a mobile user solve a pressing problem. If someone's AC is not working, and it is 100 degrees outside, they don't care to read about the work that you've done in the community or learn the technical details of the products you sell. They want to get your phone number and give you a call. Make it accessible to them in one click. (You could always tell users to visit the desktop version of your site for more information in company history, company news, product information, etc.)
Be sure to keep the mobile site's brand message consistent with the other media that you use to communicate with consumers. And as with the desktop site, it is vital that your mobile site is optimized for search.
Staying Ahead of the Competition
The advantages of mobile websites are obvious — the customer gets the right content or information whenever, wherever they need. By developing a well-designed mobile website now, you can take leads and potential business away from competitors that either don't have a mobile site or have a site that is not user friendly and takes too long to load on mobile devices.
Once you have a mobile-optimized website, consider it a vital part of your marketing, branding, and sales efforts and update it regularly as technology improves and search-engine methodologies changes. This will keep you from losing your mobile advantage.
Think of the mobile website as an opportunity to generate more leads and more revenue by engaging your audience over the most personal medium available. Keep in mind the number of mobile phone users today and the ones that are being added every day. It's truly a market you can't ignore.
Don't miss out on the new opportunities that the mobile web presents. Commit time and resources to designing a mobile version of your site that will benefit your business today and far into the future.