Riddle: What has two thumbs and is constantly using them to tap on their mobile device? Answer: Just about everyone I know. In this mass of people who can’t seem to look up from their smartphones are your clients. Mobile hype can be overwhelming; however, it is understandable with mobile devices predicted to overtake desktops in 2016.
There is no denying that mobile computing is here to stay, so we better get with the program. Mobile devices and tablets have advanced in speed, accessibility, and utility, which begs the question: How important are mobile versions of websites and what is the impact on our printing companies?
The typical mobile user spends an average of two hours a day using their mobile phone for a variety of tasks from searching to playing games. There is no question that mobile browsing is having an impact on website strategy. A driving consideration when it comes to mobile and how a customer interacts with a website on a mobile device is the type of business the customer is looking up. Our industry, printing and graphics, falls into the "complex offering" category. Everything we do is custom. Are people really going to complete a highly complex printing order on their mobile device when the average print buyer is sitting at their desk with a computer and fully functioning keyboard? The answer is probably not. After all, the typical screen size on a mobile device (not a tablet) is no larger than a business card. Mobile websites and apps certainly have their place, but it isn't a one-size-fits-all application.
What is important in our industry in the way of a mobile interface is ease of access and making sure a website is mobile friendly. What is the difference between a mobile interface and being mobile friendly? What is the difference between a mobile site and a mobile app?
Let's dig in.
Before we discuss mobile friendly websites, allow me to describe mobile unfriendly. These are the websites that do not adapt well, if at all, to the device, whether it is an iPhone, iPad, Droid, Nook, Kindle, etc. used to access webpages. The entire webpage that normally fills the screen on your laptop or desktop monitor also fills your smartphone screen, making all text and images teeny tiny and impossible to read. Your only option is to expand the size of the image, forcing you to view only a small corner of the page and requiring you to move every which way in order to read the content.
Mobile friendly websites may not be able to adapt to a small device the way mobile version of the sites can, but they at least accommodate the mobile user. When viewing a traditional website, users move in a vertical pattern. However, mobile users navigate side to side, that is, left to go back to the homepage, right to go to the next page. This means a website, regardless of the page someone is viewing on a mobile device, can be viewed and interacted with without having to reduce or scale the site down. This is accomplished by keeping things simple. Content is straightforward and concise, graphics are minimal, Flash programming is avoided and all links on your website are clickable and active. The entire site can be viewed by a user and interacted with, and no content is cut off. It is much better to have a site be completely viewable in small print rather than have a portion of the site clipped, causing the person viewing the site to move around in order to see what they are looking for.
A mobile website is a redesigned version of a full website that displays certain pages and functions in a highly readable and usable manner for mobile visitors. The coding has been programmed to detect that a website is being accessed via a mobile device or tablet which dictates what the end user views. The challenge here is that you are forced to pick and choose what you believe is most important to your customers—easier said than done because not all your customers think the same way, right? The hardest thing to do is reduce and simplify your site for the mobile user, because it’s difficult to eliminate the graphics and interactive features key to customers in the printing industry that work really well on a regular-sized monitor.
A recent study by the company Localeze found that 61% of smartphone users surveyed reported conducting local search on their mobile device. An example of a local search result would be “printing companies in the Lincoln, NE area.” Local search is highly relevant because that seems to be a key activity for mobile users, and in our business, we need to make it as easy as possible for clients to find us. The content our studies have found to be critical in our industry include a phone number in a quick call format, business address and directions, store hours, after hours contact instructions such as an email link and, if applicable, access to a personalized storefront. Mobile sites are accessible by all smartphones equipped with browsing capability and don't need to be downloaded like a mobile app, are fairly easy to build and don't need approval from an app provider.
App is short for application, software written in the native language of a particular platform and specialized to complete specific tasks. The two predominant platforms for mobile apps are Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android). Mobile apps are accessible offline, and they work when the app is launched on a mobile device rather than having to open an internet browser or be connected to the internet.
While apps provide tremendous flexibility, they can be time consuming to create and maintain, are sometimes costly (considering the ROI in our industry) and are difficult to keep current with updates needed on two or more platforms. An app has to be downloaded and installed much like software in order for it to work. Whenever there is a new or updated version to a platform such as the iPhone or Droid, updates need to be made to the app that was created to work on each platform. Additionally, there is very limited utility for users, given that our clients who interact with us need to have electronic documents handy for editing and uploading, along with the ease of your full website. Your client’s best bet is to interact with you directly (phone or in person) or through your website.
In summary, if you haven't viewed your site on a mobile device, start there to see what the end user experience is like. A best practice is to keep in mind people are using a wide range of mobile devices from the latest and greatest to the older versions as well as the various tablets that have internet access. If you don’t have access to all the devices, go online to look for simulators. These websites can show you how your site will look on different mobile devices. Some devices are more sophisticated than others when it comes to resizing displays and making pages easier to read. If your site isn't mobile friendly, work with your web developer to correct any problematic areas.
Most web developers provide a mobile version of the websites they build. If your developer wants to charge you a small fortune to create a mobile version of your site, you may want to consider finding a new web developer. If you've been considering building a mobile app for your business, think about the long-term maintenance and keeping the software current in the two primary platforms—Apple and Droid. Your consideration may save you a lot of time and money, with little impact on your revenue or on your level of customer service.
Tawnya Starr is president of PrinterPresence by Firespring. She has dedicated her career to educating the graphic communications industry on Web marketing and how companies of any size can save time and money while attracting and retaining customers. In 2005, she received the Industry Award of Distinction from PrintImage International (NAQP). Contact her at Tawnya.Starr@firespring.com.