Engaging audience on the mobile web close

Nick Woodbine
Nick Woodbine
In Musings, Online Innovation, Apps
21st January 2010
Engaging audience on the mobile web

2010 is certainly not the first to be touted as the ‘Year of the Mobile Web’ but with the recent launch of the Nexus One and the likely war that will be waged between Google and Apple, it may be the first to actually go some way towards fulfilling its billing.

Currently, 1 in 7 minutes of media consumed in the UK is via a mobile device of some description. That number is set to rise with the end of the iPhone/O2 exclusivity deal, the addition of the Nexus One to the market and the inevitable clamouring amongst the remaining handset manufacturers to catch up. Mobile specific content is no longer a differentiator for companies; it is fast becoming a necessity as users move away from their PCs.

As we become more proficient at sifting through the mass of information at our fingertips and with the evolving development of the semantic web, we are starting to browse for information less and scan for it more. The ‘Smartphoners’ are the biggest ‘scanners’ of us all as they hunt out that quick hit of data; be it social updates, news, directions or very specific information. More and more user journeys follow the pattern of;

search engine > top listed page > back to search engine > another top listed page

As a result, as smartphone market share increases, bounce rate percentages across the land will inevitably rise as users who aren’t finding what they need quickly head off in search of it elsewhere.

The challenge we will face as designers, developers, UXers and strategists is how to overcome this behaviour and capture a user’s interest before they head off into the virtual sunset. The type of thinking that we need to do as creators of content for the mobile web is no different to that which we need to do for the desktop web; there is just less margin for error.

Think in pixels - Information Architecture needs to reflect the hardware that the audience use and this will increasingly mean a screen resolution of 480 x 320. This means cut down copy, reduce layers of navigation and think about content weighting – what are the most important of all the important things you are trying to say? What about font size? Can you read 10pt Verdana easily on an iPhone? Do those beautiful, detailed icons mean anything to the guy scanning your site on his Palm Pre from a train?

Clarity of message – Keep it short, and to the point.

Take SEM by the balls– It is unlikely that a mobile user will get past the first 1 or 2 pages of Google results so to be in with a chance of getting that click-through you need to be running intelligent PPC campaigns (Google mobile still makes room for sponsored links both on its mobile site and iPhone application), have outstanding SEO or go niche – ideally a combination of the 3. Interestingly, Google's mobile search also has room for a couple of real time results so all the more reason to engage with your audience on the social web.

It’s all in the content – I know we always bang on about this, but it is with good reason. Why are your users coming to your site and how do they generally find you? Look at your analytics; what are they looking for and how can you better deliver this information? Smartphone users are less inclined to browse and if they aren’t quickly seeing what they are looking for you may as well wave them goodbye.

The smartphone world is the antidote to the big budget, FWA world of 27” iMacs and megabytes of Flash. It is all about simplification of your message and real emphasis on what audiences want. It is a world where vanity must make way for clarity of message and ultimately one that requires us as an agency to really earn our fees in the field of usability, audience expertise and successful user conversion.

Here are a few of the current heroes from the world of the mobile web;