by Adam T. Sutton, Reporter
In late 2008, Danielle Wolfson, Associate Manager, Interactive Marketing, Taco Bell, and her team had a mostly Flash-based website, making it useless to most mobile visitors. The team responded in February 2009 and launched a mobile site where visitors could easily find a menu and a nearby location.
"We wanted to reach our 'out-and-about' Taco Bell consumers and provide the main information they are looking for," Wolfson says.
A month after launch, the team’s mobile traffic doubled "without any real promotion." Now, the team is better at meeting mobile visitors’ needs and has made the brand’s information available to more mobile consumers.
We sat down with Wolfson and other mobile website design experts to better understand what it takes to build a strong mobile site.
Here are five considerations they provided to help your team design a site your audience will use:Consideration #1. Visitors’ goals are a priority
A good mobile website gives visitors the information they need to fulfill their goals. Before creating a site, your team should ask, "Why would someone visit our mobile site?"
Common user goals include:
o Finding a nearby location
o Finding company contact information
o Looking for deals and coupons
o Learning more about products
Understanding users’ intent will help you build a useful site that your audience will seek out. Taco Bell’s team found this information, in part, by looking at traditional website analytics to see where mobile visitors clicked.
"All this work is really done upfront," says Brian Easter, CEO, NeboWeb. "That’s actually more effort many times than doing the design or development."Consideration #2. Size matters
Mobile websites cannot afford to be as large as traditional websites. The devices, the networks and the consumers’ time are much more limited in mobile browsers. This means you cannot fulfill mobile visitors’ every goal.
Wolfson’s team, for example, knew the mobile site’s objective "wasn’t entertainment," she says. The team’s mobile homepage mostly consists of links to:
o Store locator
o Nutritional info
o Allergy info
o Mobile apps
By comparison, the team’s traditional website has a store locator, menu and nutritional information, but also includes branded content such as funny videos and dietary information. That site is also a very visual experience with a wealth of images, which wouldn't work well for mobile devices.
"We really had to pare [our traditional homepage] down to the core consumer information [mobile visitors] were looking for," Wolfson says.
Every expert we asked agreed: mobile websites should be simple and utilitarian to allow visitors to quickly get the information they need and move on.Consideration #3. Design details are important
The mobile environment harkens back to the Internet’s early days, when dial-up was king. Mobile networks and device technology often extend loading times well beyond that of a desktop browsing experience. Your site has to load quickly enough to satisfy consumers -- or they will leave and not return.
Smartphone technology is better equipped to handle more advanced mobile sites, but a much broader audience accesses the web on less-advanced feature phones. The size of the audience you’re trying to reach should dictate how far to pare down your experience.
Design considerations include:
- Efficient coding and tailored display
Fast load time requirements mean your team’s developers will have to code efficiently. Your site’s design will also have to use images and video sparingly.
- Avoid Flash
This developing platform provides a rich visual experience to users, but is largely incompatible with mobile phone browsers. The experts suggest avoiding Flash for mobile.
Most experts we interviewed suggested marketers redirect mobile visitors from their main websites to a mobile site with a "m.yourbrand.com" address. This ensures mobile visitors who use your main site’s URL will arrive at your mobile experience.
"A methodology that allows the user to use the existing website and the existing search engines goes a long way," says Skip Davis, Director, Development, DevelopmentNow.
There are many different mobile phones with varying browsers and screen sizes. Your mobile site will render differently across devices. For example, Taco Bell’s site has a two-column design on Apple’s iPhone and a one-column design on Blackberry devices (see creative samples below).
Your team must test to ensure your site appears correctly on all target devices. Some mobile developer platforms (used to create mobile websites) have emulating features to test a site’s appearance across different browsers. Other teams use mobile hardware to manually test their site’s appearance.Consideration #4. Brand should be consistent
Part of the reason some marketers enjoy interactive and highly-visual websites is the branding experience they can provide. This approach presents a challenge when creating a mobile website, since your team needs to represent its brand with limited technology.
Taco Bell’s team brands its mobile site through:
o Brand’s colors
o Product image
Even these basic elements can help communicate to visitors that they’ve arrived on the right page.
- Reach your full audience
Also, Taco Bell’s brand is relevant to a wide range of consumers, and the team wanted as many consumers as possible to have access its mobile site. The team created and tested its site for hundreds of devices.
Had Taco Bell chosen to create a site that only worked with smartphones, it could have provided a richer experience at the risk of drastically reducing the size of its potential audience.Consideration #5. Site maintenance is required
It’s poor marketing to let your site go stale. You need to regularly update your mobile website with fresh information to keep it looking professional and to give visitors a reason to return.
Taco Bell’s team does this by featuring limited-time products and offers in the homepage’s sole image, and linking the image to a descriptive landing page. Taco Bell changes the site every five weeks as its entire marketing program shifts to a new limited-time offering.
"It really feeds into our overall marketing calendar," Wolfson says. "So it follows the same schedule we do with everything else."
- Update architecture
New technology constantly enters the market. Your team’s developers should stay abreast of any new platforms your site needs to accommodate. Otherwise your site might not load on the latest and greatest device.
"If you have a six-month development cycle, you have to look head six months to see what the situation is going to be," says Joop Rijk, CEO, Advanced Media Productions.Useful links related to this articleCreative Samples from Taco Bell’s mobile website
Members Library -- Consumer Behavior in the Mobile Channel: 4 Trends Marketers Should Note
Members Library -- Mobile Success in a Down Economy: 5 Strategies to Improve Campaigns
Members Library -- Improve the Speed of Mobile Web Campaigns: 4 Factors that Affect Load TimesNeboWebDevelopmentNowAdvanced Media ProductionsTaco Bell MobileTaco Bell