Brian Klais (http://www.pureoxygenmobile.com/mobile-friendly-vs-mobile-optimized-an-analysis-of-carnivals-new-mobile-site/) recently wrote an analysis of Carnival Cruise Lines’ new mobile site that brings out many of the things you need to remember when you create a site for mobile device users. You needn’t build a separate site with its own domain for mobile searchers, of course; you can maintain one domain for desktop and smartphone users, and render content with handheld style sheets for the latter. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Either way, you’re facing the same technical issues. The most obvious one is the smaller screen. First and foremost, you need to make sure that web pages intended for smartphones actually fit the device’s window size. Scrolling, especially horizontally, is a pain.
While many smartphones feature hardware keyboards, few of them are comfortable to type on – and let’s face it, when the keys are half the size of your fingernails, "comfort" is a relative thing. So you should set up your pages to minimize typing. Make sure your search box is easy to see, but also offer quick search options that let users easily click to whatever they want to see.
Speaking of clicking to things, do remember that we’re talking about a smartphone here. It’s totally appropriate to include click-to-call functionality on your mobile pages, and may even encourage conversions. By the way, if you want to get more conversions in general from your mobile pages, make it as easy as possible to complete a transaction from a smartphone. This means clear, step-by-step visual instructions, if at all possible.
In addition to limitations on a mobile device’s screen and keyboard, you must address bandwidth issues. If you think the speed at which your web pages load matters to desktop users, that goes triple for mobile device users. Test your pages on multiple types of networks (wi-fi and non-3G) and mobile devices to see how fast they load. If you find yourself getting impatient to see content, imagine how your mobile visitors will feel…and how fast they’ll click away to see something else.
How do you address lengthy download issues? You may need to make some structural changes to your mobile pages and how they perform certain tasks. But let’s start by looking at page size. The W3C recommends a page size of no more than 20 KB. You need to fit your primary document, images, and style sheets in that space. If your mobile web pages are significantly bigger than that, you need to see what you can cut.
How big is too big? Many of Carnival Cruise Lines’ mobile web pages took more than 20 seconds to load over a non-3G network, in part due to size issues. They usually weighed in at more than 200 KB each. It’s safe to say that very few people are going to wait that long for a web page to load!
It’s not just the size of the page itself that leads to a longer download time, though. When you’re trying to keep pages small, there’s a temptation to move a lot of items off of a page to be assembled at download. If your pages need to grab a lot of stuff, that can slow things down. Klais found as many as 39 external references that needed to be assembled for some mobile pages for Carnival Cruise Lines.
In addition to cutting down on external references, you should look at ways to cut down on your markup. It should not exceed 10 KB. How can you tell if this is a problem with your pages? The W3C offers a mobile page checker (http://validator.w3.org/mobile/) that can tell you exactly how your pages measure up and point out any issues that need to be addressed.
Certain things which are merely annoying when browsing a website on a desktop can be the kiss of death on a mobile device. For the love of Cerf, do not include pop-ups on a mobile web page. When users perform a search on a mobile page, return another mobile page in the results – and don’t make it impossible for them to find what they’re searching for.
That last item may sound elementary, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to set up your site to do that without even realizing it. Klais describes this behavior in detail in the context of Carnival Cruise Lines. Searching for "Caribbean Cruise" from his mobile device, he finds no mobile pay-per-click listing, but sees the cruise line’s desktop page in Google’s listings. When he clicks on this, he ends up at the mobile home page – NOT the mobile equivalent Caribbean cruise landing page that he was really hoping to find.
Sadly, this isn’t even the most annoying example of intelligent redirection gone wrong. When using the internal search engine for Carnival Cruise’s mobile site, Klais found that it returned links to desktop pages, not mobile ones. Apparently, Carnival’s website features redirection to send mobile devices to the mobile site when they end up on desktop pages, but it’s far from perfect. When a mobile user clicks on a link to a desktop page from Carnival’s internal search engine, they don’t end up at the mobile equivalent of that page. Instead, they get bounced back to the mobile home page. That’s unhelpful at best. At worst, it’s exasperating enough to send a mobile user elsewhere.
If you engage your customers and prospects through social sites such as Facebook and Twitter, you need to be aware that a lot of people use mobile devices to access these sites. That means you need to keep their limitations in mind in your social interactions.
How and why does that matter? Well, one common practice on Twitter is the use of URL shortening services, such as bit.ly. If you’re broadcasting a limited time promotional offer over Twitter and linking to it with a shortened URL, mobile device users won’t be able to hover over the URL to find out where it leads. If your site is set up to redirect mobile users who click through to desktop links to the mobile home page…well, do I really need to spell it out? You’ll get plenty of mobile device users who decide to take the leap of faith that this limited time promotional offer really isn’t spam, click through to it…and wind up at the mobile home page, with no idea of how to find that offer. That’s a recipe for creating ill will.
Lest you get the wrong idea, Klais noted that Carnival Cruise Lines’ mobile site, overall, was friendly to mobile device users. But they could do better. And so can you, if you keep the limitations of mobile devices in mind and make some intelligent choices. It may be a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end, as the mobile search market is set to continue growing. Good luck!