On your mark, get set, mobile!

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Photo by adropp, Flickr.

Tiffany Broadbent, a Web Programmer with Creative Services at William & Mary, and Doug Gapinski, the Creative Director at mStoner, presented on the challenges and opportunities in mobile site delivery in higher education.

Opportunity

Mobile tech is helping people find whatever they want when they need it. More and more people are using mobile technology, we need to develop sites that help them find the content they want. Right now, 91 percent of higher education do not have a mobile site. This gives institutions a huge opportunity to be on the leading edge.

Mobile sites include many opportunities for great strategy, design, content, and technology.

William & Mary launched their mobile web in August of 2010 and since then, has seen over 130,000 visits by 106,101 unique visitors. In September 2011, they saw a 79 percen jump traffic over previous year and expect usage to continue to grow rapidly.

Content

Mobile pages should be suitable, clear and an appropriate length for mobile devices, around 175 words for a smart phone.

When you decide to go mobile, take time to compare your mobile options, the immediacy of a mobile site  versus the immersion of a mobile app. There are pros and cons for each, depending on the experience you want to give your users.

When in the development stages, William & Mary checked their normal website on a smart device and decided it wasn’t horrible, it could just be better in a mobile format. They built a custom mobile site that updates mostly through RSS feeds which are updated every three minutes. This strategy allows the app to be constantly updated, with little work… which is always a good idea! It’s a simple framework for a low maintenance mobile site.

The custom design allows W&M to pick and choose content that their users find most useful. Another option is to implement a responsive design, a repurposing of a normal site to fit in the window of a smart device.

There is also a hybrid mobile option, which is a combination of straight mobile and normal web. Depending on your CMS of choice, you can manage both sites at once with a bit of swanky code.

The most important thing is to decide hat content works for everybody.  Offer the most useful information and utility from your main site tonyour mobile user.

Design

Good design carries over to the mobile web, it’s all still HTML and CSS, color is still important and descriptive links should begin or end every page. Avoid small clickable areas, avoid large images, and be ready to serve a text-only mode.

Make your mobile a compliment to your main site. Your users want to feel like it’s still your own site.

Get audience feedback!  Consider updates and changes based on that feedback.

Coding

Use standards-based code and keep it simple, if you don’t need it, don’t add it. Always think optimization!

Use the viewport meta tag, it controls device zoom, include browser detection, use HTML5 form input types which will invoke the appropriate virtual keyboard for the field and link target telephone numbers to open to the  phone. The fewer steps for your user, the better.

W&M found an open source option that worked for them, Mobile web OSP (more info available at Dmolsen.com). They were able to have the base site up in a day, but spent more time on design and fine tuning before launch. When choosing an Open Source, be sure there is lots of documentation and a good community as nothing is ever perfect.

Measurement

Measurement is a great tool that helps you improve your product. Be sure to track the types of mobile devices your consumers are using. Also, measure traffic to the various areas of your mobile site. Figure out what is most popular and adapt to improve the site for future  users.

Your consumers use the mobile and the main site differently, which is a good argument for a custom mobile site. Give them information that is relevant to them now and they will keep coming back.

The future of mobile web is about you… Jump on board!

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