On your mark, get set, mobile #heweb11

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Photo by Ambrosio Photography, Flickr.

Forget the other 99 percent for the moment. Are you part of the 91 percent?

The 91 percent of schools that don’t have a mobile website yet, according to recent data from West Virginia’s Dave Olsen.

WIlliam and Mary’s Tiffany Broadbent and mStoner’s Doug Gapinski encouraged attendees at their Tuesday morning HighEdWeb Session to start leaving that demographic as soon as possible.

William and Mary launched their mobile site in August of 2010 and traffic has increased rapidly. To date there have been more than 129,000 visits to the site by 106,000 visitors. Traffic in September 2011 was 79 percent higher than in September 2010. The school’s mobile site is now the 2nd largest source of traffic from mobile devices after Google.

When it comes to the debate over developing a mobile app versus a mobile site, Gapinski said it doesn’t have to be an either/ or case, there are benefits to both. An app can give you a more robust interactive experience and is probably better for your diehard fans. For example, after W&M alum Jon Stewart made fun of the school’s new pantless mascot on The Daily Show, the school developed an app that allowed you to dress that mascot. That app was downloaded more than 7,750 times on iOS and Android devices, Broadbent said.

But a mobile site requires no downloads and is probably the first place a casual user will go to learn about your school, Gapsinki said. It should be the place you start your mobile work.

“People are probably just going to fire up their browser, search for the name of your institution and go to your site,” he said.

You don’t have to be scared of a mobile site, because you’re already doing a lot the things that make for a good site, Gapinski said. HTML and CSS are still the tools of choice, colors still need to be compliant and descriptive tags still need to be at the top or bottom of a page.

” A lot of best practices for web design that you’ve already learned, still apply for mobile,” Gapinski said.

At William and Mary the school chose to put social media, maps, basic facts and links, a campus directory search and fuil site search on their site, Broadbent said. News is powered by RSS feeds that you can set and forget, Broadbent said.

Gapinski and Broadbent encouraged attendees to keep it simple when it comes to mobile. Avoid small clickable areas and large photos. Don’t get too fancy.

“If they have to wait 10 seconds for your page to download, they’re going to be gone. If you don’t need it, don’t add it,” Broadbent said.

William and Mary found that the mobile site has become a key resource for their audience around events such as move in day or commencement.

“Parents are wondering where their child has to be at 2 pm. and they can look it up on their phone rather than looking for that piece of paper that got buried under the clothes on their kid’s bed,” Broadbent said.

Social media, somewhat surprisingly, does not make up a big part of W&M’s mobile web site use. That’s likely because people are engaging through the apps they already have on their phones, Broadbent said.

Check out the details of the presentation here.