When you think about who your ‘typical’ visitor to your site, is that person someone who is viewing your site from a desktop computer, from a notebook computer at Panera Bread by WiFi or are they using a smart phone?
I was thinking about this last week when I was surfing IMDB.com from the parking lot after watching Terminator and wanted to see what McG had done previously. So there from the parking lot, we quickly were able to look up the site, get to the page and see the biography of McG and a variety of other stars, producers and directors in just a few minutes while continuing the conversation. Lifesaving – absolutely not. Convenient – very much so. We continued the conversation (the rare beautiful spring nights that are not too warm or not too cold – sweet).
While IMDB’s site was not fully optimized for the 3rd screen, it does not recognize when it is on a small browser, it was more than acceptable with the graphics turned off.
If your site will have a lot of 3rd screen visitors – people more often to be ‘out and about’ rather than sitting at a desk, you need to make sure your site accommodates their needs – lean, fast, direct and to the point. Restaurants are a great example, but so are doctors, retailers and most businesses with a local audience. They will often be looking for the essential facts:
– Name of business – do they have the correct name of the business, and what sign are they looking for as they drive down the street.
– Type of service or product – Do you provide the product or service I am looking for.
– Location – Where are you? 1st to determine if I want to go to your place, second, how do I get there.
– Hours – When are you there? If I leave now, will you be there when I arrive.
– Phone number – How do I call and verify the above information or ask one more question?
– Directions – How do I really get to your place, especially at rush hour?
– What does the entrance or sign look like?
– Have a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.
– Link to your ‘normal’ pages/site.
Notice all of these are from the customer’s perspective, not yours. They do not care about your feelings; it is all about WIIFM (what is in it for me).
So consider building a simple version of your site, and pay a few dollars to get a sub domain of mobile.xxxx.com that also links to your main site.
Tips on designing for the format:
– This should be clear and simple to let mobile browsers get the information at speeds comparable to old dialup speeds.
– The layout should have few graphics. Many 3rd screens have graphics turned off by default. In other words, put the text navigation on the top, and the graphic navigation on the bottom (opposite of ‘normal’ sites designed for home users).
– Remember the resolution of 3rd screens is getting better, but is still low. Go back to the old days of site design and TEST your layout on 640 x 480 or lower (320×240 is not unheard of). Assume that users have larger font sizes. If you can’t test on an actual smart phone, set your font size to large.
– Test your site on as many devices as possible (keep going to different cell phone stores and go surf your site to see how it looks). Ask as many friends as possible to test the site from their phone, even if it costs a few dollars one time, because they do not have a normal web plan on their cell phone.
– Use small pages – have just the fact pages, linking to detailed pages with the longer descriptions.
– Use Title, Description, ALT tags and descriptive hyperlinks in your code.
– Simplify your CSS (cascading style sheet) descriptions, again to speed up download.
The other perspective to remember when designing the mobile version of a site is to consider a friend showing you her new site. What would you want to see and be willing to squint at on her phone on a sunny day at a café? That is how you need to design your site for your visitors. At this point, the site is about the text and information, not the prettiness and the images.
By the way, following all these guidelines also plays well to another category of visitors to your site – search engines – they want to see:
– Short pages, with complete text explanations
– Clear purpose or objective for each page
– Information that is understandable from the text
– Links to more detailed explanations (your ‘normal’ version of your site)