Design tips for mobile searchPosted 11 May 2011 by Sandy Cosser
That mobile search is important is old news. That websites should be specifically designed to cater for mobile is also old news, but it’s often ignored as website owners hope they can get by with their desktop sites. Unfortunately, the mobile web is even more competitive than the traditional one and if users have an unhappy mobile site experience they are likely to generalise the association and avoid you in all contexts in the future. This makes mobile site design crucial and an area that you can’t afford to ignore.
There are a lot of factors you need to consider when designing a mobile website.
1) You need to run your mobile site in conjunction with your desktop site and ensure that the two link to each other so that mobile users have the option to view the full site.
2) Be aware of mobile search behaviour. Intent is generally different on mobile phones. People want specific information very quickly and very easily. They aren’t interested in browsing or ploughing through numerous links to find what they’re looking for.
3) Different phones have different capabilities. Modern mobile phones can be divided into two categories: feature phones and smartphones. Feature phones provide for internet browsing, email and social media but lack the more sophisticated features of smartphones. Their screens tend to be smaller, resolution less clear and their operating systems tend to run on earlier, less advanced versions.
4) Different operating systems also have different capabilities and limitations.
DIY mobile solutions
Christina Warren (Mashable) says that even if you don’t have a designer on hand (or can’t afford one), the proliferation of easy-to-use applications means that there is no excuse not to have a mobile site. If you have to go it yourself she recommends a number of services (Mippin, Mofuse and mobiSiteGalore) and plug-ins (WPtouch, WordPress Mobile Edition and OSMOBI) to help you on your mobile way.
Tips for designers and DIY-ers
Mobify has earned a reputation as the go-to design company when it comes to mobile sites. It is in the process of publishing a series of blogs on tips for designing mobile e-commerce sites (which can be generalised to most sites). So far only part one is available, I’d advise you to look out for the rest.
Briefly, part one says that your mobile homepage should sum up the site. It should make it easy for users to find all the information they could possibly require and within no more than three links. Despite the need to be comprehensive, the homepage should not be overwhelming – so don’t cram it. Allow for scannability because mobile attention spans are even shorter than those on desktops. Make allowances for different views in portrait and landscape orientations and adjust text size to suit.
When it comes to usability, Louise Rijk suggests you include auto-sensing, which senses how users access your site – via desktops or mobile phones – and directs them accordingly. This means mobile users are automatically directed to the mobile site. Page load speed is extremely important as mobile users won’t hang around waiting for all your pretty images to appear. To keep page load speed as quick as possible, use external style sheets and ensure the site is XHTML compliant.
Matt Smith advocates the use of large buttons that are easy to click. This takes the pain and suffering out of trying to keep podgy fingers on single small links. You also want to focus on your local market and geo-targeting. Include maps and directions so you’re easy to find. And link your telephone number through the tel attribute so users can call you with a click.
And in the end …
The most important thing for designers to remember is ease of use. If you make life difficult for mobile web users they’ll avoid you like the plague, and probably share their experiences with all their friends.