Attendees at the recent American Independent Business Alliance 2012 Conference, held in Louisville, Ky., came away from a presentation on mobile technology convinced of three things: They will need to use mobile to promote their SMBs and local business associations. It might not be as hard as they thought to get started. And less is more when it comes to presentation on a mobile device.
Ares Saldana, of Web design firm Phidev, told attendees they could use either a mobile version of a company website or a mobile application to promote their businesses. The primary advantage of applications, he said, is that they offer specific functionality geared toward people who use mobile devices. Mobile websites, however, offer the advantage of allowing companies to leverage much of the development work done for the original site. And unlike apps, users don't have to download a mobile site.
The key to mobile sites, Saldana said, is creating an experience designed with limited screen real estate in mind. "You have to create a different experience," he said, "Too many mobile sites are still geared toward the desktop."
Saldana showed some examples of work his company Phidev had done for clients. Mobile sites should load quickly, he said. Design elements, such as columns, should be eliminated when possible. Text size should be increased and a highly legible font should be used so it's easy to read. Navigation elements, such as dropdown menus, should be simplified and streamlined as much as possible.
The mobile site that Phidev designed for the Homegrown El Paso local business association is geared toward holders of a card that offers discounts for local businesses, Saldana said, so the main functionality of the mobile site revolves around quickly locating information about the businesses and their promotional offers.
Steve Russ, of AdXplore, a California-based company with a Yelp-like service that helps consumers locate local businesses, further expounded on the importance of making information easy to find for site users. Though this is important for non-mobile versions of websites, it's absolutely essential for mobile ones, he said.
"People using phones to access websites have real short attention spans," he said, stressing that website users should always be able to find needed information within three clicks -- or taps, in the case of mobile sites.
The value of mobile sites, Russ said, is they can "connect people with local businesses at the moment they are ready to buy." Local business associations tend to rely on printed directories of member businesses, which "most people are not going to carry around with them when they shop," he said. But folks do "carry their phones with them all the time, wherever they are."
Local business associations or individual local businesses with mobile websites or applications should focus on presenting "the information most important to people when they are making a shopping decision," Russ said, including hours of operation and any special promotions.
Small businesses shouldn't be afraid to jump right in and begin experimenting with mobile websites, Russ said, noting that popular content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal offer plug-ins that make it easy to convert existing Web content to a mobile format.
Ann All is the managing editor of Enterprise Apps Today.
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