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How to Design and Build a Mobile Website
Did you know that in the world today there are more than 5.9 billion mobile phone users, and a thousand more are added every minute!
About 20% of these mobile phone owners (more than 1.2 billion and growing) have browsed the Internet through their mobile phones. This is the reason why mobile Web browsing is predicted to become the next predominant Internet platform.
Many consumer-driven companies have already seen how promising the mobile platform is and have already equipped themselves with a mobile web site. A mobile web site today is not simply a passing fad. It is predicted that in the future mobile sites will prove to be a necessity, even the new Internet standard. Right now, there are millions of WAP mobile users browsing the Internet. But, there is an unfortunate disparity when it comes to the number of consumer-focused mobile Web sites that actually load properly on mobile devices.
This is because there are special procedures involved in designing a mobile Web site. The following article is meant to help you learn how to design and build a mobile website.
Understanding Mobile Website Users
The first step to making a successful mobile website is understanding who will be viewing your site. Mobile website users are usually busy doing something else like waiting in line, walking through town, or spending time out with friends. Their main focus is not necessarily your website so information needs to be quick and easy to access.
The key difference between mobile and desktop users is that mobile users browse the internet in "on-the-go" situations, where desktop users are in stationary and predictable environments.
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The Basic Principles of Mobile Website Design
First, you have to know that the Web site design and construction generally used for computer browsers is not compatible with that of mobile devices. For your site to work well on a mobile handset, it must follow the accessibility design guidelines for building mobile Websites which are set by the W3C.
Mobile phones that have separate data plans are not able to download large amounts of data quickly so designing for quick download time is crucial.
The easiest way to build your mobile Website is to modify your existing Internet site to make it compatible for mobile handsets. If you decide to do so, expect that there will be big changes in terms of layout, design and construction.
Here are some principles about mobile Web design that you should take note of before proceeding to build one of your own:
- Your site must use CSS for the layout to ensure maximum compatibility. Avoid using tables.
- It is easiest if your site is coded using either XML or XHTML, with your character encoding set at UTF-8.
- You have to consider that different mobile devices have different screen sizes. Design and build with a "fluid" layout in mind.
- Remember to put all the most important information that you want mobile users to see on the top of the page like site search and navigation. It can be time consuming to browse through a mobile site, not to mention tedious to read through. Make your mobile site design convenient for your consumers.
- Design for fingers. Click targets should be a minimum of 30-40px in size and use whitespace in between elements to ease clickability.
- Forms can be difficult to use on a mobile device. Since text is time consuming to enter, you may want to offer your user the convenience of radio buttons and lists, which they can choose from depending on what they need. Also, reduce the number of screens a user passes through to complete a form. Form labels should be top aligned rather than left aligned to save space.
- Forms should require the minimum amount of data input and should remember the data for the next time a user visits the site.
- Most browsers don't support plugins or extensions
- Lastly, the phrase "less is more" holds true to mobile design. Avoid using unnecessary graphics.
To find out more about designing for mobile websites, view the slideshow below:
Mobile Web Users
Mobile web users are constantly on the go. They aren’t focused and they demand information right now and 10 minutes ago. Basically they are just busy doing something else. Mobile web users’ main focus isn’t always the website they are currently viewing and the information needs to be quick and easy to access. Their short attention spans can really affect the design process for mobile websites.
When it comes to differing mobile web users from desktop web users, there are key elements that distance the needs of both of these types of viewers. Mobile web users are constantly in “on the go” situations. They are standing up, maybe even checking their device while walking. They are in shorter timed scenarios where they have just a minute or two to check how things are going online. They aren’t there for the long haul and they put their devices down just as quickly as they pulled them out of their pocket. Desktop users are far different. They are most likely in a predictable environment that consists of the user sitting down or in a stationary spot. The two users are very different from each other and both desire totally different experiences when online.
When Planning for Mobile
There are many different things you need to do before you actually start designing and building a mobile website. The first thing you need to do is just ask a few basic questions that will help put you in the right direction:
- Who is using your site?
- What are your users doing when they get to your site?
- Where is your site being accessed from?
- When is your site accessed?
- Why are users coming to your site?
The key here is to zero in on the main focus of the website and make that prominent and accessible. Make it easy for the mobile web user to find what they came to see – the main focus.
User Friendly Guidelines for the Mobile Web
Design for Fingers
Mobile web users generally don’t use a mouse and keyboard. Instead, they have to use their fingers for mobile web navigation. They use big fingers, little fingers, fat fingers and skinny fingers. Everyone’s fingers are different! It may not be easy, but you need to keep these different types of fingers in mind when designing your mobile website. Here are a few fingertip tips to think about while you design the mobile website:
- Fingertips are generally between 40 and 80 pixels wide meaning that click targets should be a minimum of 30 to 40 pixels in size. Those small buttons and links are really annoying to poke and mobile users on the go don’t have time for that!
- Avoid using hover events – active events are more useful for the user experience and function the way a fingertip might expect.
- Whitespace is good! Using more whitespace increases the space between clickable elements and decreases the amount of frustration a mobile user experiences if they click on the wrong thing by accident.
Optimize for Vertical Scrolling
Vertical scrolling has become second nature to users based on past experiences with websites. It is almost second nature and is expected from mobile web users as well. Users are generally already familiar with vertical scrolling instead of horizontal scrolling, and it reduces the chance that users will miss content on your mobile website.
Keep Download Times in Mind
Make sure your mobile website users are converting on mobile forms by designing with mobile in mind. Here is a list of mobile form design tips:
- Using native web form controls is very important as that is what the user is accustomed to.
- Minimize the number of screens they visit to complete a form. The longer a mobile user has to be there, the more likely it is that they are going to leave before completing the form.
- Mobile users hate it when they accidently type in a wrong password. Allow them to display the password characters with an option box and that will cut down on the number of mobile viewers that just give up because they couldn’t type in their password correctly.
- Using HTML5 form input types (email, url, number, range, date pickers, search, color) also assists the mobile web visitor in their form completions.
- Don’t use side aligned form labels. This takes up a lot of screen space and it doesn’t align with the vertical scrolling optimization. Instead, try using top aligned labels for all your form inputs.
- Minimize the amount of data a user needs to input when possible. Entering data requires the user to focus on the input since websites need exact data. This means it is important to require less data from the user which is possible in a number of different ways. One way is to simply remember data that the mobile web user has previously entered. You might also use drop downs instead of input fields which are easier to select than entering information on the keyboard. Also, collecting data automatically when possible can save the user a lot of time as well.
Remember, most mobile browsers don’t support plugins or extensions. Removing these will increase user engagement and the site will work properly. Search boxes and navigation need to be prominent and easy to find as users are usually all over the place on mobile websites. Less is more, so try avoiding unnecessary graphics where possible and focus on the main point. A good little tip to use when building a mobile site is to just ask yourself, “Is your site useable with little to no CSS?”
A Closer Look at Real-World Mobile Site Examples
How to build a mobile Website
A few tags are needed in the <head> section of the webpage to let the browser know that the page is ready to be viewed in a mobile browser:
<meta name="HandheldFriendly" content="True">
<meta name="MobileOptimized" content="320">
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width">
More information on these meta tags can be found here.
Also, if you want your website to detect what type of device is trying to view the site, you will need to create a php script that detects the incoming device and changes the website layout accordingly. There are many available solutions out there and can best be found through a browser search. The most important thing is to not base the script off of a list of devices (iphone, android, windows phone, etc.), but rather detect what type of device is viewing the page. Mobile devices come and go updating lists can get tedious.
It is difficult to make your mobile website display the same on all mobile devices. The best solution to keep your mobile website as clean and simple as possible and to make sure it has design and functionality fallback options for older mobile devices.
For a good list of mobile resources, click here.
At WebpageFX, our team of knowledgeable web developers and creative web designers is fully capable of building and designing a mobile version of your most important online asset, your website.
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As you can see, there's a lot to consider when designing and building a mobile website. The principles of mobile design are different than those of conventional web site design. If you do not have the time or patience to learn new coding practices, then consider hiring a firm that specializes in mobile web site design. Many firms also offer mobile SEO and PPC services as well, in anticipation for the growing need of instantaneous information.
If you currently do not have a mobile website, you are potentially losing out on extra business. Consider getting one today!
Page updated: January 2nd, 2014
Call 888.449.3239 or contact us online today to start designing your new mobile