Aiming at a Moving Web Target

Tools, apps and advice to help you stay connected on the go.

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Right now, somewhere in Los Angeles or New York, or just about anywhere in between, someone you would really like to know better—a financier, say, or a prospective customer—is sitting in a cab in the middle of a traffic jam using their mobile phone to post on Facebook that they are sitting in a cab in the middle of a traffic jam with nothing better to do. Wouldn’t you rather they be looking at your mobile-friendly Web site?

Web surfing on mobile phones: At first, it seemed like it would never happen, but then it happened really quickly—a while-you-were-out sort of deal. Suddenly, a rapidly increasing number of businesspeople use exactly the types of devices—BlackBerrys, iPhones, LG Voyagers and many more—that allow them a rich internet surfing experience while on the go. That means it’s time to make sure your Web site is mobile-accessible. Doing that can be as simple or as intensive as you want it to be.

The simple route: Keep your business’s main Web site light on images and graphics, and keep information that might be most valuable to mobile surfers in text format near the top of your site. Banish theatrical introductions and moving parts. Be conscious of low processing power, small screen sizes and input capability (many phones don’t have back buttons). Don’t require visitors to register or pass other security protocols just to gain access to your homepage. The main benefit of the simple route is that nearly anyone surfing the internet from a mobile phone will be able to open your site and immediately have access to key info. The downside: The low-glitz approach means no one will be terribly impressed that your site is mobile-accessible, and there’s no way to reward them with any sort of unique or value-added experience.

The intensive route: You can create a separate mobile-specific Web site—and even multiple Web sites for different devices that your audience might be using to find you. Warning: This means strapping on your intellectual waders and hiking into the morass of internet markup languages and design protocols such as HTML, WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and WML (Wireless Markup Language), the latter two of which are specifically aimed at mobile Web usage. Start by visiting the World Wide Web Consortium, which has a Mobile Web Initiative and offers a “Mobile Web Best Practices” document to educate and guide you. Note: This isn’t something easily absorbed while you’re Web surfing in the back of  that cab, so you might want to set aside a few weeks. Also, unless you’re really ambitious (and crazy), you should hire a Web designer who knows something about developing mobile-specific sites.

The main benefit of the intensive approach is that you can craft something truly unique to offer your mobile Web surfing constituency. The downside is fairly obvious: time and expense, including the process of promoting to your audience that you have a mobile-specific site.

But before you do anything at all, put common sense to work. What do you have to gain from making your Web site mobile-friendly? Will the payoff be worth adapting your current site or creating new ones in order to hit your moving target?

—By Dan O'Shea

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