The Surprising First Step in Building a Mobile Web Presence

When people ask me what the first step is in creating a mobile web presence for their company, my answer sometimes surprises them. The first step is to completely forget about your existing web site…

I hate it when people tell me that they want to “move their existing web site into the mobile web” or “strip down their web site so it looks good on mobile.” The problem with this is you are taking something that was developed for an entirely different audience, and trying to force it to work in a new medium.

This isn’t the first time this has happened with the emergence of a new marketing medium either. Anyone who was developing web sites back in the 90’s knows what I am talking about. When companies were first establishing their online presence, the same requests were being made. “Can you make me an online version of this poster?” Or “I would like a web site that looks just like this marketing slick.” In this day and age, those requests sound ridiculous. Traditional print marketing serves a different purpose and has a different audience than online marketing, so why on earth would you want to build one based on the other? Well, the same holds true for the mobile web. It has an entirely different purpose and audience than a traditional web site.

The most common (and wrong) practice I see right now for developing a mobile site is taking the existing site and styling it so it looks good on a mobile device. You know, taking out the slow loading graphics, moving it to a single column format, removing any flash, etc. What you are left with is something that looks good - but serves no real purpose. Why? Because the content, navigation, and design of the site are still aimed at people accessing the site from a desktop browser. Mobile users go to the site for different reasons. If you aren’t providing the user with the information they are looking for, then the user experience is a failure no matter how nice the site looks.

Stay tuned for a blog next week where I dive a little further into the idea of designing a mobile site to mobile users’ needs.

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