2011 is the year of the mobile site. Research is being released to support this idea, youre hearing about mobile sites at conferences, and mobile sites are what our clients are asking about right now. Were going to be releasing a mobile portfolio a little later this year but until then, Id like to share a little of what were learning as we delve into mobile site development for a variety of different institutions. Let’s begin with the basics: five things you need to know about mobile sites, whether your institution has one or not.
1. Institutions without mobile sites are missing opportunities to connect with key audiences.
According to a recent survey conducted by Dave M. Olsen, developer of Mobile Web OSP, only around 9% of colleges and universities have mobile sites. Mobile device traffic is rising steadily (growth varies by institutional profile), but higher education institutions have been slow to meet the demand to create lightweight sites that meet the expectations of mobile visitors. An article by Joshua Keller of the Chronicle of Higher Education provides more depth on this topic if you’re interested.
Many institutions are creating mobile sites that provide valuable content to the current community: maps, directories, and schedules for example. But if you have a mobile site that caters specifically to internal audiences (or if you dont have a mobile site), youre overlooking the needs of two audiences who control the financial future of your institution: prospective students and alumni.
2. Mobile sites seem to be receiving traffic in addition to regular site traffic.
As an example, the College of William & Mary received almost 20,000 unique visits to their mobile site in a 4 month period between August of 2010 and December of 2010. During this time period, their main site traffic also increased compared to the previous year, suggesting that mobile sites are a second destination, rather than a drain on traffic to the primary site. Acknowledging that a mobile site is its own destination with its own traffic implies that resources need to be devoted to developing and maintaining mobile sites in addition to main sites.
3. If you only have the budget for a mobile site or a mobile application, do a mobile site first.
If you’re trying to create something that can serve general information to current and prospective students, faculty and administration, parents and alumni, you want to lower the bar for access to information. That means making sure a visitor can get to an optimal mobile site first, and then covering specialty applications next (such as College of William and Mary’s Dress the Griffin or Ohio State’s Athletics application).
The argument could be made that applications serve a much different need or have viral possibilities that might give them precedence over a mobile site. But consider this survey by Pew Internet: the trend for mobile usage is that visiting sites on a mobile device accounts for almost 40% of mobile users’ activity. Creating a mobile site responds to how people are actually using smart phones.
4. Creating a mobile site has most of the components of a main site relaunch, but almost everything is smaller (and I dont just mean the design).
Everyones interested in mobile, but many people arent sure where to start. I hear a lot of this: “I like the idea of a mobile site, but I don’t know anything about it.” To these people I say: you may already know more than you think. The process of getting a mobile site up and running is not so different than launching a regular site: buy-in, Information architecture, wireframes, decisions about publishing, design, and content, social media integration, analytics.
But the devil is in the details. The process is the same, but the resulting tool must be smaller and more focused. The conventions for information and architecture change. The writing and design change. Phones in 2011 need to serve pared-back, streamlined content that is sized for a wireless connection.
5. Best practices for mobile .edu sites are still being determined.
The state of mobile sites in higher education today is similar to where the state of main .edu sites were back in the late 1990s. Some of the best practices and conventions that we take for granted today in design, information architecture or navigation, were still being established at that time.
In 2011, the same is true for mobile sites in higher education. What does this mean to you? It means if youre thinking about a mobile site, consider that you personally have an opportunity to be an innovatorone of the people who helps determine best practices. We hope to see you on the landscape. If you’re doing innovative things with mobile or know of an institution who is, feel free to share an example in this post or email me a link.