In his 1964 book titled Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan, philosopher of communicationtheory, coined the phrase "the medium is the message".
McLuhan's great insight was that a medium affects the societyin which it plays a role, not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the use of the medium itself. Those words could not be truer today regarding mobile device usage.
Imagine you're someplace where people congregate, let’s say the airport. As you look at people waiting for flights, how many of them are staring at a phone? Forget for a moment what they are viewing and consider that they are all using a mobile device to view some type of content. If the medium truly is the message as McLuhan suggests, the strong message here is that “mobile access” is important to business.
Data from a variety of sources indicate that close to 80 percent of Americans have access to the Internet in their homes. From 2008 to 2012, that number increased only 3 percent, year over year and has probably peaked. In 2013, the Smartphone broke the 50 percent mark and currently is at about 55 percent of all phones. This percentage is currently growing at the astonishing rate of 50 percent, year over year.
The latest numbers from Statista, an online statistics portal, reveal that mobile devices accounted for 17.4 percent of web traffic in July 2013, which was a jump of 57 percent from the previous year. Business to consumer websites show a growth in mobile access of nearly 30 percent over last year.
So what is happening here? If your company is trying to connect with audiences over the Internet, mobile matters, big time. These trends will continue into 2014 and beyond. Websites that frustrate users not only miss opportunities, but risk alienating customers and leading to negative brand impressions.
If you are considering building or updating your website, it must be mobile optimized - period. Some companies are investing in mobile apps to address this concern. But mobile apps require a large time investment on the part of the mobile user to download, they require a financial investment above the cost of a website, and content maintenance can be problematic.
Responsive web design may be a better solution for a majority of companies. In fact, 2013 has become the “Year of Responsive Design” with many companies upgrading to this style of website. Websites using this technology "respond" to the mobile devices by automatically resizing graphics, reconfiguring content, and presenting an alternate menu system to better fit each device.
The growing use of mobile devices has profound consequences for web design strategies. In particular, home page designs must be mobile optimized. In our experience, we have found that designs which incorporate a rotating graphic "masthead” are a great solution. Many large companies have adopted this style of design for good reason. It allows them to present several messages within a short period of time. For a mobile user or a traditional web visitor, this means that your top messages are displayed along with links to detail pages. These messages must be concise and compelling.
When accessing a responsive designed website on a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet, the rotating graphics and accompanying text are resized so that they appear front and center on the first screen.
Strategies that work equally well for desktops and mobile users should:
- Engage visitors on the first mobile screen;
- Provide easy access to additional details; and
- Offer a call to action and a simple mechanism to commit.
The commitment usually involves visitors providing their name and email address in a simple form. In return, they receive an email with a link to valuable content; a free membership, free white paper, industry analysis report, instructional video etc.
Keep these concepts in mind when upgrading your company website. Think mobile first, and your engagement and response rate from mobile users will increase dramatically.
Jim Varner is Co-Owner of CactusCreative.net, a digital and traditional marketing communications firm, and manages the firm’s web design projects. He can be reached at 480-414-4711 or Jim@cactuscreative.net.