Living on the Mobile Web
BY Kristen Friend STAFF CONTRIBUTOR
Websites designed for desktop browsing are increasingly utilizing oversized elements, a design trend many law firms have embraced successfully. But while desktop monitors are getting larger, a growing portion of the population is viewing your website on smaller mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.
Gone are the days when web developers could finish a project, test it on two or three browsers and rest assured knowing that the majority of users would have the same experience when visiting the finished site. Now, people could be accessing your firm’s website from a plethora of different devices and operating systems.
Mobile phones and tablets are experiencing the type of explosion in innovation that laptops and desktops underwent years ago. (Remember when your computer was obsolete a mere three months after you bought it?) The technology associated with traditional machines is no longer advancing rapidly, and users increasingly see mobile devices as necessities rather than novelties. Hype surrounding the mobile web abounds.
Mobile usage will likely continue to grow as people become accustomed to the convenience of being connected anywhere at any time. Usage studies show that people are no longer using mobile devices only when they are away from home. A recent report released by Viacom found that over 90 percent of tablet users say their tablet is their primary method of accessing the web, even when they are in their own living rooms with easy access to a laptop or desktop.
Law firms understandably want a website that provides a good experience for the maximum number of users. Attorneys do not want to miss out on a growing segment of potential clients who may be viewing their site with a mobile device. Having a mobile friendly website does offer advantages. Your firm’s ability to utilize those benefits depends on how well you understand your target clients’ needs and how to
address them effectively.
If your firm is considering a mobile website project, you are likely in one of the following situations:
- You are developing a new website andneed to integrate a mobile strategy.
- You are redesigning your website.
- You are adding mobile capability to an existing, unchanging website.
Research and strategy are key when undertaking any project, whether you are developing a new site from scratch or adding mobile accessibility to your current site. It is important to understand how people are using your firm’s website, to know what features are most important to them and to
develop a strategy accordingly.
It is likely that your firm already has a website. A good place to begin your research is to look at analytics from this site. These statistics will show you how many users are accessing your website with mobile devices and what mobile operating systems they are using. Most likely, you will find that mobile visitors still account for a relatively small fraction of your total website users. Dig deeper into that segment and see what pages they are visiting, what links they are using most and how much time they are spending on the site.
In addition to looking at analytics, your firm can do its own testing and research. Ask your clients and prospects what features they find useful. Try to look at your website from a visitor’s point of view. What information is most important? When doing initial research, consider some of the following questions:
- What situations are users likely to be in when they access your mobile site?
- Who is your target user, and what does that user need to accomplish?
- When a user visits your website, what are the most important things he or she needs to know?
Mobile users need information quickly, like a way to contact you or directions to your office. Understanding the needs of mobile users will help your firm develop a site that is more responsive, helpful and effective.
Simplify your design. Mobile websites must focus on usability and eliminate clutter. You will need to distill pages down to only the most necessary content and use white space to reduce distraction. Designing for mobile users is a little like going back to the future. Scrap the big visuals and fancy scripts in favor of a shorter, more text-centric layout.
Users should not have to do a lot of scrolling – especially horizontal scrolling – when browsing a mobile site. Onecolumn layouts generally work best on mobile devices. Smaller screens are harder to read; design simplicity coupled with good organization helps make scanning for important items easier on the eyes. Graphics, headlines and color should be used to clearly delineate sections of content.
Of course, be consistent with your firm’s brand. Your mobile website needs to be a strategically simplified version of your full website, not an entirely different design altogether. Keep colors, fonts and icons consistent. Take advantage of your mobile site’s ability to reinforce your law firm’s message at all user touch points.
Utilize mobile specific navigation. Mobile websites tend to have high bounce rates. Creating a navigation structure that gives users quick, easy access to the most frequently visited areas of your site will help bring that bounce rate down. Get rid of excessive links and limit the need for user data entry. Simplify top and side navigation into one vertical menu. Consider tucking vertical navigation into expanding sections that are intuitively grouped.
Mobile devices do not allow for the same hover or rollover responsiveness people are accustomed to on desktop browsers. All links and calls to action have to be obvious and tap-able. In order for a link to work when tapped on a mobile device, it must be at least 44 x 44 pixels. Remember to provide some sort of feedback when a user taps a link, such as changing the link color or highlighting the link with a different background color. If users do not experience responses to their actions, they can get frustrated and leave the site.
Always give users the option to switch to your non-mobile site. In the interest of creating a streamlined mobile website, you will have to make decisions about what information is displayed prominently and what may be left out entirely. However good your editorial judgment, there may be some parts of your full site that users still want to see.
Developing a good mobile website can be tricky. Mobile platforms are still young relatively speaking and will continue to evolve. But sticking to some mobile website best practices now will help your firm grow its reach into the future.