How to tailor your school site for mobile web users

  • Use RSS feeds. Really Simple Syndication can feed content to your mobile web site automatically. As with traditional web sites, offering breaking news and frequent updates are key strategies for building return visits and audience share. Make sure to post either a permanent 301 or temporary 302 redirect on the traditional web site whenever content is being shared with the mobile site.
  • Less is more. Simplify the content and design to speed download times and to make it easier to find information while using a touch screen or mini-keyboard. Fewer keystrokes, pinches, and touches means mobile users can get what they need with minimal frustration and retries. Because people only have time to type in one- to three-word searches, align keyword searches accordingly.
  • Interactive is in. Smart-phone users typically have access to a camera, cell phone, text messaging, GPS, and other tools. Use and combine them to keep users interested. For example, a mass-notification system can call parents about a new survey they can either fill out online via the mobile web or by using their cell phone keypad or touch screen.
  • Navigation should help, not hamper. If a school is on lockdown, frantic parents will want this information at the top of the screen, where it’s easiest to find. Less urgent information should be organized into categories and posted in list formats with simple bullets or access points. Offer a search function on every page. The main navigation bar or tools should use “access keys” that enable users to punch in a number on their keyboard to get content. Phone numbers should be accessible by clicking a link.
  • Offer information, not animation. Keep more memory-intensive content such as photos, graphics, and videos on the traditional web site. The goal is information, not animation, for mobile web sites. Long download times, always a pain, are worse when experienced while on-the-go. Keep file sizes low on every page to optimize access and download times.
  • Deploy text messaging strategically. Need to remind parents about the science project due tomorrow or the PTA’s project to replace tattered media center books? Try text messaging. In 2009, the American Red Cross raised $22 million via text-based donations for earthquake relief in Haiti.
  • Show interest in what mobile users are doing. In communications, context matters. Because many mobile phone users are literally moving through time and space on “planes, trains, and automobiles,” content should be matched to their needs. For schools, this means posting the addresses of schools, special events, meetings, and athletic competitions as well as the time, date, and location. That way, smart-phone users can tap into their GPS to get directions.
  • Explore free mobile web site solutions. Google, mobiSiteGalore, Yahoo, and other search engines and web sites offer free tools can help you create mobile-friendly web sites and convert content from your traditional web site and RSS feeds.

If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Trying to keep up with new and emerging technologies is challenging work, especially with budget cuts thinning the ranks of communications and IT personnel.

Thankfully, aggregators such as Google Buzz, Spindex, YackTrack, ConvoTrack, and FlavorsMe can help you update mobile web sites and social media networks simultaneously.

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