How to tailor your school site for mobile web users

A mass-notification system can call parents about a survey they can fill out online via the mobile web.
A mass-notification system can call parents about a survey they can fill out via the mobile web.

With smart-phone use exploding in the U.S., it’s only a matter of time before having a mobile web site becomes a necessary component of school communications.

Used as handheld computers, smart phones are changing how Americans consume media. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, 40 percent of adults now use mobile phones for internet access, eMail, and instant messaging.

Other popular non-voice-related applications include texting, playing music and games, recording video, and taking photos.

This trend isn’t just for teens and tweens. When it comes to using mobile applications, 18- to 29-year-olds are leading the way, particularly African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos, according to Pew research. Soon, experts say, all cell phones will become smart phones.

Not surprisingly, mobile web browsers have proliferated quickly to meet this new demand. When a company, retailer, or organization doesn’t have a mobile web site, the browser will try to access the desktop-oriented site.

Unfortunately, sites designed for a 15- to 24-inch screen and platforms that easily support complex programs such as Flash or Java don’t do well when reduced to postage-stamp size. After all, even the iPhone 4G screen is only 3.5 inches.

These pint-sized screens require a different approach, one that also recognizes the limitations of touch screens and miniature keyboards. As anyone whose thumbs have hit the wrong app or bungled a text message knows, on-the-go communications must be simpler, faster, and less graphic-intensive.

According to Taptu, a search engine designed specifically for touch-screen phones, 440,100 web sites now offer touch-friendly content, representing an annual growth of 232 percent.

While some tech gurus argue that the increasing power of smart phones will make mobile web sites obsolete, the reality is that most users don’t have the time or patience required to access desktop-oriented sites.

As a result, mobile web sites need to be designed and optimized for smaller screens with less-than-stellar resolutions.

The key is to tailor, personalize, and repurpose information in a way that leverages these tools’ unique benefits. Simply moving content from one medium to the next is a prescription for user frustration.

Here are some tips for creating content and web sites that take advantage of mobile phone features.

  • Recognize that mobile users are different than desktop or laptop users. If they’re checking you mobile site, they’re either trying to find time-sensitive information or killing time during a meeting or between appointments. Set realistic goals and develop an action plan that helps focus your efforts more strategically.
  • Purchase your “.mobi” domain name. Even if creating a mobile web site isn’t an immediate goal, purchasing your “.mobi” domain name or names makes good sense. If nothing else, you can prevent others using your school or district “.mobi” domain for nefarious purposes.

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