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The Key to Making a Mobile Site Customers Want

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Shoppers increasingly are ditching their desktops and doing their buying on mobile phones. But many small businesses aren’t making it easy for them.

Of the 64% of small U.S. businesses that have websites, says RBC Capital Markets, only 33% are optimized for mobile viewing. The result? It can be like having a “closed” sign on the door, says John Scheer, founding partner of Herman-Scheer, a creative design agency in Santa Monica, Calif., that works with many small companies.

“More often than not, people start on their phones,” says Mr. Scheer. “If you have to pinch and zoom to find the address or phone number, that’s not an easy user experience. People are likely to leave that site.”

Making the leap to mobile takes a couple of basic steps, the experts say. Businesses must examine how customers actually use their site and meet those needs as soon as visitors arrive at the main page—without adding unnecessary frills to make the site tough to navigate on a small screen. From there, companies must find mobile-friendly ways to generate traffic, such as contests that allow people to snap photos and upload them to the site for a chance to win prizes.

How people work

Looking at how people actually use sites is crucial, because there can be a big disconnect between what companies think and actual user experience. Companies may think users prefer complex features, or they might assume customers are browsing on big monitors.

“You might be surprised to see customers using your website in ways that you never realized or planned. You should design around the user experience as opposed to what you want the customer experience to be,” says Luke Wroblewski, a product director at Google.

Take the case of Musicbed, a Fort Worth, Texas, company that licenses stock music to independent filmmakers and videographers. When Musicbed launched in 2011, the founders went with a traditional website because they figured that most of their customers would be searching for music on the same desktop workstations that they used to edit video projects.

To the company’s surprise, they started getting a lot of requests for better mobile access. Customers were playing sample music tracks for clients on mobile devices at video shoots. Customers also wanted to send playlists of possible music choices to clients through social media and to wirelessly stream tracks for presentations, says Tanner Hearne, director of product for Musicbed. The traditional website made searching the catalog more difficult on mobile devices.

The company responded in 2013 by releasing an app that gave users access to the music library on their smartphones. Musicbed also redesigned the website to be more mobile friendly and subsequently saw significant increases in mobile traffic.

Customers are still mostly fulfilling purchases from their desktop computers, but the additional mobile options have increased engagement and the time spent on the website overall. “We’re now seeing up to 20% of our total traffic and music streaming coming from mobile,” says Mr. Hearne.

A similar overhaul took place at YourGreenPal.com, a website that connects homeowners with local lawn-care professionals. When co-founder Bryan Clayton started the business in Nashville in 2012, he and his partners built a flashy website designed to be viewed on big monitors.

“It didn’t feel like a lot on desktop, but for mobile, it was a tremendous, arduous journey to go through,” Mr. Clayton says.

They also didn’t realize that a fair number of the small businesses that ended up using the website’s a la carte business services, like scheduling, record keeping and route planning, didn’t even have desktop computers and were relying on their mobile phones to conduct their business while on the go.

Mr. Clayton had a completely new mobile website built in 2013. The quick-loading design now automatically adjusts to work with any device, has bigger, easier-to-read fonts and can be fully accessed on mobile devices by both homeowners and providers. Mr. Clayton also had a dedicated app created.

“Today, only about 15% of our users are now on desktop” and most of those also use mobile, says Mr. Clayton.

Everything up front

As for the actual design of mobile sites, experts advise keeping things simple and giving customers what they want at that moment that they land on the page. A restaurant, for instance, should put its contact information up front with a dinner-reservation form. And all businesses should make phone numbers clickable so they will trigger a call.

Beyond the basics, one-click contests and promotions are good ways to engage customers, and the interaction can provide social-media fodder.

YourGreenPal.com invites customers to submit photos of the overgrown yards of homeowners who can’t afford lawn-care service. Mr. Clayton will then pick a photo each month and reimburse his lawn-care vendors to tend to the neglected yard.

The effort has attracted press attention, which in turn has drawn new customers, says Mr. Clayton. “This has created buzz for us since we can tell the story of why this single mother broke her push mower and how GreenPal came by and mowed it for free,” he says. “It’s all worked out well for us.”

You can read the full story here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-key-to-making-a-mobile-site-customers-want-1479697201