Building a Mobile Website for Self-Storage Customers: Context, Intent, Design and SEO

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By Dan Hobin

Smartphones are everywhere. They’re replacing digital cameras and iPods, and offering turn-by-turn navigation so we never get lost. They present user reviews and ratings for every business in town. By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common device used to access the Web. They're speeding up the way we live, the way we search for and gather information. As smartphones change the way we communicate, there’s a growing need to connect with future clients through mobile.

In the past year, smartphone visits to self-storage websites went from 2 percent of total traffic to almost 10 percent, equal to 500 percent year-over-year growth. In the next year, they'll likely comprise 50 percent of total self-storage website traffic.

Web access through mobile devices is on the rise among key demographics. What is the risk of ignoring the shift to mobile? Of the 93 percent of U.S. adults who own a mobile phone, 27 percent use it to research products or services, and and that number is growing. Nine out of 10 18- to 29-year-olds own a cell phone, and 65 percent of them use it to access the Web. Forty-three percent of 30- to 49-year-olds use their cell phones to access the Web. In August 2011, Google CEO Eric Schmidt backed up his statement, “Mobile is the future,” when his company acquired Motorola mobility for $12.5 billion.

Mobile Users: Context and Intent

Understanding who the mobile user is and how he’s using a mobile phone to connect with your business is the key to designing your mobile website. To capture this user, consider how his context changes between a desktop computer and a mobile device. It can be vastly different. A desktop user is typically sitting down at home or work and focused on reviewing information. In contrast, a mobile user is on the go and is usually multi-tasking, highly distracted and time-constrained.

In addition, think about user intent. Typically, desktop users are willing to absorb more content, while mobile users need to find critical information immediately, looking for quick answers. Desktop users are more likely to browse or explore than mobile users who are searching with a purpose.

The Mobile Website: Friendly vs. Optimized

Self-storage operators need to build a mobile website with customers' context and intent in mind, one that is mobile-optimized, not just mobile-friendly. A mobile-friendly website:

  • Is viewable on a mobile device, but the viewer may have to scroll horizontally to see the compete site.
  • Will lack click-to-call functionality.
  • Has a design optimized for a larger screen and mouse navigation.
  • Can be frustrating to mobile users.

In contrast, a mobile-optimized website:

  • Factors in user context and user intent, using optimal design and functionality.
  • Leads users to the information they want.
  • Encourages action.
  • Recognizes the device being used to access the site and adjusts layout and functionality accordingly. It even recognizes and accounts for device orientation, switching to the appropriate layout when the device is flipped.

Important Design Elements

The best way to ensure positive user experience on your mobile website is through responsive design, which allows you to host your desktop and mobile website on the same service and automatically reacts to user context. When the user visits your website, responsive-design programming detects the device type, serving up the appropriate website version. If the user is coming from a desktop or laptop, he will see the whole website. If he is coming from a smartphone, he will see the mobile version.

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