By Dan Hobin
Smartphones are everywhere. Theyre 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, theres 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 hes 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.
There are a few other design elements that are important to consider when building a mobile website. Ensure consistency by carrying over colors, fonts, logos and other branding elements from your standard website. Cut as much content as possible and keep it simple. The words you choose should be keywords relevant to your business such as self-storage. A searcher should be able to find what he needs immediately.
In the case of self-storage, a user is probably looking for a phone number for the location nearest to him. Other important content elements that should appear on the main screen or within one click include name, logo, address, phone number, map, hours, unit sizes and a photo.
Your mobile website is a great source for lead capture, so its important to track and measure leads and conversions. Use simple forms on your mobile website to encourage website visitors to take action. A contact us form with an e-mail or phone-number field and text box gives searchers an easy way to request information. Offering real-time reservations with a call to Reserve your unit now is another way to spur a visitor to action. A mobile website can help your storage business capture new tenants when and where theyre ready to convert.
Mobile Search: Get Found
Once you have a mobile-optimized website, how can you ensure potential customers find it? For a local-based business like self-storage, location is everything, and geo-targeting based on GPS is a great way to get the best results. Most of the people looking for self-storage on their phones will search for a facility nearby. The best mobile websites detect the users location and serve up the closest locations. This opportunity is available only on mobile devices, not desktops, due to GPS technology.
On-page search-engine optimization (SEO) will ensure mobile users are directed to your Web page. SEO includes paying attention to branding, keywords and website load speed. From the perspective of SEO and user experience, load speed is even more crucial to a mobile website since the user is often multi-tasking and may be impatient with a slow-loading page.
The maps section of Google, commonly referred to as Google Places, is gaining in popularity as a directory listing on mobile devices. Currently, 40 percent of users are accessing Google Places through a mobile device, and the percentage is on the rise. Its free to claim your listing, so populate it with as much information as possible including name, address, phone number, logo and photos that are consistent with your website.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is another important tool for optimizing your mobile website for search. Since a smaller screen means less real estate for search-engine results, its important your paid ad appears as one of the top slots out of only about three that appear on a mobile screen.
For the past several years, a simple desktop website and a PPC advertising budget was enough for self-storage companies to attract business, but as more users access the Internet through mobile devices, its more important than ever to go mobile. Smartphone visits to self-storage websites are on the rise. A mobile website can help your properties be everywhere. The time to build your mobile website is now.
Dan Hobin is founder and CEO of G5, which provides Internet-marketing services including website design, online campaign management and local-search optimization. With more than 20 years of experience in building high-growth technology companies, Hobin is responsible for overseeing the companys overall strategic direction, planning and execution. For more information, call 541.306.3388; visit www.g5searchmarketing.com .