Mo’ Mobile: Making Mobile Content That Doesn’t Suck

If I were to pick a spirit animal, my spirit animal would be Avinash Kaushik, the guru of all things analytics. Why? Because he succinctly and passionately says everything that marketers should be saying but aren’t. In fact, he has a post on his blog, Occam’s Razor, about the state of mobile marketing, and it doesn’t hold back any punches. This is great stuff, but I wanted to add and update some specific points about generating not just a fluid and responsive design and interface for mobile, but a full-featured content strategy. Because lets face it, if your mobile content is the same as your standard content, your mobile content sucks. Don’t suck. Here’s how:

Step 1: For Fks Sake, Build a Mobile Website!

Want to guarantee that I will never visit your website on my mobile device? Don’t build a mobile site. Sure, some websites manage to get away with only a glare from me and not total bannination, but those mostly fall into the category of news websites and single-column blogs: sites where double-tapping to zoom the text to an acceptable level is all that’s needed to make the site at least somewhat mobile friendly. If I have to tap on tiny buttons or stretch and zoom and contort your website to fill out a form, you’ve lost me. That’s it. Done. Not happening.

The sad thing is, building a mobile website is so simple and dirt cheap that it’s incredible that everyone doesn’t have one yet. For large brands that can afford a professional development team, there exists the media query.

<link rel="stylesheet" href="screen.css" type="text/css" media="handheld" />

This, and it’s non-mobile partner

<link rel="stylesheet" href="screen.css" type="text/css" media="Screen" />

Having a separate stylesheet for mobile and non-mobile devices lets you do all sorts of magic. Like selectively hiding or displaying elements using classes only visible to mobile or full-size devices. It’s been around for ages now, and the fact that more brands with the resources to do this really well aren’t doing it is a travesty.

For those of lesser means, there are still plenty of options. If you’re building a static website, consider using a responsive framework like Twitter’s Bootstrap or Zurb’s Foundation. The main Stunt & Gimmick’s site was built in straight, no-frills, no additions Bootstrap. Pull it up on your phone. Try it. Sure, there are a couple of little issues, but those are mostly a result of me not having enough hours in a day to bug-fix at the moment. The entire site took myself and our graphic designer about 8 hours to build over the course of two days. Don’t tell me you don’t have enough time to build a responsive site that formats properly to mobile.

Looking for something a little less…static-y? If you’re on WordPress, you’re in luck, since everybody and their mother are now building out-of-the-box responsive themes for the WP platform. Pull this blog up on your phone. It’s a clean, simple, and 100% functional version of the desktop version. No zooming required. The menu is functional, it loads quickly, and it’s just amazingly easy to use.

If you already have a blog, but haven’t built it around a responsive theme, take a look at the Handheld plugin from Elegant Themes. The plugin gives your WP site the ability to turn into a simple, no-frills mobile page that conveys all the information without being clumsy or cumbersome, and sets up in a matter of minutes.

Step 2: Think

This step gets left out WAY too often when companies design mobile content. Think about how people use their mobile devices. In fact, think about how YOU use your mobile device. Me? I use it for one of three purposes:

1. I read the news every morning and afternoon during my commute. I pre-load articles I find interesting and then read them one by one in the subway. I do this mostly through news aggregators (Fark.com is a favorite), but I also check the websites of my favorite newspapers.

2. I use it to get instant information on the go for very time-sensitive and hyper-directed information gathering. For instance, if I need directions. Or if I want to find a restaurant to eat at. Or if I need a shoe repaired quickly. Or I need to rent a car or book a flight. These are very specific and very high intent-to-convert queries. Basically, an online marketer’s wet-dream. This is done primarily through apps or Google Search.

3. I use it for entertainment when I am in a place that gets poor or no reception (for example if I’m in the subway and run out of articles, I will either read books on the Kindle app or play games).

4. As a bonus, I view email almost exclusively through my phone, since it’s so much easier and more convenient.

What does this tell us about the kind of content I consume on my phone? (and I am not alone here, as this is a pattern that most consumers follow)

1. Mobile content falls along two extremes: Either long-form journalism/content that is lengthy and in-depth or very short, bite-sized  informational content.

2. A lot of the content I consume is done in locations where there is no internet service.
3. A lot of the short, informational content is accessed through apps.
4. Email is HUGE!

A mental exercise like this should tell you exactly where and how to reach your audience. If you’re doing it right, you should be following ALL of these avenues in order to interrupt your customers wherever they are.  Which takes us to

Step 3: Map Your Customers Path and Find Roadblocks

This is where we start getting to the fun stuff. In order for mobile content to work, you need to put it where your potential customers will find it. You need to find choke-points in their daily mobile use-map, and place unmissable road-blocks in their way. Not roadblocks that keep them from moving on, but roadblocks that say “Hey, buddy! That road you’re on is full of potholes and takes the long way around. Here’s a freshly paved shortcut instead.”

So lets build my use-map and see where we can stick interruptions:

  • Once I get to the train station in the morning, I pull open my email and go through the messages. Work mail or anything that needs an in-depth reply is saved for later. If I find any interesting articles or other long form content, I will open it in a browser window for later reading.
  • I pull up an aggregator or newspaper site and open a couple of articles for reading on the train.
  • Once I get to the office, the phone is primarily unused except for phone calls and quickly checking email.
  • Since I know my neighborhood, it’s doubtful that I will use an informational query to search for lunch spots, however I can be swayed by email messaging.
  • When I leave the office, I will either head home (repeating the aggregator/news process), or run errands. This is where I do the majority of my informational querying.
  • If it’s the weekend, I will be looking for things to do. I’m an outdoorsy guy, so I check the weather to see if it’s nice to go for a walk or bike ride in the park. I like taking road trips, so I use Google Search and Google Maps to find destinations, I use Yelp quite often, etc.

How would you reach me if you were, say, a bicycle apparel and accessories company?

Here’s the plan:

1. Morning – I wake up and there is a “Ride Report” in my email inbox. It contains the weather along my typical route, any construction/detour /traffic information, and has a couple of articles on riding and reviews for gear. The weather is incredibly useful to me and saves me a couple of clicks first-thing in the morning. High five! I also pull up any articles I like for reading later. They’re formatted to look good on my phone.

2. Shortly before lunch, I get another email. You’ve scanned the check-in history on my Facebook wall, made a reasonable assumption about the kind of places I like to eat at, and have sent me a list of recommended places to try within a 1-mile ride, 2-mile ride, and 5-mile ride of my office. What? There’s an awesome Thai place 10 minutes away from me? Score. I pull up your bike time and trail-tracking app, pull up the directions, and off I go. Your app tracks my time, my distance, and tells me the safest way to get to where I’m going.
3. I get off work, and start browsing my news feeds for things to read on the train home (I alternate biking and training it home). An article on bike maintenance? That’s going in the queue!
4. The weekend is here! I pull open my email, and there’s the weather. Oh, and look, a list of destinations I can bike to within 50 miles of me! Clicking on them pulls up your app, which pulls in info for the destinations from yelp, Wikipedia, and any other relevant info directories. It also has editorial content and comments from other bikers about the route and the destination. Hey, the City Island Museum sounds interesting, and it’s 75 degrees out and sunny. Done!

All together, putting this together would take a not terribly large editorial team, two to three app developers, and less than 50k in investment. A TV commercial would take you twice that, and wouldn’t work anyway since I don’t own a television. An ad in the NYTimes might help, but I hardly pay attention to those, and besides, have you seen how much they charge per ad?

This strategy is what Mr. Kaushik calls Utility Marketing, and is the heart of content marketing. I am plugged into your company, not because you’ve been shouting at me, but because you provide exceptional value for me. When I get ready to upgrade my old, rusty, breaking-down bike, guess where I’ll be going?

Step 4: The Rules!

Of course I realize not everyone has the money to hire a full editorial staff, or take advantage of a self-publishing outsourcing solution (like the S&G Virtual News Desk *hint hint*), and many smaller companies don’t have the budget to build an all-inclusive app (even though it really is amazingly cheap these days, and is a worthwhile investment if you do it right), but you can do this on the cheap-o. All you need is a blog, an email platform, and someone who is willing to crank out three- to six-hundred words once in a while. Just follow these do’s and don’ts:

  • Do format your content for a small screen. Short, sweet paragraphs break down best on any size display, so use lots of those.
  • Don’t use fancy graphics. That infographic you spent $2k to build? I’m not looking at it on my phone. It’ll either be too small to read, or will require lots of scrolling. *NOTE: you CAN make this work, you just have to design it with small screens in mind. Vertical is your friend.
  • Do write long-form content. A LOT of people actually read it. Long-form is far from dead, and mobile may be bringing it back.
  • Don’t make your content rely on links or other external sources. If I’m on the subway reading your article, I can’t use those links. If your content relies on them (for instance, if you’re curating another article and don’t paste relevant excerpts into the body of your article), I will not see them.
  • Don’t spread your content across multiple pages or use slide-shows. No one likes slideshows, but on a mobile device they’re even worse. If I’m in a poor/no-connection area, my reading experience will start and end on your first page.
  • Don’t rely on flash or other fancy technology that will either not work or will seriously bog down the reading experience. This goes double for flash ads on your site. This also includes fancy header/footer bars that scroll with the page and use static positioning. On slower devices, like my Samsung Exhibit, those things never work right and very noticeably bog down or crash my browser. Just don’t do it.
  • Do make buttons and other inputs large. Very large.
  • Do use my available native phone functionality. You know you can get my location. Use that to give me relevant content.
  • Do keep in mind where I am and what I’m doing when I stumble onto your content. If you’re targeting me during a specific informational behavior (searching for a restaurant, or trying to figure out where to repair the aforementioned shoes), give me the information I need…and that’s it. That’s not the place for long-form. If you’re sending me email, consider what I’m doing when I get your email, and plan accordingly. Here’s a hint: I won’t be checking mobile videos on my phone at work.

That’s it. It’s not a lot, and it will go a long way towards making your web content NOT suck. And really, that’s not a lot to ask for.

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