Mobile Web Sites Dos and Don’ts

In one of my previous post, I talked about general things to consider when building a web site for mobile devices.  For this entry, I’ve decided to do a simple list of dos and don’ts that you might consider when building the mobile version of your website.

DOs

  • Make it simple.  This can affect how readable your site is on the mobile platform and how fast it’ll load within a 3G or worse, Edge network.  This however, doesn’t mean that you should just plain black text and white background.  Use CSS to customize the look and feel of your web site.  With CSS you can achieve great look without resorting to heavy use of graphical images.
  • Mind the real estate.  Mobile phones have tiny screen with tiny resolution so design your mobile site with that in mind.  Users should not have to zoom their browsers (or do anything else) just so they can see your content.
  • Use javascript and css.  I mentioned CSS earlier but with javascript as well, you can get fancier and add simple to complex animations to your site. (as a note, I recommended this simply because of the rise of iOS and Android devices whose browsers support javascript and css)
  • Optimize for target devices.  There are a lot of devices with different screen sizes and resolutions.  This could be tricky but with the right design and right technology, it can be a breeze to do.
DON’Ts
  • Use your full fledge web site as your mobile web site.  Pretty self-explanatory I think but the main point here is that the user experience on a desktop or lap top is way different than the user experience on a mobile device.  In face, if you view your web site on a mobile device, you yourself will likely have an unpleasant experience.
  • Create a complicated navigation system.  A user should be able to get to your content with at the most two clicks.  With mobile devices, its best to use a menu system to navigate the site but can sometime create a deep navigation bread crumb.  If that ever becomes the case, make sure to rethink and prioritize your content.
  • Don’t use pop-ups or other features like frames.  Keep your design simple.  Popups are annoying even when using desktop computers and much more so when using mobile devices.  Get rid of them.  Frames are old and can only take precious real estate.
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Apps: Providing a Rich User Experience

More and more so people are accessing information through their mobile devices and let’s face it, apps are changing the way people are interacting with information much like web-sites changed how people interacted with information just a few years back.  Web-sites–having them, isn’t passe by all means in the new “app” era, but rather, a new kid is on the block and he’s out to challenge the good old ways of how information is delivered to people.

Even popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter built mobile apps that are full-featured and in my mind are more fun to use than their web-based counterparts.  Both the Twitter and Facebook apps (for the iPhone for instance) uses Apple’s API which makes their apps not only consistent with the rest of the user interface of the phone but also user friendly and fun to use.

Apps can certainly provide a much richer user experience than the web by utilizing available functionality (hardware and software) on the phone.  For instance, apps can make of the GPS receiver available on most smart phones nowadays.  Twitter, Facebook, and Google app uses the GPS devices for “check-in” features.  Google more specifically uses the GPS for its mapping application.  Other hardware features such as the camera is also heavily used by a lot of apps.  The Google app uses the camera to allow people to take pictures of what they’re searching for.  Both the Bing and Google apps also uses the microphone for searching via voice instead of having to type up your search.

For many small businesses, having an app built and using all of the hardware and software feature may not always be what’s needed but if your business and your app can provide a rich user experience by using unique features available on most smart phones, then by all means… do so!

Web Site Considerations For Mobile Devices

Mobile devices bring new challenges to how small businesses deliver content to their consumers via their websites.  For one, the screen on most mobile devices, even at four inches, is considerably less real estate, that a typical web browser would have on a desktop or laptop computer.  Another is bandwidth, mobile devices although with 3G speed (provides decent web browsing experience) is typically hit and miss, that is you don’t get a consistent connection speed everywhere.  The biggest issue with mobile devices is, of course, the cap that most carriers have, which is around 5 Gb per month.  With that said, it is no longer enough to have  a web-site that’s meant to serve desktop web browsers.

The number thing to consider is how to present your content in a logical fashion, one that makes sense for a mobile device.   There are many subtle differences in how users interact with mobile devices versus with how they interact with desktop computers.  One great example is gestures.  Mobile devices uses gestures to understand the intent of the user, i.e. did the  user intent to click or scroll the page?  Desktop computers on the other hand interpret mouse clicks.  The idea of gestures or mouse clicks may sound that they have nothing to do with your web site design, but they do.  On a desktop computer, you can hover your mouse pointer on something and perhaps display information and perhaps you can do the same on a mobile device but the whether it makes sense (it doesn’t in my book), is another story.  The smaller real estate while keeping the same need to present information at a font size that’s readable is another challenge.  The best mobile websites that deal with this challenge the best uses tables where each row either leads up to other tables or pages that display information.

To me, the biggest concern is load time and how much bandwidth it’ll use (and these two are related).  Websites designed for mobile devices should load fast (to keep your end user from being frustrated) and this could mean foregoing lots of graphics and other content that could possibly prevent your site from being loaded as fast as possible.

With all of that said, yes.  In order to be able to serve both desktop users and mobile device users with your web content, you must be setup to serve both type of needs and luckily with existing technology and knowledgeable people helping you out, it’s not hard to do at all.

Google Apps For Business

Google, along with the hundreds of things it has to offer, also offers “Apps for Business.”  This solution is comprised of Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Cloud Connect, Google Groups, Google Sites, and Google Video.  However, “Apps for Business” is not a free service from Google, rather it costs 50 dollars per user per year for an unlimited number of users (I really can’t see why they would limit the number of users).  Google offers a 90-day free trial for this product.

Here’s a breakdown of the different products that Google bundle into its “Apps for Business.”

Gmail – Most people are already familiar with Google’s Gmail service.  Gmail, is a web-based email service.  As part of the “Apps for Business” product suite, you can get 25 GB of email and IM storage.  Also, with Gmail. you get instant messaging as well as voice and video chat.

Calendar – Another familiar Google product.  With Google Calendar, sharing project calendars, appointments, and meetings is easy.  Calendars can also be published if a business so chooses to make some of its events public.

Google Docs – Web-based productivity suite for creating word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  With Google Docs, collaboration and sharing documents is easy.

Cloud Connect – Bring collaborative editing to the Microsoft Office suite.  To better understand how this product works, here’s a short video from Google.

Groups – Allows for sharing documents, calendars, folders, videos, etc.. Each member in a group can have specific control access to files and other content.

Sites – More or less a wiki and web-page creation tool.  It’s intended use for small businesses, is to allow them to create sites for collaboration and sharing of information.

Video – “Video channel for your business.”  Intended to be used by small businesses for internal training, announcements, and others.  Most small businesses probably won’t have a lot of use for this feature.

There you have it.  Google’s “Apps for Business.”  Personally, for even smaller small businesses, using the already available versions of these services for free might be the best way.

Best of Both Worlds: Mac and Windows

Personally, I switched to Mac hardware about three years ago when I bought my first Macbook Pro.  Actually, I bought the second gen iPhone and felt bad syncing it with my old HP laptop, so I went out and got a Macbook.  Mac’s are great, OS X is a pretty good operating system, and it has plenty to offer for everybody.  In the past few years, Mac hardware has been picking up steam and is gaining market share.  People, left and right are buying Apple products (for a good reason, I think).  Of course, this is by no means a criticism of other OS and hardware platforms.  However, for the recently Mac converts out there, there are a few instances when we still need to use other platforms (mostly Windows), and for those instances, we’re lucky enough to have software such as VMWare Fusion and Parallels, that allows us to run other platforms such as Windows and Linux on the Mac.  Apple hardware itself can boot to Windows, but with either Parallels or VMWare Fusion, you can install Windows as a virtual machine and run it on your Mac OS X operating system and with today’s powerful hardware, virtual machines run although as they are running natively on your machine.

VMWare Fusion is what I personally use.  It works very well and cost only 80 dollars.  Currently, on my iMac, VMWare Fusion runs both Windows 7 and Ubuntu.  I highly recommend VMWare Fusion.

Parallels, also at 80 dollars, from what I’ve been told is neck and neck with VMWare Fusion.  I am yet to try it so I can’t say that I recommend it (yet).

Virtual Box is another virtualization product and unlike Parallels or VMWare Fusion, Virtual Box is FREE!  Also, unlike Parallels or VMWare Fusion that allows for other operating systems to run on Mac OS X, Virtual Box runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and many others.

There you have it, if you’re a recent Mac convert but still has a few software products that you constantly use that run only on Windows (or other platforms), my recommended solution is to use a virtualization product.  My personal recommendation is VMWare Fusion.

Free Software For Small Businesses

There are a lot of free software alternative out there that small businesses should know about.  Software, from productivity suites such as Microsof Office, Adobe’s Creative Suite, and many others, are great, but also come at a price.  Adobe’s Photoshop for instance, is priced at a whopping 700 dollars for the full version while Microsoft Office Professional is at 500 dollars (full version).  Here’s a list of alternative software solutions that come at a price that most of us should be able to stomach… 0 dollars.

Office Suite

OpenOffice – This is an open source productivity suite that includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation, a graphics, and a database application.  It’s available for the Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (multiple flavors) platform.

Google Docs – Free web-based word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application suite.  Users, via their web-browsers can create and edit documents while at the same time collaborate with others.

Image Processing

Gimp – Free image manipulation, image composition and authoring, and photo retouching application.  Gimp is available on the Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms.

Sound Editing

Audacity – Free, open-source software for editing and recording sounds.  Audacity is available for the Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms.

Video Editing

Windows Movie Maker – Free software from Microsoft used for editing just about any videos.  It’s available only on the Windows platform.

HandBrake – Not so much of a video editing tool but useful for transcoding videos.  It supports multiple video outputs such as MP4 and MKV.  It’s available for the Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms.

There you have it. I covered the basic software that most businesses would otherwise buy.  There are more free software solutions out there, let me know if you’re looking for something in particular.  I maybe able to help you find it.

 

4 Key YouTube Stats for Small Businesses

Key Points:

  1. 2 billion views a day
  2. Average person spends 15 minutes on YouTube a day
  3. YouTube Player is embedded in 10s of millions of websites
  4. Hundreds of millions of videos are watched on mobile devices monthly.

I specifically picked these key points, to demonstrate the specific things that a small business must consider when using YouTube as a marketing channel and more importantly to establish an online community.

2 billion views

That’s a lot of views and for you as a small business, you can interpret this statistical figure to only mean that yes, people are watching videos on YouTube.  It doesn’t guarantee however that people will watch your video and that they will buy your product or service.  Differentiation and being good is key here.

15 minutes

It’s certainly not a lot of time and with the millions of videos on YouTube, how are you going to present your product or service to capture a tiny portion of this statistical figure is another thing to think about.  This stat is also a useful guide on how long your videos should be.  There’s really no guide on this, but the goal should be to keep your videos “short and sweet.”

Embedded in websites

This is an important feature that YouTube offers and that a small business should take advantage.  For any videos you create, you should not only upload them to YouTube, but also embed your video on your website and other pages such as your Facebook business page.

Mobile devices

This emphasizes the further need to create videos that are “short and sweet.”  Internet connection on mobile devices is hit and miss, so to be safe, keep your video short to give it a better chance of loading and streaming into mobile devices.

Source: YouTube Stats