As a growing number of Web users access the Internet on mobile phones, b2b companies are rushing to create mobile websites and optimize their desktop sites for mobile browsing. In his keynote address at the BtoB forum on mobile marketing last November, Karsten Weide, VP-research, digital media and entertainment at market data and analytics company IDC, said that more than 50% of users access the Internet through a mobile device—a figure that will grow to 90% by 2015.
According to Bill Rice, president of the Web Marketing Association, although many b2b companies are still refining their regular websites, the biggest mistake they make regarding the mobile Web is ignoring the space entirely.
“There are still a lot of companies that don't have any specialized mobile capabilities, even though it's so simple to create a specific style sheet for a mobile browser,” he said.
Amy Schade, director at usability consulting company Nielsen Norman Group, said mobile users perform better and access content easier on mobile-optimized sites than on full-functional desktop sites accessed via mobile devices.
According to Sandy Marsico, principal of Chicago-based interactive agency Sandstorm Design, b2b companies creating mobile websites should start by surveying clients to determine what information they're looking for on a company's mobile site and how they interact with their mobile devices.
Rice agreed b2b companies need to focus less on what “corporate” wants to deliver. “B2b companies often get into a silo mentality, where this department wants to deliver these types of products and sell these kinds,” he said. “You need to talk to your customer base and figure out what they would like to do when they're on the fly.”
Researching how users want mobile information and when shouldn't stop once a website is created. Marsico suggested a poll or comments box at the bottom of a company site under a phrase like “Looking for something and couldn't find it here? Let us know,” to collect user feedback and ensure the appropriateness of content.
Companies should prioritize Web content and menu items based on their customers' needs, with the most in-demand information being the easiest to access. “Companies need to prioritize content functionality around who the primary user is and what his or her goals are. Otherwise, the user will ignore the site,” said Vidya Drego, principal analyst, customer experience at Forrester Research.
According to Drego, one of the most common mistakes in mobile Web creation is trying to “cram it all in,” which leads to disorganized layouts and content overload. This is especially relevant for b2b companies, whose traditional Web pages tend to be content-heavy, featuring in-depth product descriptions (with videos, detailed specification sheets and white papers, among others) which don't translate well to mobile .
Although mobile Web users generally accept vertical scrolling, Schade said companies should avoid long paragraphs. If users can't see the beginning and end of a paragraph on the smaller screen, it's easy for them to get lost within that text. Marsico said content is just as important as design and suggested b2b marketers distill long paragraphs into one or two sentences.
According to Drego, b2b companies may also consider replacing detailed information with “quick hits” and immersive rich-media elements, which can make the user forget they are viewing content on a small screen. “Videos, images and audio can convey information more quickly than a 100-word paragraph,” she said.
Also, ideal sites should give users a variety of ways to access content. “Context varies, [so] the user needs to access the site in a relevant way,” Drego said.
Experts suggested companies eliminate or simplify forms and gated content commonly used for lead-gen purposes on desktop sites because most users don't enjoy typing on mobile devices.
“Anything you ask them to do—typing on a mobile device or having to enter data—can slow them down or make them not proceed. The more you can give them without having that gate is better,” Schade said.
But if companies must use gated content, they should simplify forms and keep questions to a bare minimum, she said.
According to Marsico, less is more in many cases, and marketers should avoid crowding out key content with too many promotions and marketing materials.
Schade said, “You have to think about the relative value of every design element onscreen. If you add one thing, you're probably leaving something off or making people scroll a long way to find it.”
Marsico said b2b companies building mobile sites must also employ responsive Web design, designing a website that automatically adjusts to different platforms, screen sizes and orientations. These sites include proportion-based grids and images, and cascading style sheets.
Both Schade and Marsico said Web developers need to ensure that touch targets are big enough for a user to easily tap, and are spaced far enough apart to avoid misclicks. Schade recommended all touch targets be at least one centimeter square in size. Marsico suggested companies test different wire frames of their sites on users before they start programming so users don't suffer from “fat fingers syndrome.”
Other considerations include choosing a font size big enough to read for easy site browsing with one hand, and providing a link for users who prefer the desktop site, even on mobile phones.