Why Your Mobile Site Shouldn’t Be “Flashy”

| 09/30/2011


Facebook. Google. Wikipedia. None are very “sexy” or over the top. Their interfaces and functionality, while basic and simple in nature, are effective. To that end, these brands have become infused into our culture as household names and the top of their respective fields.

Your mobile website should be designed no differently. Yes, “less is more” is doctrine when you realize that mobile searchers are further along in the buying process and are ready to purchase. Those qualified leads could be walking by your storefront at this very moment. So when you design your mobile site, you must cater to the mobile lifestyle of each device. Remember that mobile behaviors are different because devices are limited in what they can do (and yet they can do so much).

Your approach should be to satisfy the fundamentals of mobile search. A major impediment to that is Adobe Flash. To capitalize on the mobile-search and in-store traffic you desire, you must have a mobile website that meets both consumer needs and industry standards.

I’m here to offer tips on how to structure your website so it’s optimized for mobile search and usability — sans Flash.

Don’t Be “Flashy”

It has been said that you only have a small window for your messaging to resonate with consumers. But with mobile, everything is intensified, and the time line is shortened because consumers are typically on the go, limiting their patience and attention.

With Flash, your mobile site will be bloated with unnecessary load time and plagued by compatibility concerns, both of which are enough to dissuade users from sticking around. That can be a crying shame for local businesses, considering that click-through rates on mobile continue to surpass those of the standard web.

So let’s take a closer look at the pitfalls of designing with Flash, which has long been considered a medium for creating a more interactive experience.

Apples and Oranges

Designing standard websites and mobile websites is both apples and oranges. Some of the basic best practices apply across the board. However, the architectural makeup of Flash is really intended for desktops and laptops. In fact, Apple — particularly its iPhones and iPads — has adopted HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript in lieu of Flash, which as proprietary technology of Adobe, isn’t a universally adopted platform. In other words, Flash will not work on the aforementioned Apple products, which unfortunately for Adobe, comprises a significant portion of mobile market share.

Setting Standards

More consumers will access content via mobile browsers as smartphone adoption becomes commonplace. But designing with Flash alienates some of these devices, and that is paving the way for open standards, meaning users can access all sites on all browsers and devices. In other words, HTML5 and CSS will likely become the new standards, with Flash reserved for in-app and in-game multimedia interactions.

The move toward openness, as well as standards-compliant functionality and design, falls within the framework of the internet’s universality. Moving forward, widely adopted functionality will make accessibility possible, regardless of device. As a matter of fact, the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence recently proposed its Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions, which is an attempt to standardize compliant mobile ads so that campaigns and creative won’t have to be rewritten for each app or network. Ultimately, this will save companies money as well as enable publishers to have a consistent offering.

Crawling Speeds, Fast-Paced Consumers

Many Flash sites aren’t instantly viewable because most mobile browsers aren’t equipped to support Flash. If Flash is supported, chances are the viewing experience is still subpar due to limitations of the device’s memory, processing power, and bandwidth. Also, some markets’ internet connections, particularly in rural areas, aren’t up to speed, meaning load and/or run times of Flash sites will be slowed there.

Those hurdles present major drawbacks for on-the-go consumers who need content immediately, meaning they’ll likely abandon your website and purchase consideration. Instead, experience quicker speeds with HTML, and limit your page sizes (no more than 25 kilobytes) because some data plans charge by the kilobyte.

SEO

Flash and SEO don’t see eye to eye. That’s because Flash pages are not properly indexed by search engines, whose spiders cannot crawl the content contained within Flash areas. Basically, search engines can’t read anything that isn’t text related. So your site can have cool graphics or animations, but it’ll fail the SEO test. While alt tags provide some SEO juice for Flash areas, focus your efforts on the basics: optimizing with meta data and keyword-rich copy in content areas. Mobile search is still quite young, so the competition is less fierce for optimal, high-page ranking on the mobile web (it taps into a different index than the standard web), giving you a leg up on the competition.

Affordability

Costs can add up if your site uses Flash (you’ll have to purchase Adobe software) but you don’t staff an in-house Flash expert. This is especially important if your content needs to be updated frequently. Due to Flash’s complex coding, your in-house team will have to outsource any manual updates to a designer. Instead, use a Flash-free CMS so your in-house team can tackle the manual updates, thus streamlining the process. Furthermore, the time you save by keeping everything simple and close to home will pay off in the end.

A Mobile Makeover

To create a mobile website, you have a few options. One is creating a mobile-only site (http://www.domain.mobi/), which many CMS platforms provide as templates. Another is to revise your current website by adapting it to mobile standards. That entails a simpler, stripped-down version of the CSS style, and then directing mobile users to that version via automated code.

Increasingly, however, mobile sites are providing the option to view their counterparts (the original, full-HTML websites), which means your standard website must also be optimized for the mobile web. That means no Flash. As a result, the norm is being established that all websites be responsive to multiple devices. Thanks to advancements in tech and design, you can now conform your coding to appeal to a user’s viewing medium.

Conclusion

With autumn upon us, we head into the final quarter of 2011, and the holiday season. Mobile, particularly search, will be a bigger factor on bottom lines this shopping season than last, due in large part to greater mobile-device penetration in the marketplace. Conversely, consumers are not shying away from mobile for location-based information, which is prompting calls and visits to local storefronts — all setting up final sales. Based on that, there is exponential potential for local businesses in the mobile marketplace. By being aware of a few fundamental concepts, you can proactively alter your mobile presence in time for the busy shopping season ahead.

Design, while very important to the user experience, should be engaging but simple, sharp but basic, alluring but not overdone. Flash’s capabilities are impressive, but their place in the mobile landscape is questionable. Before you design, weigh the pros and cons, consider your market, and whatever you choose, bear in mind the impact positive experiences have on repeat sales.

Originally published by iMedia Connection (September 22, 2011)