Mobile Strategy Is Dead, Long Live Content Strategy

Last Friday I gave my Developing a Progressive Mobile Strategy talk at the M3 Conference. During my talk Jen Matson (@nstop) tweeted this about my "mobile web first" section of slides:

"Search + links = mobile web first." That is the biggest gateway for users to your content.

After reading her tweet my first thought was that Jen had shown me a way to sharpen my talk. I could and should expand on why search and links were important and how they ended up paying-off for content creators. This seemed especially true since all but one person in my audience were non-higher ed. But reflecting on her tweet on my drive home I think I hit on a broader theme that is probably more important.

There's No Mobile Web, There's Only Content

Jen makes a very good and a very simple point. Search and links are the gateway for our users to our content. And you know what? They're the gateway regardless if our users are using a mobile device or desktop. Platform doesn't matter because both have the same opportunities to discover our content. As Stephen Hay (@stephenhay) tweeted earlier this year (and I went after him recently on it so mea culpa):

There is no Mobile Web. There is only The Web, which we view in different ways. There is also no Desktop Web. Or Tablet Web. Thank you.

I completely misunderstood his original intent but now I get where he's coming from. The "mobile web" does exist but it's from the standpoint of giving a name to the technical issues and techniques that help us deal with the numerous issues surrounding developing for small-screened mobile devices. That being said, from our users' perspective they just want access to our content and they want it on their terms. Make sure you read his follow-up and explanation.

Discovering Our Content

The same channels that we use to market to our users and that our users use to find us on the desktop also exist on a mobile device:

  • Browser? Check.
  • Search box in said browser? Check.
  • Ads on web pages that appear in said browser? Check.
  • Email client that handles links? Check.
  • Social networking tools that, again, handle links? Check.

And you know what? Users are using these channels on their mobile devices. Do you have a website that features information about your institution, volunteer information for your non-profit, or products for your business? 77% of smartphone users use search. Do you send out emails about products or events? 87% of smartphone users check personal email at least daily from their smartphone. Use tweets or Facebook posts to spread the word about your organizations' goings on? 65% of smartphone users visit social networking websites (this number doesn't include the use of apps).

By the way, that notion of "on the go?" Well, that's out the window. 93% of smartphone owners use their smartphones while at home. 29% use a smartphone in front of the TV and 39% admit to using it on the toilet. The mobile device is becoming the information discovery tool of choice no matter the location or need. It's just that it has a smaller screen than we're used to designing for. I would also argue that many of us don't have content that is mobile-only so "on the go" doesn't matter much anyway.

By making this content available on the web and advertising it we hope users take some action. Those actions could be applying to our school, donating money, buying a product, or simply visiting our store. We shouldn't ignore how that content is rendered and made available to users on mobile devices. At the end of the day we want to target as broad a population as possible with our content and advertising.

Next Step: Optimizing Content for Mobile Devices

We're already putting our content out there to be indexed by search engines. We're already trying to market that content to folks via email, social media, and web and print ads in the hopes that they access it. And we're already working to make our content perform optimally on various desktop browsers. The trick now is to make sure our users can get the best experience for that content on their mobile browsers too. Optimizing our content for mobile devices, including tappable phone numbers and links to Google Maps, is a natural extension of what we've been doing for ages. There is no separate mobile strategy. There is only an existing content strategy and working to make sure that that content is best presented to everyone.

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