Last time, I took a look at some of the best practices for the mobile Web, including topics such as Mobile Site or Not Yet; Site vs. App; and Redirection. Here, I continue the discussion, covering the type of content that is appropriate for mobile sites and how visitors navigate through it.
Full vs. Reduced Content
An important question is “how much content should you have on your mobile site?” A few years ago, mostly due to bandwidth and technical limitations, the answer was “minimal”—a few critical news or content bits and key functionality such as locators or calculators. However, it is becoming more and more evident that people prefer to browse the web on their phone, and are doing so more often while at home. With this being the case, visitors do not want nor should they receive an over-simplified experience. This does not mean the entire full website should be ported over to a mobile-sized screen—it should be a judicious and thoughtful balance between too little and too much content. Taking a ‘mobile first’ perspective on choosing this content will enable the mobile site to be sufficiently content-rich while still remaining consistent with the desktop site.
USA.gov is a good example of a site that is approaching more of the full feature set. Yes, they are a portal and, by default, have less content than other government sites, but notice that they replicate most of the major site areas, including search, content topics, FAQs, contact information, and finder functionalities:
A popular new trend is a Menu button that opens a layer containing the site’s global categories. While this saves space at the top of the page, it is somewhat easy to overlook, risking that visitors won’t realize it is a menu containing key navigation. Hopefully in time this becomes an expected convention.
It’s typical for many sites to have more traditional navigation at the bottom of each page, such as FBI.gov. This is effective yet also potentially overlooked. Some sites, like EPA.gov, are placing global navigation at the top of the page much like a desktop site. This is very prominent and also helps orient visitors if the site highlights the current category they are in. However, this requires a smaller number of global categories simply due to the reduced width of the page.
Equally important to browsing via navigation is searching. Some website visitors default to using Search to find the information they are looking for, and this is something that will be expected more in mobile as well. If Search is a primary goal, as a best practice it should be located prominently right below the site logo on the homepage and every page of the site, such as done on USA.gov:
Not every site needs to have Search that prominent, though. Some sites locate it next to their global navigation in the lower half of the page—as done on FBI.gov. A similar trend to the global navigation menu is the Search button at the top of the page, which opens a menu containing the Search box—CDC.gov uses this method. This both conserves space and becomes familiar, as it is located in the normal place that visitors would expect to find Search on a desktop site—the upper right corner. In this location, though, it does require visitors to perform an extra click. So, if searching is a primary goal of your visitors, placing a Search box directly on the page is more appropriate and convenient.
Also, all instances of mobile Search should use Autocomplete Functionality, which offers suggested search terms as visitors are typing. This is critical for mobile where typing is not as easy and more prone to errors:
That brings part 2 of Usability Best Practices for e-Gov Mobile Web Experiences to an end. In the final post I will briefly go into Phone-Specific Interfaces.