Now more than ever, effective mobile strategies are playing a key role in brands’ interactions with their users. An intuitive, seamless experience can not only improve conversion rates and help to meet key business objectives, but can also create new brand advocates who actively enjoy engaging with your digital presence.

Regardless of whether a brand is building a strategy from the ground up, or whether they have an existing mobile presence, certain key questions should be considered in order to help match appropriate and effective solutions. In this article we will discuss some of these considerations, and outline some of the options available to best serve users regardless of device.


Mobile not only presents us with opportunities for engagement, but also a design ethos, and a mentality which will sit outside of the previous thinking for web. Undertaking a research and planning phase will help to:

1) Establish objectives

2) Maximise opportunities

3) Identify considerations

4) Understand limitations.

A planning phase may take many forms. Activities that could be considered include:

Analysis of any existing statistics – Brands using analytics tools will likely already have a picture of their mobile user-base, including common devices and resolutions, and patterns of engagement with content. This information can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses of any current content, but it is important to consider that low rates of engagement could be due to a weak current offering rather than a lack of potential audience.

Define user objectives – There will likely be certain core requirements identified by the brand, however engaging with existing and potential users may help to uncover usage scenarios and add value. Building user perspectives into a strategy will likely help with uptake and user satisfaction.

Content planning – Content needs will be different depending whether existing content is being used, or whether there is scope to start from scratch. Identifying existing content, as well as defining new content to be created is a central element of setting focus for the mobile strategy, and care should be taken to differentiate content for application and the web. A “mobile first” focus across devices is often the most appropriate way of establishing priority content.

UX considerations – Mobile should be treated differently to traditional desktop sites, and as such the user experience should be optimised with this in mind. In conjunction with content planning, understanding the limitations and expanding on the potential afforded by mobile is crucial to any mobile strategy.

Definition of budget and timescales – Establishing any limitations will help to manage expectations, and can be important in setting a direction.

Competitor research – Analysing what competing brands are doing can help to identify successful strategies, as well as highlighting what could be done better, or what could enable your brand to stand out.

Measurement strategy – Defining a set of key success indicators and their associated benchmarks will not only help prove the success of the mobile strategy, but will also help to feed information back into future roadmap plans.

What are the options available to cater for mobile?

Once the research and planning activity has been completed there should be a clear set of requirements and vision which can then be mapped against options. Some of the more popular approaches include focussing on enhancing a traditional website experience, as well as the creation of specific applications.

Adapting a website for devices

There are several schools of thought when it comes to adapting a website and by virtue its content. Design requirements and usage scenarios will all play a part in determining which approach may be most appropriate.

A dedicated mobile site, such as, which mobile users are automatically redirected to, is often used to serve users a subset of the main website functionality. This is an approach recommended by usability expert Jakob Nielsen, but which is not without its critics. It is often stated that users will have different requirements because they are using a mobile device, which is not necessarily the case – 2011 studies by On Device Research and Pew indicated that over 25% of people in the US (11% of adults, around 25 million people) use smartphones as their sole means of browsing the web. Amongst other discussion points, there are also considerations around potential duplication issues and SEO concerns depending on the implementation of dedicated mobile sites. It is possible for users to become frustrated by the lack of content on stripped down sites, and even linking back to the main site may not be satisfactory if this has not been developed with mobile in mind.

In contrast to reducing the content offered to mobile visitors, the responsive design movement is rapidly gaining popularity. At its most simple, it is a concept which revolves around using a single codebase to serve all devices, using fluid layouts which then adapt at different breakpoints. The same content is served in slightly tailored ways to different devices, helping to future proof sites and provide a fitting, user-friendly experience. Responsive design may not always be appropriate depending on the functionality required, and when used inappropriately has been criticised for downloading unnecessary resources which are never displayed to the user. A “mobile first” approach, coupled with “progressive enhancement” is often applied in order to alleviate this, ensuring that mobile is the primary concern rather than an afterthought. Barack Obama as well as the BBC News team have helped bring responsive design to the masses in recent months.


Mobile applications, commonly deployed through marketplaces such as Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store are typically used for a focussed experience. Crossovers may not occur with online content, but where they do these typically cover a small subset of functionality, such as a dedicated booking app, or to provide an experience which complements online activities. In certain cases, such as that of Instagram, a social photo sharing service, the application is the primary focus with the website solely providing the means to view photos for those who do not own the app.

Applications are able to be developed in a variety of ways:

‘Native’ development, where applications are specifically created to run on particular operating systems, typically each have different development language requirements, as well as having user interfaces which align with the operating system’s conventions. Native development has the benefit of being able to access core device functionality sooner than third party implementations, and is often able to demonstrate performance benefits. It does however come with the consideration that specialist skillsets will be needed for each platform, with timescales and budgets being extended due to each platform being catered for separately.

With the rapid uptake of HTML 5 and CSS3, more brands are moving to consider web-based apps rather than applications deployed via the various marketplaces. The Financial Times made a high profile switch in 2011 in order to bypass the limitations and fees of deploying content through the Apple App Store. Web apps able to run without any browser chrome appear visually similar to native apps, can be added to mobile devices’ home screens, and are able to be built using technologies already familiar to web developers.

If brands require their app to have a wide reach across devices but do not wish it to run in the browser, a ‘hybrid’ approach may be more cost effective than developing natively for multiple platforms. Apps can be built using web technologies such as HTML, CSS and Javascript, and packaged as apps using services such as PhoneGap (, allowing them to be deployed to multiple marketplaces alongside natively-built apps.

Across all approaches it is important that care is taken to keep data transfer to a minimum, and to plan for connectivity. Content should only be served to the user if it is relevant, useful, and of an appropriate file size.

Which approach is best suited to your needs?

It is unlikely that brands will ever enter into a direct choice between optimising a website for mobile, and creating applications – each should be distinct, and a website should not simply be duplicated and served up in app form. With the general shift in usage patterns (mobile usage is due to overtake desktop within the next three years, as predicted by Morgan Stanley) brands who do not address their web-based experience may be alienating their users through inaction, and this is likely to cause mobile optimisation to take precedence over applications for many organisations.

Unless brands are fortunate enough to have applications pre-installed as a default on devices, users will have to specifically seek out applications and download them. Leveraging an existing audience and tailoring a website experience for devices can therefore potentially reach a larger audience organically. However, this does not cover all use cases, and applications will continue to play an important role in the mobile ecosystem. Despite the rise of web apps and hybrid solutions, native applications are likely to continue to maintain popularity.

A carefully considered planning phase, coupled with effective “solution matching” will help to ensure that your mobile strategy is well placed to support your brand and users into the future.

Sally Jenkinson

Sally Jenkinson


Sally Jenkinson is Head of Technology at Lightmaker UK.