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Mobile Web content management strategy poses multiple-choice dilemma

Successful mobile Web content management begins with a solid understanding of the factors involved in building a website easily displayed on different devices, according to designer Graeme Blackwood.

It’s clearer every day that the mobile revolution is reaching into every segment of business and that organizations of all sizes had better join it or get left behind. What’s less clear is the best way to do that.

There are many factors to consider when developing a mobile Web content management (WCM) strategy. And a solid understanding of them will help guide an implementation to make sure your content displays properly on the smartphones, tablet PCs, compact laptops and other devices being used by a growing cadre of employees, partners and customers.

A careful consideration of an organization’s needs will help inform whether the answer is a responsive website, a mobile version of a website, a native mobile app, a Web app or some combination of all four.

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At the very least, it is wise to ensure that your website is optimized for mobile devices. That doesn’t always mean a full website redesign or even a dedicated version for mobile users. Instead, there are techniques to make a website “respond” to the context in which it is being used, adjusting the elements on the page depending on the size of the screen. That can be simple to accomplish while resulting in dramatic improvements to the mobile user experience.

When the existing website design is too complex for a simple responsive fix, it might be more effective to create a dedicated mobile site with separate design elements from the primary site. A content management system (CMS) -- based on commercial software or open source technologies such as Drupal -- can simplify that process by enabling multiple templates and sites to be hosted on one install.

And if your site isn’t a good fit for responsive techniques and your existing CMS just isn’t up to the task of supporting a separate mobile version of the site, it might be time for a redesign or a new CMS. Though that option might sound painful, in the long term it will reap rewards. A solid mobile Web content management strategy that lets you create content once and deliver it in different channels greatly simplifies the job of maintaining a multichannel online presence.

But it doesn’t end there. After determining the tactic, it is time to determine whether you need to develop a mobile app that offers a specific set of website functionality. Just keep in mind that a user interface designed for mouse clicks isn’t going to work so well with touch devices. Button sizes need to be bigger and functions need to be clearer, and features like swipe and pinch often mean the app experience will be more intuitive and enjoyable.

If a mobile app makes sense, the next question should be -- native or Web app? Your use case will define which to choose:

  • If your service doesn’t or rarely needs an Internet connection to function, a native app is probably right for you.
  • If you only need intermittent Internet access, say to update news feeds, then a Web app might be able to handle it, though a native one could still be the better choice.
  • If you need an Internet connection for the app to function at all, then there might be no point in developing a native app, unless it is an online game or something like a file-sharing or photo app – anything requiring device features not accessible by Web code (even then, emerging Web technologies like HTML5 are making that possible in Web apps).

Native apps have an inherent downside: They need separate code bases for each supported device. That overhead could be significant and yet unnecessary if all you need is a Web app, which is likely to be compatible across different platforms. Again, a good CMS could be all you need to deliver your Web app, so choose carefully. And a good development team will help determine which approach is best, though some developers might have biases on whether to go native or Web, so keep that factor in mind.

And if you don’t have a smartphone yet, it’s well worth investing in one and coming to grips with what is out there. In this ongoing revolution, you don’t want to be left behind.

About the author:
Graeme Blackwood is creative director at Deeson Online, a digital media design agency with clients such as Jimmy Page and BBC Worldwide. He also was creative director for DrupalCon London and is working on the design and mobile user experience initiatives for the Drupal 8 release.

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