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Tips on designing mobile Web sites

By Len Shneyder

In a world that is big on standards but short on implementation, I'm going to take a firm stand on what appears to be common oversights in the design of mobile Web sites.

During a recent hunt of large brands on the small screen of my smartphone I began to wonder if there was any consensus on the sub-domain or folder nomenclature used by companies to denote a mobile site. This shouldn't come as a surprise when I say I was unable to find any rules. But I did notice some general trends.

The most common way of creating a mobile domain or mobile site is to create a sub-domain http://m.widget.com where m=mobile. Other variations included http://mobile.widget.com and http://www.widget.com/mobile and, in one case, http://wireless.widget.com.

All of these variations are perfectly valid and all of them fit into the general structure of "m" as the designation or commonly anticipated designator of a mobile site.

However, think small. Your users are fat-fingering words, names and numbers on those tiny QWERTY keyboards constantly. So what's easier to spell -- m or mobile?

But is there even a need to spell it correctly?

Well-coded Web sites should have the ability to automatically redirect requests from mobile browsers to the appropriate mobile site.

Mobile browsers identify themselves through a user agent string when they issue a request to pull down an HTML page at which point the site should serve up the mobile version if a mobile browser properly identifies itself.

I've run across several large brands that have mobile iterations, but are not automatically serving them up when called from a mobile device. Go the extra mile. It may compel users to return to your site on their desktop if they have a good experience on their handheld.

To make this a trifecta of recommendations let's consider the <title> of your mobile page.

Again the rule of thumb here is short and to the point. Try and avoid pitching your company's core competency in the page's title -- "Widgets.com, the market leader in all things widget."

Do the selling or pitching of services on the site and not in the title, because if someone chooses to bookmark this page the default name of the bookmark is essentially the name contained between the <title></title> tags.

Here's an example of a title that's direct and to the point: <title>CNET Mobile</title>. Facebook's title tag is fairly short but could stand to be shorter: <title>Facebook | Welcome To Facebook</title>. MySpace's title is short but lacks any identifying criteria <title>Member Login</title>.

I doubt that with all my bookmarks that I'd remember Member Login = MySpace when I haphazardly scroll through the list to find something.

There are lots of small nuances to take into consideration.

Mobile presence is about streamlining not only your offering but a user's experience of your mobile presence. Think down the chain of events and how each keystroke represents precious time.

Smartphones are here to help us be more efficient. Don't be the weak link in the chain of the user's mobile experience.

Len Shneyder is director of partner relations and industry communications at Pivotal Veracity, a deliverability services and consultancy provider in Phoenix. Reach him at