Mobile first is not mobile only

If your website is the front door for your audiences — most importantly prospective and current students — then mobile is the driveway. Consider these points to make it the best possible experience.

1. Mobile should never be an afterthought.

By thinking about your mobile site first, you’re forced to construct a hierarchy and think about efficiency. The smallest screen will require your site’s leanest version, containing only what’s essential. Sure, your full website will have more content. But when your target audience is Gen Z — who spend more than 80 percent of their digital time on a smartphone and who have an eight-second attention span — an optimized mobile experience is everything.

2. Mobile first is not mobile only.

You know that the mobile experience is paramount, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration for your institution’s digital presence. You never know how a prospective student, a parent, or an alum might find you on the web. Remember the driveway metaphor? Your mobile site should get the user to your front door — the desktop version of your website. If the former is well designed, simple, and quick loading, then the latter should be too.

Once a strong mobile experience is established, you can then build on that foundation. The desktop site can answer questions more thoroughly and offer more details. More important, it should give users a fuller experience of your university’s story and offer. One caveat: as you add to the full site, don’t overdo it. It’s possible to go too far with the bells and whistles — adding load time and confusing navigation.

3. The experiences should be consistent.

We’ve encountered websites whose mobile and desktop versions look utterly different — different designs, colors, typefaces, and content. This should never happen. When someone notices (and they will), you’re liable to lose them, and you’ll certainly confuse them.

But here’s the tricky part: the two sites shouldn’t be identical either. Why make your way from the driveway to the front door if you’ve already seen all there is to see? Instead, take advantage of the many nuances of mobile and desktop, including the features that work best on each platform. For example, smartphone users expect vertical video, which lends itself to bite-size visual storytelling. On desktops, horizontal video easily converts to full screen, which can draw users in further and offer a richer story.

4. Reach your audience where they are.

Your website is a great admissions tool only if it reaches your audience in the right way and in the right place. Students have a million things going on, and most of that revolves around their phone. It’s where they are. And you have to connect with them between texting their friends and going for the longest Snapstreak, snagging finite glimpses of time to get their attention.

If a prospective student can’t find basic information on your mobile site, you’ve probably already lost them. Whether you’re promoting a new program, plugging a campus event, or sharing an important announcement, ask: “Where are they most likely to see this?”

5. Think in terms of screens, not devices.

Your audience can find you and interact with your brand through various apps and social media, too. Don’t silo yourself into individual experiences. It’s crucial to not take the same content and blast it identically across your website, email, and all social channels. Instead, contemplate how you can play to the strengths of your website’s features, and how some of that content might translate onto Instagram or Snapchat.

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Remember, design for mobile first, create an experience that’s consistent yet strategic across all touchpoints, and know your audience.