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Should You Build Your Author Website for a Mobile Device?

This past Saturday, I had the privilege of speaking at the ASJA conference. The workshop I was a presenter in was, of course, about author websites. One of the questions that came up during one of my colleague’s presentations had to do with the use of mobile phones for searching the net.

A poll was taken among the attendees about their use of mobile devices. Almost everyone who was sitting in the room at the time of the workshop had a smart phone of some kind on hand (iPhone, Blackberry, etc…). And a good chunk of them admitted to making a purchase on that phone sometime recently. The truth is that the number of people using their mobile devices (instead of desktops or laptops) is only increasing over time.

So that leads to this question: Should we always design a mobile version of an author website in conjunction with the traditionally designed site? Or should we go to the other end of the spectrum and design a beautiful, breathtaking site that won’t appear properly on a mobile? That’s a question that doesn’t have a definitive answer, but maybe the resolution is somewhere in the middle.

No one knows for sure exactly what direction technology is going in. If someone did, they’d be a billionaire! But for now, we do know one thing about people’s use of their smart phones. People like to browse news the web on their mobile devices. They also tend to use their mobile devices to find information — like where they can find the nearest Mexican restaurant, or what time the next train is.

But neither of those things is really relevant to an author website, is it? I mean, what’s the likelihood that next time you’re sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, you’ll just happen to wind up on an author’s website. Probably not very high. Which means that most authors probably wouldn’t get the best bang for their buck if they developed a second, mobile-friendly, version of their website.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore mobile devices altogether when you’re building your site. There will probably be a few people who wind up on your website on their iPhone or Blackberry. And you should make sure that the site is at least viewable to them — even if they can’t use it the same way someone on a desktop could.

So that brings us to “the answer” to this question (at least, the best answer I have come up with). Build your attractive author website. But make sure that it’s not going to be completely unusable on a mobile phone. To do that, you should:

  • Avoid using Flash at all costs!
  • Create a simple, text-based navigation
  • Convey as much information as possible in text, not graphics or photos
  • Keep your background light and your text dark so that it’s easy to read
  • Avoid having a large header design that mobile users would have to scroll below to get to the content

If you’re working with a good designer, you truly can have the best of both worlds: an attractive website that’s functional on a mobile phone.

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