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Make your website smartphone friendly

10 January 2012

How do you create a mobile version of your organisation’s website on a budget? Gingerbread’s former head of communications and marketing Lucy Devine offers her advice 

How you get your information out to your client group is every charity’s key concern. Gingerbread is the charity for single parent families. There are 1.9 million single parents in Britain, and naturally we want to reach as many of them as possible.

But as a relatively small organisation, there are only so many people to answer the helpline phones or run sessions at children’s centres. For the last couple of years, heading online has seemed the obvious answer.

Gingerbread flourishes online – our advice is regularly downloaded, our community forums buzz with single parents wanting to chat, and our campaign updates spark impassioned debate on our social networks. There’s just one problem. Like many others, our charity deals with a section of society more likely than most to be in poverty, and less likely than most to have the disposable income to get a laptop, or a job in which spending time on the internet is an option. So what is the solution?

Research with target audience 

Our starting point had to be research with single parents. To save costs, we undertake research in-house. We regularly invite around 10 parents into our offices (with childcare costs covered) and spend two to three hours talking in depth about what they need from us and what they think we should be doing next. We also survey our 30,000+ members each year, asking questions about what they think of our policies and campaigns, but also about their lifestyles.

52% of our members told us they have a mobile with internet access, and according to the ONS’ 2011 figures, nearly half (46%) of the population that has a mobile has a smartphone. As contract costs come tumbling down, mobile is becoming a more and more affordable way for cash-strapped single parents to access the wealth of information on the web. To build a mobile version of our website seemed an obvious priority.

We included plans for a mobile site in a successful statutory advice bid and ended up with a budget of around £15,000 to create it – not a huge amount for such a major project by anyone’s reckoning. The planning and build was done to a very tight schedule. The funding bid was approved at the end of July, with the site planned, tested and launched by the start of October. Here are our top tips from that (rapid) learning curve:

  • When thinking of going mobile, don’t get distracted by an app. 

It’s a tempting thought, but creating a mobile site using your existing content is often more effective, and nearly always cheaper.

  • Think carefully about who will use it.

Our website has a wide reach including single parents, practitioners, the media and policy makers, but we knew single parents would be the main users of a mobile version. As such, our mobile site content is tailored overwhelmingly to their needs. You may well need to have feedback from focus groups and analytics to justify that to other teams or senior managers.

  • Spend more time than you think on your sitemap – that’s where the real work needs to be done.

You have far fewer menu options than on a full desktop site, so whittle them down and test them with non-comms colleagues as you go to sense-check what you’re developing.

  • Less is more.

Writing for the web means being brief and action-focused. Writing for mobile sites means taking that thought and going even further. Be incredibly strict with yourself on content.

  • Integrate.

You’re embracing mobile technology, so embrace all of what it’s used for – make sure you have prominent social media links, and options to send content pages to friends.

  • Test, test, test!

Get all of your colleagues and friends to test the site on as many different phones as possible. Web agencies tend to have trendy employees with high spec phones – and while your site might look great on the newest iPhone model, it might not be the same for older versions.

The site is still new for us, and we always planned it to be a developing, changing function of our communications rather than a completed project. But this December, the proportion of unique visitors accessing our website via their mobiles topped 12% for the first time. It’s a stat that we’re confident is only going to go one way, so now is the time – if you can scrape together that budget – to make sure your site works on smartphones too.

Lucy Devine

director of communications, Stonewall

Lucy has worked in charity communications for the last 15 years, in situations ranging from being the only comms person in a tiny charity, to managing a team of over 20 dedicated professionals for a major charity brand. Throughout those roles, it has been the potential of strong communications to help deliver social justice that has kept her going through late-night website launches and weekend press calls.
She is currently director of communications for Stonewall, Europe's largest LGBT charity. In that role she is responsible for Stonewall's brand and brand development, as well as the PR, digital and creative teams. Other more recent roles have included leading the communications team at Mencap, and before that for Gingerbread.