Beyond the Digital Frontier
A flexible website can help you drive ahead on the Internet superhighway
By Terry Fine
Entry-level marketing teaches you the importance of managing your messaging—its look, its tone, and its format. How much control do you have over your laboratory’s website? It’s probably not as much as you’d like.
Understanding marketing collateral in traditional media is easy: You have a limited amount of space (column inches or air time), and you fill it with content. Ideally, everyone who encounters it sees it exactly the same way—as you and your creative team developed it.
In reality, visitors rarely have similar experiences when they stop by your website because their choice of browser, operating system, and device affects how your website appears on their screens. In July 2014, 60% of all web traffic came from mobile users, according to comScore. When visitors use the web from a desktop or laptop, their browser choices are equally unpredictable. In July 2014, 45% of desktop users browsed with Chrome, but Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer all commanded between 11% and 21% of views, according to StatCounter.
Combine those with variables in screen sizes, font sets, and scripts, and, unless you’re careful, you have no idea exactly how your website appears when a visitor loads it. How can you regain control of your virtual assets? This may be either with responsive web design or by constructing an app.
Responsive Web Design
Responsive web design principles emerged as the answer to adapt to the myriad variables in screen size and browser preferences. Although using a sniffer to identify a user’s browser and directing him or her to a site customized to display for that platform is one solution, choosing this method proves cumbersome and expensive to maintain. Instead, sites with responsive design are developed so that individual elements “float” independently of each other, sorting themselves according to the screen size and, if necessary, resizing to make your layouts work.
If you think your laboratory’s website doesn’t need to feature a responsive design, think again. As of 2015, 30% of total web traffic directs from mobile devices, according to Statista. Even more importantly, nearly 80% of smartphone users choose their phones for conducting searches rather than desktops, according to Smart Insights. With mobile web usage increasing, Google prefers responsive design to mobile templates, helping with search engine optimization.
A website designed to be responsive doesn’t automatically organize its elements to fit the available space on the screen. Strong responsive design requires elements to adapt to screens’ aspect ratios. For example, a primary menu structure that displays across the width of a desktop version condenses and reformats to the classic “hamburger” menu on a mobile device, freeing up screen space and used only when visitors need it. In addition, secondary text may become hidden on small screens, allowing for easier big-picture navigation.
Responsive design is a powerful web-based solution. But if your laboratory really wants to focus on mobile users, an app may be your best solution. Rather than presenting files to be read by users’ browsers, an app is a self-contained, dedicated program built to connect you directly with your customers’ mobile devices. Many users see an app as superior to mobile browsing: Fifty-five percent of mobile users consider apps more convenient, and 40% say they’re easier to browse than a mobile-optimized website, according to Compuware.
That’s not to say it’s time to call an app developer. Developing and maintaining a mobile app isn’t without its drawbacks. For small laboratory owners, production costs may make them prohibitive. Developers charge $150 to $350 per hour to create an app. Unlike a website, which is often easily updatable by your staff through a content management system, even small changes to an app must be handled by a developer. So performing updates will incur additional costs.
You’ll also need to think about app functionality. Apple is more likely to reject single-function apps, such as fee schedules or others that display mostly static information, as unnecessary, limiting your reach. Even if you develop an app that meets users’ needs and isn’t cost prohibitive, it’s not guaranteed to find traction in the market. Less than 20% of brand apps are downloaded more than 1000 times, according to Harmony Augmented Reality.
Whether it’s with a responsive web design or a custom mobile app, your laboratory will need to adapt your web strategy to meet the changing demands of users who place an ever-increasing importance on mobile browsing. Sticking with your tried-and-true nonresponsive web design isn’t an option if you expect to have a successful website. Users demand the ability to take websites beyond the desktop. Your laboratory’s online presence should be ready to travel with them.
Terry Fine is President of AMG Creative in Fort Collins, Colorado.