Designing for the Best Possible Mobile Experience

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In recent years, desktop Internet usage has fallen while mobile usage has increased. Last year, Google confirmed that “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.” If you think the Internet is big, mobile is 10x bigger. Did you know that Google won’t show your website in mobile searches if it isn’t mobile-friendly? But, what does “mobile-friendly” actually mean. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how to design for the best possible mobile user experience of your site

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Texas Wesleyan Ups Responsive Design

As mobile use surges, our partners at Texas Wesleyan University are making a strong commitment to be mobile-friendly. In partnership with Sanmita, Texas Wesleyan is upgrading its entire website to adapt to any device and screen size. We are thrilled to do more with our excellent partners at Texas Wesleyan!

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Sanmita is redeveloping the underlying architecture of the Texas Wesleyan website to allow the entire site to be responsive. This is our latest project with Texas Wesleyan as the school upgrades its web products. Recently, Sanmita converted the university’s homepage and admissions section to be responsive. We are also developing an interactive calendar feature that will have the look and feel of a mobile app. The calendar will be integrated into the website, eliminating any obstacle of downloading an app to use the feature.

Texas Wesleyan’s moves come at a time when it is critical for higher education to be mobile-friendly. Mobile is becoming an essential tool in higher ed  marketing and recruiting. A survey of college students shows 89% own a smartphone.  Younger Americans are increasingly using their mobile devices for web browsing; In 2013, 68% of prospective students said they visited college websites on a mobile device. A responsive site helps ensure these mobile-savvy students will have a positive user experience and easily access essential information.  Texas Wesleyan University understands these trends and wants its website to meet these demands.

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What Would Venus de Milo Say? The Importance of Mobile Design for Non-Profits

pickford quoteWe’ve been working with Wharton Studio Museum, a cinematic non-profit here in Ithaca, and came across an amusing post on their Facebook page that got us thinking. It was a meme that featured a quote attributed to Mary Pickford: “Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo.”

Today of course, we laugh at such a short-sighted statement. But it’s also interesting to consider how reluctantly new technologies can come to be embraced.

Take for example, responsive mobile technology for websites. This is what allows a website to optimize it’s appearance and functionality in response to whatever device is being used for viewing, such as a laptop, tablet, or phone. Responsive design is all the buzz in the world of commercial web development, but it’s lagging in the non-profit world. As of 2014, 84% of non-profit donation landing pages are still not optimized for mobile use (according to Online Fundraising Scorecard).

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Have You Tried Our Free Responsive Site Tester?

Do you know how your website looks and performs on different mobile devices?

Sanmita offers a totally free, easy to use online app to test how your website appears across devices. But first, let’s talk about why you need to use it!

According to Microsoft, one half of all local searches are performed on mobile devices. And that trend is only increasing with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets. What does that mean for your website?

If your website isn’t functioning properly on mobile devices, you will lose customers and supporters. Checking mobile functionality has become a vital part of basic website maintenance!

Here’s what you should check your site for:

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Making International Connections

Higher education is increasingly an international affair. U.S. schools are eagerly growing their international enrollment, which adds diversity to the student body and, eventually, to its alumni. Competition for these foreign students is already fierce and, every school year, grows more competitive. A strong mobile product is key to reaching foreign students.  (Just in case we needed to give you another reason to be mobile-ready!)

Need some evidence? New data backs us up. In 2014, 28% of international students used mobile devices (that includes smartphones and tablets) to search the Internet, according to research by the Noel-Levitz firm. That figure shows steady growth from last year, when 17% of foreign students reported using mobile devices for web searching.

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Specifically for higher education, 60% of international students surveyed said they looked at school websites on a mobile device. That’s in line with American students’ behavior. In 2013, 68% of American students said they looked at higher ed websites on smartphones or tablets, according to a recent Noel-Levitz report.

A university or college’s website is its key digital marketing tool and essential to recruiting, both domestically and internationally. Unlike many American students who go on college tours to visit potential schools, most international students enroll without ever visiting campus. Their experience with a school is shaped largely by their digital introduction.

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Mobile Use Surges, Smartphones Lead Charge

Across the U.S. and on college campuses, mobile use is exploding. Mobile is no longer the future — it is very much front and center. Now, new research offers some fresh ideas on which devices mobile users favor and what content they are seeking. This is valuable information for higher education web and IT staff.

College students, quite simply, can’t live without their smartphones. An overwhelming 89% of college students own smartphones, according to a new report from Ball State University.  And the ownership has grown quickly. In 2009, about half of college students owned smartphones. The vast majority, 92%, use their phones to access social media, up from 49% four years ago. In addition, in 2014, 74% of college students used their smartphones daily to browse the Internet. Watching video on smartphones has become increasingly popular, with 82% of students reporting using their phones for video in 2014, compared to just 24% in 2009.

These figures offer a few lessons for higher education:

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Grading Higher Ed Mobile Efforts

Since our client, the College of Saint Rose launched its mobile site (check it out from your smartphone or on our responsive site tester — it looks fantastic!), we’ve been analyzing how other schools are adapting to mobile technology.  The results, as far as we’ve seen, are mixed. Some universities have sharp, well-conceived mobile sites. They offer the most important information (Admissions, Academics, News, Financial Info, Visiting Info) with a clean, uncluttered design. We love this!

These schools understand that mobile products are essential for higher ed recruiting. Young people are spending more time on mobile devices and mobile browsing. In 2013, 68% of prospective students say they have looked at a college web site on a mobile device, according to a study from higher education consulting firm Noel-Levitz.  To reach prospective students, your school needs to be in the right technological spots.

Unfortunately, many higher ed institutions are lagging behind. They’re relying on their desktop sites to work across platforms. A survey of 200 private and public schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania showed 70% lacked any mobile products and 50% were seen as have deficient mobile products, either because of inferior technology, poor content or both, according to The Princeton Partners. Those are incredibly disappointing results.

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The College of Saint Rose Mobile Site Goes Live

The College of Saint Rose is sporting a new look these days — at least on handheld devices. On February 16, the college’s mobile site went live, transforming its website into a responsive design that adapts to any screen size.  Sanmita and College of Saint Rose collaborated on the site’s features, and Sanmita developed the responsive design and mobile site. The end result is a functional, streamlined and attractive mobile experience.Picture 3

What’s particularly exciting for us is that the College of Saint Rose’s mobile site uses Sanmita’s Smart Filter plugin. Our plugin can virtually take any website and convert it to a responsive site.  Our Smart Filter plugin works with any content management system (CMS) and can make a website responsive in about one-third the time that it would take to create an entirely new mobile website.  If a client desires, Sanmita can implement the tool and also provide plugin hosting.

Sanmita has already helped major universities like Tulane University, Texas Wesleyan University, and the University of North Texas, Dallas with their mobile web strategies. Want to see how your school’s site would look on a smartphone, tablet and desktop computer? Try our complimentary responsive design testing tool.

For the College of Saint Rose project, Sanmita worked with the school’s existing website and CMS. Although we were unfamiliar with the school’s CMS, we successfully navigated the system with help from the college’s web team to build the new site. Our vast experience with higher education websites means we are up for challenges like this one.

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Student Feedback On Social Media

We all know social media is a fantastic way to connect with prospective students. Young adults are heavy consumers of technology and avid social media users. But how they’re using social media — and where they’re spending their time — changes all the time.

Now there is some fresh data to help guide your strategy. Social media is critical in college searches, with 68% of prospective students saying they social media is influential in their college research, according to the 2014 Social Admissions Report by Chegg, Zinch, and Uversity.

Seventy-three percent of students surveyed say colleges and universities should have a social media presence, but many felt the content available is not relevant.

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Alerts in the Digital Age

Remember the days when a snowstorm was raging in your town and you’d have to wait for news on the radio to hear if your school or work was closed? Social media and mobile devices have radically changed all that. We’re in the middle of (yet) another snowstorm in Ithaca, NY and, early this morning, I received word of our local school closing from 5 sources (text alert, Twitter update, Facebook status, email and a phone call).

Ithaca-area colleges, including Ithaca College, Cornell University and Tompkins Cortland Community College, also used Twitter and Facebook to keep their communities updated. (Oddly, Cornell’s dedicated weather Twitter account @Cornell_Weather was silent on news of the storm or Cornell’s delayed opening.)

Moments like this are another reminder of how technology is revolutionizing alert systems. It is also a good time to revisit your alert policies for weather or security notifications. Here are a few suggestions:

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