Designing An Effective Mobile Website For Patients

While competition within the mobile marketplace is fierce, its user base continues to expand rapidly. According to a Harris Interactive survey, one in five U.S. consumers will own a tablet computer by 2014. Forrester forecasts annual sales of tablets will rise to 82 million by 2015 -- to reach a cumulative sales total of 195 million between 2010 and 2015. Additionally, in February, the smartphone market officially surpassed the PC market. According to IDC, 101 million Smartphones were sold in Q4, versus 92 million PCs.

Why the growth? The mobile web has the unique ability to provide us with on-demand information. On a daily basis, mobile devices provide us with answers to silly questions, price comparisons at the point of sale, access to real-time weather, GPS, transit tracking, and yes, even healthcare information.

So if the rate of adoption is so high, and it can do all of that, why doesn't every company have a mobile website?

My experience has indicated that lack of awareness is the primary culprit. Sure, development costs will ultimately enter into the discussion; however, I've learned that it's not a tough sell if you can demonstrate ROI.



One of my agency's core competencies is recruiting patients for clinical trials. In the past we hadn't really considered mobile websites as a recruitment tool. The data suggested that participating in a clinical trial and accessing a mobile website was an unlikely behavior. However, in the last 12-15 months that behavior has changed.

In January 2010 I was working on a program with a traditional website and no mobile version. Every activity, click, source of entry to the site, etc., was tracked in analytics. Several months into the campaign I realized that mobile traffic was starting to blip in the traffic reports (about 3% of all traffic). What was interesting about the blip was that visitors using mobile devices spent twice as much time on the website than traditional web visitors.

However, the number of page views was exactly the same. The observation here was that long load times on mobile devices were preventing visitors from accessing the information they were looking for when they wanted it. The insight was that a mobile version of the website would enable these motivated patients to participate in the study and provide improved campaign ROI.

A mobile website provides users with a completely different web experience than that of a traditional website. So it's important to follow some best practices in order to provide users with an optimal experience. I am not a programmer, however, it's important that non-programmers understand best practices to effectively manage the process. Here are a few general tips to help ensure that your mobile site is functional across all mobile formats:

  • Each page should be smaller than 100k -- Load times are critical! In general, people are a bit more patient with the mobile web; however, they have limits. If it takes more than 15 - 20 seconds to load a single page in its entirety, it's too slow.
  • Use color backgrounds rather than color images when designing -- Mobile web browsers read images and backgrounds differently and using an image can often result in longer page loads.
  • Limit the number of images -- Images clog the mobile web and are the primary reason for page load delays, so only use when deemed necessary. And if you do use an image, make sure that on screen it is smaller than your thumb (100 x 100 pixels).
  • Design the page for both vertical and horizontal screen display.

After we implemented these best practices into the mobile version of this clinical trial website, page views nearly doubled overnight and time spent on the website increased an additional 20%. Ultimately, mobile devices accounted for about 5% of all website traffic, but represented 8% of all page views, demonstrating that these mobile visitors (over 21,000 unique visitors) were more motivated.

Mobile usage in clinical trials makes for an unlikely case study. However, it is indicative of where mobile is heading. Two years ago I wouldn't even have considered mobile as a viable tool. Today, there are very few instances when I would recommend not including one.

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