by: Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor
Smartphones and tablets are everywhere now, requiring motorcoach operators to be certain their websites are as accessible as possible to every customer and potential customer. In response, some carriers are taking the next step and making their websites responsive to be easily read on mobile devices.
According to Internet news blog Mashable, 2012 was an “unusual year in the PC market” because “For the first time since 2001, PC sales are projected to be lower than they were in the previous year.” Consumers are instead purchasing tablets. Tablet sales are expected to exceed 100 million this year. Additionally, according to Nielsen, the majority of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones.
Responsive Web Design (RWD) is the process of creating websites that provide optimal viewing — including reading and navigation with the user having to do very little to adjust their screen, such as resizing, panning and scrolling.
Upgrading to RWD makes it easier for the growing number of customers and potential customers using mobile devices to access your website, especially since most of them are starting their product and service research online, according to Eric Elliott, GM of bus operator and travel provider directory BusRates.com.
“[The majority of] consumers now start everything they do online before they even call,” he says. “[Your] website…gives your customers the ability to see who you are, so when they call you, they’re more of a pre-qualified customer to you, as opposed to just giving you a call, asking questions and requesting pictures.”
That means operators need to develop different, optimized views of their sites on iPhones, Androids and tablets — even views for laptop or desktop monitors of different sizes — to make sure customers are getting to view site in ways that are optimal for them.
BusRates.com is currently in the process of “reskinning,” or, updating the graphical look and feel, of its website, Elliott says. That includes rebuilding it from multiple platforms to implement RWD. The site will be responsive in about four months.
CodeGreen Development built the current BusRates.com website and is adding RWD. David Schohl, partner, CodeGreen, says that the upgrade improves search engine optimization (SEO), getting the operator a higher search ranking, for example, in Google search results. That also lowers the bounce rate.
BusRates and CodeGreen came up with a plan for a responsive site design and created an app for Apple iOS users. Part of that entailed using PhoneGap, an open source framework used to create mobile apps, which allows users to download a free app version of the BusRates site through Android or Apple’s iTunes marketplace. Whether accessing BusRates through the app or going directly to the responsive site, it is the same experience, increasing the usability.
Currently, the BusRates website displays appropriately on a smartphone, but there isn’t anything customized to that device, Elliott explains.
Now, BusRates is in the wireframing phase, which Elliott likens to creating a storyboard or blueprint.
“We’re figuring out what a normal screen resolution is going to be for a basic website visit,” Elliott explains. “From there, [we’ll] design the smartphone, tablet, and website [views and] experiences. If you’re on a lesser or a higher resolution, the goal is to make each user, no matter how they access your site, have the most optimal experience.”
The wireframe phase ensures that the layout of the website is correct. Schohl describes it as stackable black boxes that define where various pieces of information will go. That happens before the design phase, which includes making sure the brand is correct and focusing on the most important aspects, such as the search.
“We want to make sure, in the wireframe, from an architecture standpoint, that the search is in a predominant spot, and [in] the design, the users’ eyes go there,” Schohl says.
For operators looking to start the RWD process, Schohl says the first step is to take the time to carefully choose a developer. Make sure they have examples of previous work to share and a strategy for building the website.
Second, he urges, to make sure your site has well-written copy. “Otherwise, the website is not going to do well in the search engine. People are not going to read it,” Schohl says.
Elliott advises other operators to employ RWD as soon as possible, given the number of users who are starting their research for products and services through mobile devices.
He adds that it’s better to build a website with five or 10 very sound pages that are completely filled out and have good photos of the operator’s vehicles, than to have 20 or 30 pages.
“If you’re going to create a page, provide the information so the user can really understand who you are, because it all works into that pre-qualification and pre-selling process before they even call you,” he says.
The cost to implement RWD is based on the level of functionality the company chooses. A basic “brochure” website, with just the company overview and its buses, for example, runs at about $5,000, Schohl says.
Operators should expect to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 to work with a company to build a site that meets their requirements to grow their business and achieve their goals.
“You have a lot of companies who think they can get something for $2,500 to $7,000, but just seeing that work, as opposed to people spending $5,000- to $10,000-plus, it really is night and day as far as what the product ends up being,” Elliott adds. That range provides a responsive site that has a good format and customized design and strategy to make sure companies are able to generate more business and leads, and have something they’re really proud of, Schohl says.
“Certainly, you could do a responsive WordPress template, for $500,” Schohl says. “Is that really going to work for you? You get what you pay for.”
In terms of staffing, typically, one or two people are all that is needed. The timeline is generally three to four months, but for some bus operators, who are just looking for a Web presence with about five or six content pages and a simple design, they can roll out a redesign in about one to three months.
“BusRates is a large website, compared to, say, a mom-and-pop operation running two buses, that is not going to do any scheduling or anything online,” Schohl says. In that case, a brochure website may be the best way to go.
A responsive website can generate more leads and revenue since more people will have quicker access to it. It will also end up saving money in the long run if an operator already has a mobile-friendly site, similar to BusRates.
To ensure a bump in business and leads, each version of the site should also have the same, most up-to-date content, so there’s no concern about customers viewing one version of it and not getting the right information, or leaving because they didn’t get the information they needed, or the format was difficult to access.
“You’re going to get more people being able to use the website effectively and improve search engine optimization, [if you] have the same content no matter what view [they’re using,]” Schohl says.
Additionally, because a responsive site is modularly built, it’s easier to make additions, such as a Facebook module or Twitter feed, making it more flexible for updating, he adds. “Before, you might have been locked into a very strict architecture. The responsiveness makes it a more fluid site,” Schohl says.
While the RWD process was easy with support from the company that handles its advertising, it’s important to stay on top of the process after the rollout, Maureen Penfold, director of marketing, VIP Tours of Portland, Maine, says.
Getting ahead of the curve by adding RWD, VIP optimized the website viewing experience for its users with mobile devices.
“For us, it’s all about having easy reading and navigation of our site,” Penfold says. “Whatever device somebody is using, it’s easy for them to find what they’re looking for.”
VIP had been hearing about RWD for the last couple of years, but was only recently able to set aside the time to learn how to utilize it. Staff members started looking into it last November and rolled it out for customers at the beginning of 2013.
“It wasn’t a very long process,” Penfold recalls. “The information is readily available, and there are a lot of companies now that offer services to help you.”
VIP used the multimedia company LocalEdge, Hearst Media Services Co., which had previously been its representative for phone books for the last few years but had since moved into digital media.
“We discussed their new option and decided to move forward with a new advertising package to take the place of our phone book ad,” Penfold says.
That includes a mobile website for optimized viewing, a landing page — a page that appears when a user clicks on a SEO-optimized search result or ad — and a video for VIP to put on its landing page to advertise specific tours. The operator uses the landing page to get its audience to find what it’s promoting with certain keywords.
VIP provided LocalEdge with photos and the most pertinent information for its customers to access phone numbers, key services and a way to submit quote requests.
The operator pays a monthly fee of about $225 a month for its service package.
After only a few months in use, the benefits are already apparent; VIP has seen a spike in the number of charters booked through the mobile website and landing page. Additionally, the operator can see which mobile devices the email inquiries are coming from.
The only challenge, Penfold says, was remembering to take the extra step to ensure the technology was working correctly, so customers weren’t submitting inquiries and then not getting responses. Customer email inquiries from the mobile site to VIP’s email inbox were getting lost for a couple weeks, she explains.
“We did miss a few potential leads [before] we realized we had an issue and worked it out.”
For other operators planning RWD, Penfold suggests taking the time to learn about and test the technology.
“[At first] we didn’t realize we weren’t getting mobile quote requests until we tried it out on our end and realized we weren’t getting the response in emails,” she recalls. “You have to test and understand what you’re working with to know that you’re not missing something,” Penfold says. “You have to get comfortable with it so you can work with your customers. The last thing any of us want to do is not get back to our customers. It’s all about having effective responses for [them].”
Wondering where to start your RWD project? David Schohl, partner, CodeGreen Development, shares some tips here.