June 2013

What Motorcoach Operators Need to Know about Web Responsiveness

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.  

Development
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.  

Cost
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.


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