About a year ago, when I was going to work out at the gym on a Saturday morning with my 6-month-old son, I experienced a technology blunder that reminded me that a club’s mobile presence is more important than ever.

I was going to one of my clubs in a different part of town, and as I pulled into the parking lot of the facility, I realized that I was unsure if the child care program would be open. Because I didn’t want to take my son out of the car without knowing the situation, I stayed in the car and reached for my cell phone.

This is where I am suppose to be able to say that technology was my friend and my gym had an easy-to-navigate mobile site. But that Saturday morning, my club did not save me. The non-mobile friendly site with impossible-to-navigate, hover-over drop-down menus could not answer my question because I could not click on the right option with my fat thumbs—and even if I could have, the script was much too small to read.

This experience emphasizes how important it is for your club—whether you have one location or many—to have a mobile presence. As a part of the service industry, we have a job to make members happy. In this day and age, that means offering information that is accessible in a mobile format.

To create this convenience in mobile form, you must first decide between offering a mobile website or a mobile application.

A mobile website is a scaled version of a traditional website that you see on your computer. It is created with different dimensions so consumers can navigate a page that easily fits their phones. The existence of a mobile site is automatically detected by your phone or tablet. On the other hand, an app is a program on a mobile device that is not opened by an Internet browser. An app can cost more money to develop, but it can be even more refined to offer information your members need most, such as class times, closings or interactive scheduling functions.

These two mobile versions have many differences, but the advantages to having a mobile site rather than an app are fairly significant, especially in these two areas:

Cost. An app can cost up to $10,000 to develop, depending on the functionality you want. A mobile site can be created by your web developer, who can easily scale down portions of your already present website.

To build a mobile version of your website, you should be able to use your current web developer. This responsive design automatically configures the content of the site to the sizes and shapes of the viewers' screens. It provides the same information as the normal website but varies in look due to different screen sizes.

Time. An app can take longer to create compared to a mobile site, which can be updated simultaneously with a standard website. A mobile site also decreases the time that it takes for a developer or content manager to update content.

Whether you choose to develop an app or a mobile website, a mobile version of your website makes sense. It allows you to select and serve specific information that is most pertinent to users on the go, such as calendars, hours of operation and contact information. The site is built for smaller screens with larger links and buttons, streamlines code for fast load times and can serve specific information from your normal website, depending on what the web developer programs it to do.

So what should the mobile site look like? Here are some design options you should use:

  • Use large buttons. Make it easy for prospective or current members to use your site.
  • Stay “above the fold.” Newspaper editors make sure to keep the important information above the fold of the newspaper as many people may never turn it over to see what is below the fold. This thought is adapted for the mobile web, too. Try to keep your information on one screen so the visitor does not have to scroll, but if you have to make them scroll, then keep the priorities at the top.
  • Give the option to link to the full site. When you create a mobile site, you should not migrate your full traditional website to the mobile site, but not having access to the full site can be frustrating for visitors, so make sure to give them access in case they want it.
  • Space out the buttons/links. I refuse to go to Sports Illustrated’s mobile site because its sports links are spaced too tightly and I constantly hit the wrong one.

The content you include on the site will depend on which pages are visited the most on your standard website. You can use some sort of measurement, such as the free Google Analytics tool. Using a website visits measuring title is essential for you to know what members care about, what to invest in, what to update frequently and what to include on a mobile site.

The member interests and demands will vary depending on the type of club you operate, your location and your member demographics, but here are things that typically should be included:

Group exercise schedules. Every fitness center I have worked with has had a strong demand in group fitness classes from its members. This is always one of the most visited pages. This area should be easy to read and easy to navigate.

Location listing. Companies with multiple locations must include a list of locations. You can include plug-ins to allow GPS to pinpoint the person’s location and direct them to your closest location.

Guest pass. Research will show who is visiting your mobile site: prospective or current members. My research shows that prospective members make up approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of a mobile site’s visitors. Because of that, you will want to offer a guest pass on your site. You can do so in one of two ways. The first way uses an information capture form for name, email and phone number. This method is ideal for marketers and salespeople but not for consumers. The second option is to have a “Try us free!” button that will take prospective members to a JPEG or static image that they can show to the front desk for a free guest pass. You can try them both, but you are more likely to get more people from the second option. Base this decision off of your surrounding demographics and the skill of your front desk and salespeople.

Social media links. If you are reading this article, you likely are up-to-date with social media essentials: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and FourSquare. (Sorry, Google Plus. You did not make the cut.)

Which clubs do mobile sites the best right now? Check them out on your smartphone to see for yourself. Two good ones I found are Gold’s Gym (offers a free seven-day pass with information capture and an opt-in to get future updates and promotions) and the YMCA of Houston (includes special offers, membership, locations, social media links, text opt-in and a free guest pass).

BIO

David Buzo is the owner of MONA Group, specializing in social media, website design and digital advertising. He spoke on the social media panel at Club Industry 2011. You can reach him at david@monamarketing.com or on Twitter at @MONAgroupMKTG. Jessica Norman, also with the MONA Group, contributed to this article.