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Mobile app dev at heart of website redesign

A website redesign with ROI in mind meant bringing Maxim magazine readers' favorite features to their favorite devices.

Michael Le Du and his development team have become rather successful at getting beautiful women to share pictures of themselves. In fact, they make it look easy. Lest there be some misunderstanding, there's nothing untoward happening here -- just a little website redesign.

Le Du is chief technology officer at New York City-based Maxim magazine, which is published by Alpha Media Group Inc. Here, the good-looking gal next door is good for ROI. He is one of a growing number of IT leaders rethinking their website design strategies as business and customer needs continue to shift to a consumer-friendly, mobile-app-centric world. 

In January the popular men's lifestyle magazine relaunched its website with an eye toward an enhanced mobile user experience and back-end agility. Le Du successfully got Maxim off its legacy content management system and onto an open source CMS in partnership with Acquia Inc., a commercial open source software vendor for the Drupal open source Web development platform.

App dev a way to improve user experience

"Hometown Hotties" was part of Maxim's ambitious three-month website redesign. The "hotties" also happen to be a good example of the growing importance of mobile app dev in enhancing the user experience. What's good for the user is good for the business. 

Hometown Hotties is a longstanding Maxim feature. Essentially, women submit images and information about themselves from any device. Site users vote for their favorites, and the women with the most votes move on to increasingly competitive rounds until a favorite is chosen and becomes a Hometown Hottie. The winner becomes a spokesperson for Maxim -- which wins too, in that it gains new promotional options.

Mobile consumption is on the rise and is only going to get bigger.

"So, we built [Hometown Hotties] as an application on the website. In the past, we would go out and get a third party to build that because we didn't have the internal capability, but now we do," Le Du said. "It's an application we built on the site for our users to run that program, and it helps advertisers because we create engagement."

Le Du's website redesign team applied similar mobile and interactive capabilities to its "Maximum Warrior" feature, a tournament-style string of physical challenges pitting a civilian against a former military operative.

"There's always pressure, and more things need to be done than there are resources to do them; but that's always been a challenge, so I don't think that's changed the story so much," Le Du said. "What I can say is [that] the tools to execute these things and create good user experiences are much better than they were, so you can be quicker at building them out. Things like HTML5, CSS3 [Cascading Style Sheets level 3] and Java Script certainly help quite a bit."

Website redesign creates a full menu, serves it fast

The Hottie and Warrior features are part of the full breadth of content that users can access using any device, be it a BlackBerry or an iPad, and have the same experience. It's a fairly new type of Web design, Le Du said, but something consumers already expect. Even if they're not using a native app, they want that clean, app-like experience.

"[Delivering a native-app-like experience] is something you always have to think about in Web design, and it's worthwhile because mobile consumption is on the rise and is only going to get bigger," Le Du said. "It's how websites can get functionality that previously only standalone applications could."

Maxim's publisher is a media organization, but those words -- easier, faster, from any device -- should be top-of-mind for any business, noted analyst Ian Finley of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

"If you're thinking about reaching people on mobile devices either through an app running on a device or a Web page suitable for using in a mobile environment, [a November 2011 report from] Pew Research said 42% of U.S. adults have cell phones with apps on them, that's a huge number. Nineteen percent of Americans have tablets, a dramatic increase from six months ago, when it was 11%," Finley said. "All of that is pointing to the fact that there's a brand-new place to reach consumers; and if your competitors are doing it and you aren't, it looks like you don't care anymore. It's like the early days of the Web [when] you had to keep up with the Joneses or people go elsewhere."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

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