With sales of Web-enabled smartphones exploding worldwide— experts from RBC Capital Markets expect smartphone sales to eclipse worldwide PC sales by the end of 2011—marketers are looking for ways to tap the full reach and revenue potential of the mobile Web. Delivering rich and engaging mobile websites that offer the ease-of-use and convenience users are accustomed to on desktop computers is a key component in successful mobile strategies.
Use of the mobile Web as a commerce platform has grown significantly in recent years, as well. Almost half of all Web-enabled phone owners make purchases from their devices. And beyond purchasing, shoppers use mobile devices to augment the decision-making process while they're perusing store aisles—for example, reading reviews, comparing products and prices, and determining if a particular product is in stock.
By virtue of this convenience, the mobile Web offers marketers opportunities to engage and connect with customers right at the point of sale. Smart marketers who are eager to deliver the highest-quality, most compelling mobile website experiences can leverage the following best practices to set their mobile websites apart from those of the competition:
1. Determine Your Customer's Needs
Marketers must first determine how they can best serve their mobile website customers. Options include streamlining conventional Internet sites, delivering a mobile-optimized site, or offering native mobile applications. Companies that use simple Web designs without a lot of large photos or rich media may be able to let mobile users interact with their conventional websites (for more on this option, see sidebar). But that's not often the case today. Unless your site is incredibly simple, you may be better off developing a mobile-optimized version of the site designed for viewing on the small screen.
For instance, mobile websites may be better off offering just a few category selections which take users to the most popular buying areas, or using a lot of links to limit the amount of information that must be loaded per page. Custom mobile apps are also an option, but marketers should consider the demands they put on the customer, such as having to download and install the app. This can create a barrier to entry, because not every customer is willing to devote the time—and the data, for those who don't have an unlimited plan—to download the app in order to access your wares on a mobile device.
2. Design for Their Devices
The sheer number of mobile browser and device combinations in use today makes it impossible for marketers to optimize mobile websites for each and every user segment around the world. The key is to prioritize.
Track your mobile site views and which browsers and devices represent your heaviest site traffic. Make sure your content renders (i.e., "fits" and displays) properly and downloads as quickly as possible on those devices. There also are tools available that provide a quick view of how your mobile website content is rendering on the most popular mobile platforms. It's not critical that you optimize your mobile website for the latest, most advanced smartphone to hit the market—your customers may still be using BlackBerry devices or Sidekicks.
As devices and browser versions continue to proliferate, you can leverage detection logic to pinpoint the specific mobile devices visiting your site and send the best version of your site to that browser. This will ensure you're not sending full site content to devices that can't accommodate it.
3. Speed Over Functionality
In most industries, mobile website speed still trumps feature-richness when it comes to the overall quality of the user experience. Before adding any "heavy" content to your mobile website—video, product catalogs or graphics—know how the user experience may be impacted on your customers' preferred devices/browsers and decide if the richer content is worth the potential trade-off in speed.
4. Optimize Mobile Applications
Mobile applications offer marketers another opportunity to connect with customers, particularly by pushing coupons and sales. Mobile apps that are slow or unreliable might mean the loss of fleeting sales opportunities, or worse, create an opportunity for a competitor whose apps reach customers faster. It is imperative that you measure and optimize the performance of your mobile apps as part of your overall mobile Web strategy, particularly in anticipation of heavy deals and incentive periods like the holidays.
5. Trust Only the
It's impossible to truly understand how your mobile website and applications are performing, unless you have direct insight into your customers' experiences around the world. There are a large number of variables—both within and beyond your direct control—that impact what your customer ultimately experiences, including ISPs, carriers, devices, browsers and application designs. Only the customer perspective holistically encompasses all of this complexity and enables marketers to proactively identify and address performance bottlenecks—ideally before mobile users are impacted.
For example, you may detect a slowdown for a particular segment of customers and trace the source of the problem to your mobile site content—it needs to be lightened. Or, you may find a slow Internet infrastructure in a particular region of the world is the problem. In this case, you can enlist the help of a content delivery network (CDN) to expedite content delivery. Today's CDNs excel in delivering content to the mobile Web just as they do for the traditional Web.
6. Leverage Benchmarks
Use benchmarking as a foundation for your mobile Web performance optimization efforts. Benchmarking is a valuable tool in today's competitive online marketplace, because you can't efficiently improve mobile website or app performance without first understanding previous performance levels or performance in comparison to your key competitors and industry leaders.
Today's benchmarks offer an expanded view of how businesses perform across a variety of mobile platforms, while also compiling metrics into a summary view so marketers can easily see how their performance stacks up. You can also use this information to galvanize support across your organization for mobile website performance optimization initiatives.
The tremendous marketing opportunities presented by the mobile Web increase the stakes for being able to deliver a high-quality customer experience. Have you ever looked aimlessly for a product in a store, only to leave in frustration because you can't find a salesperson to help you? This is exactly the impression you'll leave with customers if your mobile website is slow, unreliable or fails to render content properly.
The increasing ubiquity of mobile devices means your customers are no longer walled off from your competitors once they enter your physical store. Your competitors are, in fact, doing everything they can to win over your would-be customers through quick, reliable and convenient mobile experiences. Marketers who best understand and embrace mobile website performance as a business strategy are best positioned to take advantage of all the mobile Web has to offer—opportunities to attract new customers; forge deeper, stronger relationships with existing ones; and increase revenues.