Your Mobile Internet Tsunami

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Leading technology market research firms Gartner, Yankee Group and International Data Corp. estimate that the number of mobile device users accessing the Internet on their mobile devices increased by at least 100% through 2008 and consensus estimates place the growth for 2009 to match that rate. The current population of mobile website users was estimated to top 60 million people worldwide as of January 2009, of which 20 million people are estimated to use their mobile device for Internet use on a daily basis.

Talking head James Cramer has even taken to referring to the rising tide of mobile Internet activity as the “Mobile Internet Tsunami”. As an organization that cares deeply about your Internet presence, the reality of the growing “mobile Internet” presents both a huge opportunity and a wide new terrain full of strategic options.

Implications to Our Clients

Based on the rapid growth in mobile Internet usage and the demographics of our clients’ typical user it is advisable for many organizations to develop a targeted mobile Internet strategy. At this time most mobile users are presented with your organization’s website which was developed for 800 or 1000 pixel-wide displays. While this is an ideal experience for desktop-based computers this is a most frustrating experience on handheld mobile devices. Locating and consuming the full breadth of your site’s content shrunk to such a small form factor is an extremely difficult if not impossible task.

The reality of the growing mobile Internet means that many organizations are considering the nature of their audience and the need for a dedicated version of their website optimized for mobile devices.

Which Platform to Target?

At this time the mobile development landscape is even more fragmented than the mobile handset market. With precious few standards the order of the day is custom development spread across the most popular mobile device platforms of iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile (among others).

The mobile Internet development strategy currently recommended by Mercury is to find a happy medium between the platforms and develop a single mobile website which presents reasonably well on all handsets. While this does not result in a mobile Internet presence which is optimized to any single device (i.e. a specific iPhone application) it will result in an economical mobile Internet presence which is usable by almost all smart phone users. In short, mobile development standardization like what is possible within desktop browsers is several years off and the cost to develop a site to cater to each platform is cost prohibitive for most organizations.

The following points summarize the mobile Internet presence development strategy recommended by Mercury New Media:

  • Develop mobile interfaces to standards-based HTML and CSS (HTML and CSS are universally-supported technologies)
  • Utilize the same common backend (application platform, database and content management system) as your existing screen-targeted websites
  • Remove Flash elements (Flash is not supported on many devices at this time)

Publish the Bare Minimum

While the concept of having only one website and simply styling it differently depending on the medium the visitor is using (desktop vs. handheld) is popular, a separate mobile site is required in order to deliver an optimized experience for mobile users. Customers who are surfing on a mobile device have different needs and requirements, so to force-feed them the same content as that displayed on the traditional site is a recipe for disaster. The Best Buy mobile site is a good example of this principle; the Best Buy mobile website displays only two functions (Product Search and Find A Store) – a far cry from their traditional site.

Target the Right Users

The goal for any web site should be to know your customers in order to deliver them the most appropriate content. This goal is even more important with mobile sites. In the case of mobile sites not only do you need to know your customers but you need to know what they are likely to be doing on your mobile site as well as where they will be when they are doing it. Traditional website customers are most likely sitting at a desk facing a large monitor while visitors who are browsing your mobile site are more likely to be waiting in line, riding on the bus or running to the departure gate.

Three Typical Mobile User Segments

While the mobile user population can be split into several different categories, the following three mobile user segments are most likely to apply to your website users:

1) The Casual Surfer
Casual mobile users act in a similar way to users of traditional web sites; casual surfers are not really interested in any one thing but have a few spare minutes between tasks to take a look around. If your site is focused on the sort of content that would appeal to casual surfers, then be aware of the limitations on the time and screen-size of your mobile customer. The goal should be to make your content more “sticky”, so that casual surfers come back for more. Aim for small, bite-sized chunks that are just enough to keep customers interested, but not so long that users can’t browse your site in the time they have available.

2) The Repeat Visitor
Repeat customers are those that are constantly returning for some sort of specific news or data. The interface of a mobile device is very limited, so identifying what your repeat visitors are coming back for and bubbling that material to the top of the site will be important; avoid burying the content your repeat users want behind 3 or 4 clicks.

3) The “Urgent, Now!” Visitor
These are site visitors that are on the hunt for a quick but very specific bit of information, usually obtained with a shortened attention span and directed at engaging in business with the operator of the mobile site. By identifying the most important needs of your customers and making the relevant information accessible within one click or less, you’ll increase the usefulness of your mobile site enormously.

Which Form Factor to Target?

The following chart comes from research published by Smashing Magazine, a leading online interface design publication. It shows that the mobile handset industry seems to be coalescing around screens that are 240×320 pixels in width. Much as 1000 pixel resolution monitors are targeted for full fledged website development, Mercury currently targets 240×320 pixel displays for mobile websites.

Learn More

To learn more about a mobile website for your organization or to discuss mobile Internet strategy for your organization, contact your Mercury New Media Relationship Manager.

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