HOW TO: Mobilize Your Website, from Design to Monetization

There are three times more smartphone activations every minute than human births, according to a recent report. This exponential growth has created 6.6 billion mobile connections and 3.6 billion subscribers globally in 2011, outnumbering the current world population.  To add to this is the growing number of people connected to the internet, like in India where some 120 million are logged on to the internet at any given time.  The trend is likely to spike in 2012, with other countries including the U.S. following a similar pattern. Just do the math and it is not too difficult to see the detriment in being an invisible business in the mobile world.

These stunning figures are quite attractive to publishers, marketers and software developers seeking new ways to engage with end users.  Tapping this increasingly mobile audience is a critical component for businesses and multichannel merchants in the coming years. But mobilizing your website is not the end of the story, rather this is just the beginning, and there are a few things to consider when planning your mobile strategy. We have assembled a pack of pundits’ tips and tools to address the unique needs driving mobile trends, helping you stand out during one of the largest technological shifts the world has seen.

From the Experts

.

Traffic

Focused on building an open mobile platform, Mobify shares a few ways to capitalize on mobility and social media marketing. Their eBook, titled 14 Essential Mobile Marketing Tactics, is authored by Igor Faletski and James Sherrett of Mobify Research and Development, and emphasizes the need for smart strategies to drive mobile traffic:

“A good experience will accelerate the virtuous circle of discovery, sharing, traffic and additional sharing. A poor mobile experience will result in a lost opportunity for revenue, brand engagement and customer loyalty,” reads an excerpt from Mobify’s e-book. “With mobile traffic playing such a prominent role in social media, creating a long-term strategy to engage in this field is critical building a successful business.”

Content and Navigation

I don’t care about org charts and links within links that will take me to the moon, nobody does.  So maximize the mobile screen size to feature actual content.  If I have a tablet with a bigger display, I expect content-rich graphics to take advantage of the larger size. The best way to put this is to use the “outside in approach.”  Keep in mind what the customers want and need first, and not with what you have.  Moreover, insert navigational options behind visibly labeled buttons or images that will allow users to explore content in other pages to dive deeper. It is also critical to consider that most users prefer vertical navigation versus horizontal scrolling.

You may also want to incorporate mobile alerts to swiftly direct users to content faster. On a more technical note, limit the use of Flash.  iOS devices don’t support Flash, and Adobe is already transitioning away from it as well.  Use HTML5 or JavaScript to achieve the same effect. It is also safe to use HTML for contact phone numbers instead of putting in the actual numbers. Simply tapping a number is more efficient for users.

Communication

Communication is also a vital tool to create a good mobile experience.  But most of the time, this is the element that mobile marketers tend to forget.  Don’t just scale down your website and squeeze in as much as possible into mobile devices’ little screens. Utilize mobile development systems to prune your offering to the most critical features only. In this Forbes article, Communications Coach for global brands and writer of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Power of Foursquare, Carmine Gallo points out the common gap from marketing to customer services for companies using Foursquare:

“If customer-facing employees do not know about your promotion (whether it be foursquare or any marketing initiative) then you risk upsetting your customers because they’ll ask about and get a blank stare in return. This happens more often than you think. I ask about promotions all the time and I rarely find employees who have been told anything about it. Here’s how it happens. A business owner will read this article and tell his marketing person, “We’ve got to get on that foursquare thing.” The marketing managers will do what they are told and that’s where it ends. Everyone covers their bases but they forget the most important step: communication.”

“Foursquare is a free and simple way for any brand—large or small—to participate in the mobile social media revolution,” he adds.  “But if you fail to educate your staff and customers, you have no chance of launching a successful campaign.”

Usability and Feedback 

Usability is another huge factor that can either attract or deter users to or from mobile websites. The challenges you have to consider include slow page loads and interfering web and app pages (those links that will direct you to “download this app” before you can access the main site).  Getting user feedback on the performance of the site and how you can improve it will help you revisit features that need to be changed or updated. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to navigate the site.  It’s healthy to check in with end users regularly.  It will also send a message that you are serious about delivering an outstanding experience.

In a recent interviewStrangeloop President Joshua Bixby gave up the juicy details on how to spot areas of improvements for mobile websites.

This really depends on the type of site. Obviously, for ecommerce sites, you’re always going to care about revenue and conversion, but these aren’t necessarily as important for mobile as for desktop traffic. For all you know, your mobile user is standing in your bricks-and-mortar store doing some price-checking or reading product reviews. They’re going to convert in your store. For these users, what you care about is engagement, not conversions, which is where KPIs like bounce rate and page views come in.”

Bixby gave a concrete illustration of the probable gap that businesses should examine.  “Site owners should look closely at bounce rate, page views, and time on page for their mobile traffic,” he explains.  “These numbers should be commensurate with their desktop traffic. If they’re way off — say you’re averaging 2.3 page views per mobile visitor and 5.9 page views per desktop visitor — that could be an indicator that the mobile site is doing something to drive users away. In that case, you should analyze how fast your pages are loading or how usable they are.”

Market Integration

.

Retail

The boom behind mobile websites is aggressively being supported by different markets. And what are billions of smartphone users around the world do aside from texting, making calls and sending emails? They navigate the mobile web and make purchases.

I am a self-proclaimed couch shopper who relies on buying things online. It was early last year when I started using my smartphone to shop online, and I loved how I was updated with bids, reviews, promos and discounts even when on the go. This year, I can hardly recall the last time I used my PC in purchasing something over the internet. According to a recent Nielsen report, retail mobile websites beat apps among US smartphone owners for for shopping needs, from researching products and reviews, to comparing prices, finding retail locations, and redeeming coupons.

Local search and advertising

John Burbank, Nielsen’s President of Strategic Initiatives, has some potent observations from the study saying, “the majority of smartphone owners used their devices for shopping this past holiday season.  Mobile shopping has reached scale and is only going to grow as smartphone penetration continues to rise.”

“Retailers need to think of their business as a multi-channel environment that can potentially include mobile, online, and bricks and mortar stores,” he adds. “Winning with shoppers requires a consistent experience across channels that reinforces the values you represent as a retail brand, whether it be price, service, reviews, selection, style, or other key attributes.”

Another thing is to optimize online information for local mobile search. Users within a few meters from your physical store could actually be tempted to drop by and buy goods.

Advertisers are reaping the revenue rewards of employing mobile marketing tactics. Traditional advertising will soon be a thing of the past. While some fear that moving to mobile is a big risk, penetrating this market means gaining more subscribers from a broader population that hardly use PCs for web access.  Mobile marketing was an early trend for this space, and it’s already spawned a plethora of third-party tools to get the job done.

Tools for mobilization

.

Beefing up mobile websites is not an easy task to be completed overnight. It may require time, a string of trial and error and help from other products with tool sets designed to mobilize websites.

Mobile ads, payments and distribution

Stationed in major cities around the world (Bangalore, London, Tokyo, Nairobi and San Francisco) of the world, InMobi is a one-stop shop for mobile advertising that helps marketers target users on mobile websites and inside apps. They craft interactive ads via the recently acquired Sprout platform, and power mobile payments through SmartPay. Their clients include major global brands like Universal, Zoosk, Disney, Vivendi, Fox, eBay, GroupOn, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Marriott, Lufthansa, CitiBank, HSBC, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Unilever, P&G, Ford, Nissan, AT&T, Samsung, Dell, Google, Unicef and the long client list goes on.

The Indian-bred company has grown at a record pace and is now valued at over billion dollars, thanks to a Japanese funding round worth $200 million.  InMobi has significantly ushered organization to milestones. Google’s mobile ad revenues rose from $1 billion in 2010 to $2.5 billion the same period in 2011.

Testing and development

Also a single-stop destination for those who are looking to build mobile websites, Fiddle Fly, offering an array of services from SEO compatibility, performance optimization, Google Analytics, social media integration and the end-to-end mobile website engineering scheme of designing-developing and deploying.

One you have set everything in place, from content to navigation, it’s time to evaluate the readiness of your mobile website. A free testing tool is mobiReady. It assesses mobile readiness of a website (just provide the URL) with the aid of industries’ good practices and standards.

And as more mobile platforms shift away from Flash, here are some alternatives and tools that can be utilized, especially by small businesses.