Deltina Hay, a regular contributor to Technorati and SocialMedia.biz, is the professor of Drury University’s online graduate social media certificate course. This article is based on her new book, The Bootstrapper’s Guide to the Mobile Web: Practical Plans to Get Your Business Mobile in Just a Few Days for Just a Few Bucks, released this month by Quill Driver Books. To learn more: thebootstrappersguide.com.
The mobile Web isn’t about using the same old Internet via smaller screens. The mobile Web is about people changing the ways they use the Internet, and about the new tools that are emerging as a result of the changes.
Research indicates that:
- By 2012, almost all mobile devices produced will be able to access the Internet.
- There will be 788 million mobile-only Internet users by 2015.
- By 2014, mobile Internet browsing will surpass desktop browsing.
- Mobile ad revenue will skyrocket to $20.6 billion by 2015.
- Shopping expenditures on the mobile Web will reach $119 billion in 2015.
What these numbers tell us is that almost everybody with a mobile device (5.9 billion people by 2012) has Internet access via that device—and many of those people access the Web only through a mobile device. More important, people are taking advantage of access via mobile devices by searching, purchasing, and clicking through on mobile ads at unprecedented rates.
This is great news for those of us who market on the Internet. But it can be equally bad news for anybody who is not prepared for this mobile opportunity. Preparation must involve your Web site, and it can also involve marketing tools such as QR codes and location-based services, plus a variety of apps.
Luckily, solutions are available to help you make your Web site mobile-ready. And implementing many of them takes very little time, effort, or money.
If you have HTML experience, you can use responsive Web design to create separate style sheets for your site without altering your existing Web site code, or you can use new Web standards found in HTML5 and CSS3 to create a mobile-optimized site from scratch.
If you do not have Web programming experience, you can make use of a number of tools and services to create a mobile Web site or convert your existing site. Use search terms such as “mobile website service” or “mobile website conversion” to find these companies, and/or see thebootstrappersguide.com/mobilewebsiteservices.html.
If you use a content-management system such as WordPress to power your site, search for plugins with terms such as “mobile ready.” Be aware, though, that these plugins vary considerably. Test a few of them to find one that fits your needs well.
The information that follows should help you take advantage of the mobile Web whether you proceed on your own or by outsourcing.
Musts for a Mobile-Optimized Web Site
Imagine that someone visits your Web site from a mobile device, and your site loads so slowly that the user jumps to the next site on the list of search results. Or perhaps your site eventually loads, but with no images and with a gaping hole where that spiffy piece of Flash you paid so much for is supposed to play. Or, still worse, a message from the browser shows up, saying that your site cannot be viewed on the mobile device in the user’s hand. These are all-too-likely scenarios for a Web site that is not mobile-ready.
You may be thinking: My Web site looks fine on mobile devices, even if it is a bit small. Unfortunately, just having a mini version of your existing site is not going to cut it. You need to follow some standard mobile Web best practices provided by the W3C’s Mobile Web Initiative (www.w3.org/Mobile) at the very least. And you need a mobile version of your site that addresses all the following issues.
Load time. A Web site designed for mobile will load in around four or five seconds. A traditional Web site can take as long as 40 seconds to load on a mobile device, which will frustrate site visitors and also keep your site from placing well in mobile directories.
Mobile directories. Even if your site displays properly in mobile browsers, it may not be indexed by mobile search algorithms. When someone uses a search engine on a mobile device, the search query accesses a separate index maintained for mobile content. Your Web site must be optimized for mobile search engines to place well in such search results.
Mobile browser standards. Mobile browsers do not work the same way desktop browsers do. They do not render video, Flash, image galleries, and other software and scripts in the same manner as desktop browsers. In fact, most mobile browsers simply ignore Flash. If your site uses Flash or other proprietary software, it may not load in mobile browsers at all. A mobile-optimized version of your Web site will solve these problems.
User experience. Mobile device users don’t typically use them to surf the Internet. They usually know what it is they are looking for, and they are more likely to act once they find it. Consumers use mobile search mostly to access local information, stay informed, buy products, and download music and video.
Accordingly, consumers have different expectations when they’re browsing with mobile devices. Not only are they seeking specific information when they land on a site; they also expect an experience that is consistent with the device they are using. If you force users to pinch and pull on their mobile device screens to navigate your site or read your content, they will probably move on.
Other things to consider when creating your mobile Web site include the site’s URL structure, the method you use to redirect mobile traffic from your standard site to your mobile site, and features specific to mobile devices that you could add. For more on these subjects, see mobithinking.com.
More Ways of Marketing
New technology often gives rise to innovative approaches to marketing, and QR codes are a case in point on the mobile Web. These nifty little bar codes bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds, and they can be particularly useful for promoting books (see “QR Codes: Reports from Early Adopters,” August 2011).
Another new marketing opportunity on the mobile Web relates to location-based services such as Yelp, foursquare, or Google Places. Any business can register with them to get extra exposure, and they can prove especially useful for books that feature specific locations and books from independent presses with local and/or regional support.
Mobile apps can also be great outlets for selling books and ancillary material. A well-planned mobile app can provide an unencumbered environment for engaging your audience, leading to additional exposure, better interaction with readers, and stronger brand loyalty.
But mobile apps are not for everyone. Depending on their complexity, they can be expensive to develop and maintain. So it may be best to focus on improving your mobile Web site and on making it easy for users to save your Web site as a shortcut on their mobile devices’ home screens.
What’s next? Augmented reality, near-field communication, and other mobile trends are fast becoming mainstream, and they will have a big impact on how we market products online. Make no mistake: Mobile is the future of the Internet, and now is the time to act. But this does not mean you should act blindly. Look at your target audience; define your goals, assess your resources, and base your mobile solutions on your specific needs.