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January 10, 2008

4 Reasons Your Mobile Web Site Sucks

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After a nice (and apologetic) email from my Verizon Wireless representative, I ended up getting that Voyager for Christmas after all. And let me just tell you, searching the mobile Web on my phone has never been easier or more fun. Not surprisingly, I find myself using it far more than any of the other Web-enabled phones I’ve had, mostly because the bigger screen makes it considerably more usable, and the antenna on the side, which I’m not sure actually does anything, placates me into thinking things are running faster.

But my time spent browsing and searching on the go has shown me that not everyone is taking mobile as seriously as I am. Here are some of the most common mistakes I’m finding in my travels that I think every business should work to avoid.

Impossible Navigation (aka The Barnes & Noble Example)

Whether you create a mobile-specific version of your Web site or just optimize the site you’re already running for a mobile browser, your goal is for that site to be usable. That makes sense, right? You want users to be able to find the information they’re looking for in the shortest amount of time. Well, clearly no one told Barnes & Noble that.

Like most hip kids do these days, I spent Saturday night hidden in a corner of Barnes & Noble, book and coffee in hand. I was enjoying my little secret nook but was curious what time the store closed. Because I avoid talking to actual people unless absolutely necessary, I whipped out my Voyager and headed to the Barnes & Noble site to see what time the store closed.

Oh heavens.

Trying to locate a store from my phone was as painful as engaging in conversation with Susan. I was eventually able to maneuver my way around but it was incredibly clumsy and took at least 4 minutes. That’s way more time than I care to spend trying to decipher the mess you’ve created for me. I was almost tempted just to get up and just ask a real person. Almost.

I don’t care what extra stuff you put on your mobile site, but make sure you have the content that users will be specifically searching for high up on the page. I’m talking about things like a phone number (preferably click to call), a Google map, operating hours, and a link to help them locate a store. If they’re searching for you on their mobile phone, they probably have a very specific reason-they’re trying to find out where the hell you’re located and if you’ll still be open by the time they get to you. Help them answer that question.

You Don’t Exist (aka The Subway Example)
It’s 2008 and you’ve already been introduced to the iPhone. You should know by now how important it is for you to have a mobile presence. If I search for you and you’re not there, shame on you!

I can’t tell you how many businesses I’ve searched for using Verizon’s Superpages and have come up empty handed. I did a search for Subway just the other day and do you know what came up? Nothing. I could have gone to the Subway Web site, I’m sure, but I didn’t. I chose to do a search, which I’m sure is how many people use the Web. And when I looked for Subway, not only was I informed that it wasn’t listed, but I was even asked if I perhaps meant Quiznos, KFC or Dairy Queen, because those establishments, as sub par as they may be, had the smarts to register their business information with Superpages. Hmm, maybe I will go to Quiznos instead. Or Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen has ice cream!

The most important rule for the mobile Web is to be there! Ensure your customers can find you by creating complete and accurate profiles in Google Local, Yahoo, Ask, Superpages, etc. And make sure you know which mobile carriers pull from which directories. Again, when users are searching locally and from their mobile phone, they’re doing some with intent. Don’t get in your own way.

You Make Things As Complicated As Possible (aka the ESPN example)

I’ve often had the need to check sport scores while on the go or out at dinner with someone who is incredibly boring. I don’t do it everyday, but I do it enough to have ESPN set as one of my bookmarks. And do you know what the URL is for the mobile ESPN Web site?

This: http://mobileapp.espn.go.com/wireless/espn/redesign/index

Are you kidding me? Are you trying to make it as difficult as you can for you customers to find you? Who is going to type that into their address bar? Um, no one. I’m sure there is a perfectly good explanation why their site is not m.espn.com or mobile.espn.com, but surely there is a more succinct URL they could have chosen. Because of ESPN’s misstep, I’m much more likely to use the Sports shortcut that Verizon offers me. It’s easily accessible and always full of Tom Brady knowledge. In fact, on New Years Eve, when someone asked me how old Tom Brady was, I was able to pull that information up for them in a split second. He’s 30, you know.

If you can register m.yourdomain.com, do it. It’s far easier for users to remember, type and call upon than some 40 character mess.

You Send Me Into List & Information Overload (aka The Yahoo Mobile Example)

I asked Susan if there were any mobile Web sites that just jumped out at her as being annoying and Yahoo’s mobile site was at the top of her list. [It's a long list. --Susan] I was surprised to hear that given all the good things I’ve read about them but I decided to check it out.

Oh goodness, it’s like list heaven over there. Users are expected to scroll for ages and ages. I’m not as opposed to this site as Susan is. I agree that it’s kind of hard to manage, but to Yahoo’s credit, they were able to get all the important links (Yahoo, My Yahoo, Mail) and search box up above the fold. It’s just that then they threw everything they have to offer below it. A lot of that stuff users will never, ever need.

I also think it’s a mistake to throw all that Yahoo Go information under the fold. It’s not getting the attention it deserves down there and it’s probably just frustrating users who have to wait for a giant page to load. Why not just make it a link in the top navigation and lets users access it if they want it? If you’re not sure how your content is displaying, try accessing via mobile simulators like Google or Skweezer. You may be surprised at what you find.

So, that’s some of the stuff that gets me hitting the back button on my phone. What about you?





One response to “4 Reasons Your Mobile Web Site Sucks”

  1. joe writes:

    That’s not the human-accessible URL for ESPN’s mobile site. Try ESPN.mobi, wap.espn.com, mobile.espn.com, or just hit espn.com from a mobile browser. They all take you to the mobile site.



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