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October 2, 2006

Your customers are going mobile. Are you?

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A great post by Shimon Sandler reminds us that as more users turn to mobile devices to access the web, the responsibility to create more accessible mobile sites is being shifted to site owners. But are site owners taking that responsibility seriously? And should they be?

A few months back, Ipsos Insight’s annual The Face of the Web study found that mobile Internet browsing was experiencing robust growth in most global markets, especially in France, the United Kingdom and Japan. However, one of the few countries NOT experiencing wide-spread growth in Internet browsing on a mobile phone was in the United States.

Why?

Because in the United States, mobile sites are still too slow to load, too hard to operate and often exceed screen size. Site owners have yet to acknowledge mobile web into their design, leaving this avenue frustratingly inaccessible for the typical user.

If you’re reading this thinking that the mobile web doesn’t deserve your attention, think again. As Shimon pointed out in his post, Google’s new Mobile Search gives users the option to search for sites specifically designed for mobile phones. If you haven’t created a mobile counterpart for your site, you have zero chance of showing up in this search. Can you afford that loss of visibility?

In most cases, creating a mobile site involves rewriting your page in XHTML, WWML or iMode so that it is readable via a cell phone, PDA or other mobile device. It may take a bit of work, but the investment is well worth it. By designing a mobile-friendly site, you open the door to an expanding industry and give your customers another way to find you.

The power of mobile is that even in its infancy, it has two very important things going for it; things that even the traditional web didn’t have at its start. First, it has already established content in multiple forms. When sites are formatted correctly, users are able to stream video, download images or read text with relative ease. Second, the mobile web has a built in audience. Think of the millions of users who are already connected and using cell phones. Traditional web had to grow its users, with the mobile web, your audience is waiting for you.

In order to appeal to the millions of already connected users, you have to get your head out of the computer. Here are some tips to help you start thinking about the needs of the mobile web:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the W3C’s Mobile Web Initiative.
  2. Rely on text, not images, to convey your most important messages. Large images with either fail to download at all or cause severe readability issues when they render incorrectly.
  3. Adapt your SEO techniques. Targeting shorter keywords and keep those title and keyword tags as short and concise as possible.
  4. Understand the needs of mobile users. Remember that mobile users and traditional web users do not browse in the same way. Mobile web users are left without a traditional keyboard or mouse and will instead rely on relevant, succinct information with simple top navigation.
  5. Know where to submit your site and which engines are important to mobile search. Did you know that Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Technorati and 4INFO all have mobile searches and that Yahoo! even lets users submit their Mobile Site directly? Familiarize yourself with mobile search’s top players.

Though the power of mobile web has remained largely untapped by site owners, the potential for great growth is there. With millions of users already connected, there is no reason why the mobile Web can not experience the same kind of growth the Web did in the late ’90s. But in order for that to happen, site owners must learn how to repackage their content to meet the needs of today’s new mobile user.

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