American Marketer


Why the mobile Web is key to a marketer’s future

March 18, 2011

Kalie Kimball-Malone


By Kalie Kimball-Malone

After a 96 percent increase in worldwide smartphone sales last year, the present rollout of 4G networks by major carriers and the unprecedented success of the iPad, 2011 is poised to be the year of the mobile Web. This will have an enormous effect on how marketers interact with their customer base.

The good news: new marketing, social media and promotion opportunities. But in most cases, these opportunities will require companies to rethink, reengineer and redeploy mobile versions of their Web sites that are optimized for the evolving demands of people using the mobile Web.

Growth in the market

The meteoric rise of smartphone sales is not slowing down. In fact, sales of smartphones may eclipse PC sales in 2012.

With Verizon Wireless on board, sales of the iPhone are going to again break records this year, and Android’s market share is increasing. All this, and tablets challenging the iPad will make a big splash this year as well.

Whatever the device, adoption is way up. And customer research has shown that browsing the Web is a key selling point. With 4G networks rolling out, the barriers to a good mobile browsing experience will be fewer.

All this means a lot of new users accessing Web sites that have been designed for desktops, and it is bound to result in some behavior changes, if they are frustrated by usability.

Mobile behavior

These new mobile Web users have been quick to engage in ecommerce. An astounding one-third of mobile users browsed ecommerce Web sites over the holidays, and there is no sign that this behavior is anything but exploding.

Browsers have been quick to catch up. Windows Phone 7, Android and Safari for iOS have all put out impressive browsers.

And as mobile search picks up, Google is out in front, incorporating new mobile-aware capabilities into its Keyword Tool.

So not only will customers be doing more mobile shopping, the Web sites that are optimized for mobile shopping will also rise to the surface thanks to mobile keywords.

Displaying is not enough

But there is a learning curve. Though tempting, it is simply not enough to replicate an existing Web site and make sure it shows up or is functional on a mobile Web browser. Mobile-specific considerations must be made. For example:

Tasks: Customers do different things while on the go. They search for directions. They comparison shop and search for coupons. These tasks need to be front and center, not buried in footers or in deeper pages.

Pinch, zoom and double tap: A full-sized Web site shown on a small screen device will require a lot of dexterity from your users. Better to have both architecture and content optimized and scaled for touch. It puts fewer steps between your users and their goals.

Flash: Simply put, if you deliver your content via Flash, a lot of your mobile customers will miss it. That could change, but why take a chance?

Bottom line: People use their mobile browsers for different reasons and interact in different ways, so they have different needs.

Optimizing for mobile Web

How do you know what these needs are? Though a mobile Web site may be a new direction for your company, it begins with an age-old maxim: know your customer.

Part of this you can get from secondary research. Where are they spending time when they visit the Web on their mobile device? But it is always a good idea to ask them directly. A survey never hurts.

And though consumers will have similar mobile needs, they will not all be using the same device. So the user experience has to be highly flexible: usable regardless of screen size or touch capability, and viewable in extreme aspect ratios.

Marketers will have to consider their content strategy too, ensuring that it is separate from the front end. This allows you to create a mobile experience now, as well as quickly adapt as user behavior evolves, without rebuilding the content architecture.

With ubiquitous mobile access and retailers fighting for revenue, competition in the mobile space will be fierce. Marketers who act ahead of the curve stand to keep their customers and attract new ones.

Kalie Kimball-Malone is creative director at The Garrigan Lyman Group, a full-service digital creative agency, Seattle. Reach her at