The mobile web holds enormous potential for business success. From the perspective of customer engagement, customer service and increasingly for commerce, its role within a business’s overall online strategy is continuing to grow.

However, despite investing a lot of time and money in mobile web strategy, many organizations aren’t yet reaping the full benefits -- and there are several common reasons why. Here are three of them -- and some suggestions for how you can avoid them.

Fail #1. Treating Mobile Design as an Afterthought

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen recently conducted a study on mobile user experience and said,

the current success rate for mobile web use is about as was measured for desktop web use in 1999. The current desktop success rate is 84%; unless mobile usability starts improving more rapidly, we'll have to wait until 2026 to reach that level.

In short, businesses are about as good at designing mobile experiences in 2011 as they were at designing desktop web experiences in 1999. And the rate of improvement is too slow.

What to do about it: High quality mobile user experiences start with two foundations. First, they need to be designed specifically for mobile use: this means developing design and content that takes into account the distinct requirements of mobile users. The second is that they need to be measured against different user experience standards. Here are a few examples of best practice standards for mobile sites:

  • Keep page content short -- aim for no more than 500 words
  • Don’t use Flash, as many popular devices don’t support it
  • Don’t make images more than 200px wide
  • Limit link text to 15 characters, but don’t make them so short they can’t be easily selected
  • Don’t use tables for layout

Fail #2 – Failure to Plan at the Speed of Mobile

According to a recent study done by Morgan Stanley the average iPhone user only spends 45% of on-device time making voice calls. The amount of mobile site data consumption has exploded. But, while Justin Bieber might have a 6G Phone -- the rest of the world does not. When developing mobile sites, many businesses forget that most of their audience do not have unlimited data plans, and that mobile internet connections can be intermittent at best. Perhaps most importantly, the speed at which your site is rendered on a mobile device can be a huge influence on the quality of that user’s experience.

Like so many other web content quality issues -- attention to speed and quality tends to degrade substantially over time. In a 2010 Web Optimization study, researchers found that over the last six years, the size of the average web page has more than quintupled with content. And, the number of external objects (links, images, video) has more than doubled. This code often goes out to the mobile site as well, causing unnecessary download bloat.

What to do about it: Successful mobile web experiences are built for speed. And, beyond the user experience, speedy mobile sites can be a huge benefit for the business more generally. In fact, Google now includes mobile optimization performance as a critical factor in determining your ad quality score. So, any organization using paid search to direct users to a mobile experience can directly affect their bottom line ad spend with a better performing mobile experience.

Other best practices for keeping a mobile site fast and sleek include monitoring and managing content quality for speed and size specific to the mobile experience -- including:

  • Limiting HTML files to a size of 10KB
  • Limiting number of externally linked resources to less than 20
  • Providing for caching information in HTTP responses
  • Ensuring that images are no larger than 50KB
  • Keeping Javascript and CSS files under 25KB

Fail #3 – Ignoring Brand Consistency and Compliance

Recent research, such as that done by CMB Consumer Pulse has found that shoppers are increasingly relying on mobile content and user experience as their only online experience with brands. In fact, the CMB study found that if a shopper has an iPhone, 70% of them are using it to help them make a decision about their purchase.

This fact makes maintaining brand consistency on your mobile website vital. Businesses need to ensure that their mobile sites are subject to the same rigorous brand and messaging standards as their desktop sites.

What to do about it: To ensure your mobile sites communicate your brand as successfully as possible, you need to make sure they adhere to the following:

  • Creative compliance processes -- make sure that colors, logos, branded imagery and all assets will be displayed consistently across your mobile web site.
  • Content quality -- no-one wants to come across spelling errors or broken links. This is especially important when mobile sites are managed by external services or people.
  • Content freshness -- make sure that orphaned content and stale assets are removed from your mobile site will ensure that it represents your brand in the right way.

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