Mobile strategy often starts with ambitious plans for native apps or new mobile web sites. This makes sense, but falls short of supporting the most important element of a mobile strategy -- Deep Linking.
Deep Linking is a term describing links to content that live beneath the home and top level sections of a website. These links may come from search engines like Google, outbound email campaigns, social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter, as well as in-bound links on blogs and other websites.
An effective mobile strategy accounts for deep links and optimizes mobile experience using a single domain or relevant redirects to a dedicated mobile site. The vast majority of mobile websites disregard deep links by blindly redirecting users to a different domain or by not optimizing content on the main website for mobile. Mobile experience should be seamless. It should preserve your links while delivering an engaging experience on phones and tablets.
Why Do Deep Links Matter?
Not All Content is Created Equal
Pages deep on your website are more valuable. Information Architecture on the web consists of cover and section pages that direct users to the actual content. The entire goal of a website is to move users from the top of the website deep into the site where the actual content lives. Deep content includes catalog pages on e-commerce sites, news or media sites with articles and ads, product and marketing sites with lead generation forms, and other important content types. The return on investment from most websites comes from the content that is deep in the site.
Mobile Traffic Skews Deep
Mobile traffic is overwhelmingly directed at pages deep on your website. I have customers who only see 10% of their web traffic from mobile websites, but up to 40% of traffic from outbound email campaigns come from mobile. It makes sense. People tend check email on their phones more than they browse the web.
Other customers I have met with have very active in-bound marking programs. These customers often see up to 20% of the traffic coming from mobile, but almost all of that traffic originates on landing pages and other campaign content deep in the site.
The Most Important Users
It is not only that the content deep in your website is more valuable, or the majority of mobile traffic does not hit the home page, but goes deep in the site; the people linking deep on your website are also the most valuable users. Why? Because they have been referred to your website by someone they trust or from a qualified source. A link shared by a friend on Facebook has more relevance than general web traffic. The same could be said about a search result that by definition has intent. In the case of traffic coming from marketing campaigns like Google Adwords or outbound email, these are the users you have paid to attract.
How Do You Support Deep Linking?
The key to supporting deep linking is making sure that every page on your website is optimized for mobile and will resolve properly.
One Web Site
According to research by Smashing Magazine 89% of mobile websites are hosted on a different domain from the PC website. Over half of mobile sites use the “m.” sub-domain. Other mobile sites may use a different sub-domain or a TLD like .mobi.
The problem with using a different domain for your mobile website is that you have separated mobile traffic from your main website and “un-tethered” all of the inbound links.
Of course you can set-up friendly redirects to make sure that a page request goes to the mobile version of that page, but that is assuming there is a 1-1 mapping between your mobile and PC website. Mobile web sites generally have different set of content, site structure and different URLs.
To support Deep Linking you should use one source of content with one URL for mobile and PC pages. This dramatically lowers the amount of work it takes to manage your mobile site and ensures that all of your links will work on phones, tablets and PCs.
Optimize Key Mobile Pages
Once you can support deep links for mobile, it’s important to optimize pages that get the bulk of your mobile traffic. A page that performs well on a PC may not perform as well on a mobile device, thus resulting in a higher bounce rate or lower conversion.
There are many reasons metrics differ between mobile and PC users. This is not always a bad thing. For instance, key metrics for websites are page views and time on site. I believe that mobile user experience is more task-based, so allowing a user to complete a task using less pages and time is a success metric. Mobile performance should primarily be measured on whether users can complete a task easily on your mobile site.
The culprits for poor mobile performance usually come down to a few things. First, mobile devices generally have a much higher screen density than PCs. Content that may be readable on a PC may be too small to read on a phone. Secondly, mobile is based on a multi-touch interaction as opposed to point-and-click or mouse-driven UX. This difference really becomes clear with forms. If you have ever tried to check an airline reservation or register for a webinar using a mobile browser you have experienced the issues.
When planning for Deep Linking make sure that forms support “multi-touch” interactions. The form should make it easy to move between the focus areas, select a value from a menu or select-box, and submit the form by simply tapping on a form element. Using a library like JQuery Mobile will enable you to re-target existing forms for mobile devices with minimal work.
(Editor's Note: You might also be interested in: Mobile Content: More Than Just a Bit of CSS Reformatting)
Mobile traffic skews heavily to deep links. Mobile users access the most valuable content on your website and are more often visiting your site based on a qualified referral or campaign.
When planning your mobile strategy, think deep. Make sure that your URLs direct users to the correct page on your website, optimize your content for mobile devices and track mobile analytics independently to measure key metrics for your mobile users and content.
(Editor's Note: Also from David Hillis: Mobile Internet Era: Planning Your Mobile Strategy)