Digital Academy:Web build-Masterclass on mobile sites
Consumers are finally taking to the mobile internet. So how can brands create a successful presence through the medium?
Consumers are, at last, taking to the mobile internet. In October 2007, according to the Mobile Data Association, 16.3 million individuals in the UK accessed a mobile internet site via their phone. So how do you go about building a successful mobile site?
1. Create a dedicated site
A website is designed to be seen on a PC with a decent-sized monitor. Trying to squeeze an entire PC website on to a mobile internet site will just end in tears.
There are DIY kits to help build a mobile site from companies such as Bango and Wapple, and specialist mobile marketing agencies like Incentivated, Brand Attention and Marvellous Mobile, that will build a site for you.
Whichever route you take, make sure every page is branded, provide a 'Back' link and keep free form text entry to a minimum. As Farhad Divecha, a director of search marketing company Accuracast points out, accessibility is all in the mobile space. "If you want to rank well with mobile search on Google, what matters most is accessibility, and links from other mobile sites," Divecha says.
There are packages that can create a stripped-down mobile version of your website from its RSS feed without any action from you. Not all are successful, but one of the better ones is Mippin.
2. Consider the context
Mobile sites are used for snacking rather than detailed information, says Robert Thurner, commercial director at mobile marketing agency Incentivated. "People tend to use them to find location or event-based information. They are not looking for the detailed content you would see on a website."
Rich Holdsworth is CTO at Wapple, developers of mobile site-building platform Wapple Canvas. "On a mobile, the screen is smaller, the page is vertically stacked and scrolling from top to bottom can take what seems like a lifetime. So ensure that your content is bite-sized and easily navigable, and don't fill a page with useless links," he says.
3. No two phones are equal - but that's OK
Designing a site that will work on any handset may look daunting, given the hundreds of handsets and various operating systems and mobile internet browsers. Fortunately, suppliers have a way around the problem.
Make sure your mobile site designers have software that can identify details of the handset accessing the site, and serve the relevant content to that handset. You can offer rich content if the site is being accessed on a phone capable of rendering it. Rich content will not be available to older or less capable handsets.
For this task, some companies use a resource called WURFL (Wireless Universal Resource File), a database about mobile handset device capabilities and features. Others, like Wapple, have developed their own.
4. Get a '.mobi' domain
While '.com' remains the most popular PC internet domain type, there are many more to choose from, including '.net', '.org', '.biz.' and country-specific domains. But in the mobile internet there's only one domain to go for: '.mobi'.
According to Amy Mischler, VP of identity and brand services at dotMobi, registering a dotMobi domain is a statement of intent.
"It's important to create a unique identity for your mobile site to distinguish it from everything else and to let your customers know that the site works," she says.
To obtain a dotMobi domain, you have to satisfy three conditions: the site does not use frames, is coded in XHTML with the domain in the form: http://domainname.mobi (without the 'www' prefix).
Mischler says that in the near future, dotMobi will be policing sites to ensure that dotMobi owners are sticking to the rules, in order to ensure that using the mobile web is a good experience for consumers.
Mobile sites are used for snacking rather than detailed content
Consider the type of handset that will be accessing your site
Mobile sites - Whats next?
Google Mobile: when someone enters a search term on Google on their mobile phone, the results can include lots of PC websites among one or two mobile sites.
But as Google ups its game in mobile and the results improve to include more mobile sites, so mobile internet users will be able to use Google to find the mobile sites they want, rather than having to enter a URL in the browser bar, just as they do on the PC Internet.
Experts believe Google Mobile will fundamentally change the way in which we access mobile sites. Given Google's all-conquering performance to date on the PC internet, it would take a brave man to bet against it.