Posted June 25, 2009 3:15 pm by with 13 comments

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By Richard Kirk

People browsing your website via mobile devices are an ever-increasing segment of total website visitors. The proliferation of smartphones and increases in mobile browsing are key trends for 2009, with smartphone shipments worldwide set to grow by 23% this year, (despite a 9.1% decline in the mobile handset market). This not just a western phenomenon; in developing nations the cost of a computer makes a web-enabled mobile device even more attractive. With many companies looking to expand into new markets during the recession, this is an interesting point to note. Importantly, as mobile web use grows, the personal experiences of users are more likely than ever to be shared both online and in ‘the real world’.

For instance, if Amy finds your site difficult to use on her iPhone, not only do you lose a conversion straight away, but thanks to mobile web’s immediacy, she can instantly tweet or blog about the experience. Worse still, Amy can share her irritation with her mates at the time or when she sees them next by showing them how rubbish your site is, right there on her iPhone. The usual ‘cooling off’ time between Amy’s bad experience happening and the opportunity for her to show her friends on a computer has been eliminated. In short, the potential for brand fails (and wins) based on usability has risen dramatically.

Right now it’s time to ask:

  • How are mobile users impacting your bottom line?
  • Who’s browsing your site via mobile devices?
  • How can you put together a mobile-specific website that kicks ass?!

Even if you aren’t technically-minded I’ll discuss ways you can develop a mobile strategy, and if you are technically proficient these solutions combined are a solid base for mobile development.


Navigating the full version of a website on a mobile device is likely to reduce conversion rate, primarily due to usability issues:

  • Mobile users are confronted with a small screen, and the difficulties of navigating via buttons or touch controls rather than a mouse pointer.
  • Web pages designed for traditional desk-bound users are often too bloated for our limited cellular network, resulting in laborious / terminally long page load times.

Users may not wish to complete your full goals (e.g. buy something) when browsing via a mobile device, so you would perhaps see lower conversions / revenue amongst this group. However, they are much more likely to come back and complete these goals via a traditional browser if they could easily find the information they required during their initial mobile visit.

For instance, John may visit your site via his Blackberry to check out the price of a football shirt, because he is stood in a sports store and wants to know if he can buy it online at your site for less money. If the product page in question is slow to load or impossible to find, you lose the sale he would have completed later at his computer, and probably future price comparison visits, even if it turns out you were cheaper to buy from.

Understanding Mobile Users: Entry Level

Even if you feel the implementation of a mobile strategy is a long way off for your company, and you have no technical skills whatsoever, there is no excuse for not starting to try and get a handle on who your mobile users are, and how they interact with your site. This is a customer segment that will grow in the future.

Demographics You can easily build up a picture of mobile web users through the plethora of surveys currently being released. Here are a few recent stats:

  • 74% of iPhone users are over the age of 25, (31% are 35-49) and more than 70% of iPhone users are male. [see here]
  • 64% of key decision makers in marketing departments are using mobiles to view emails [see here]
  • Leading mobile browsing systems worldwide (May 09) = iPhone/iPod Touch 37.2%, Opera 24.6%, Nokia 17.9%. [see here]
  • In 2008 61% of all smartphone owners had a household income of greater than $70000, compared to just 49% of normal mobile owners. [see here]
  • 40% of “smartphoners” in ’08 would access the internet at least once a week on their device, (78% for iPhone owners specifically). [see here]

Behaviour As well as looking at the demographics of people browsing the mobile web, it’s also vital to understand their goals are likely to be different to those of folks browsing on a computer. Conversion points for mobile users are often basic things such as finding a shop location, contact information, or viewing product details. Generally speaking goals are more immediate and information based. More traditional goals such as purchasing or accessing documents will only be undertaken as a last resort where a computer is unavailable.

Mobile users break down into three rough categories:

  • “Time to burn”: browsing between events / meetings etc: your goal is to offer bite sized chunks of interesting content in order to attract repeat visits later via traditional browsing methods.
  • “Monitors”: Users who browse your site for specific data that changes over time: stocks and shares, sports scores etc. Identify the information on your site which gets repeat visits and make it as easily accessible as possible.
  • “Need it Now”: Live information e.g. running information, store locations, opening hours etc should all be easily accessible from your mobile homepage for those people who are relying on your brand rather than just browsing.

Understanding the key differences between your mobile and traditional users should directly inform the architecture of the mobile version of your site. For instance: An airline may focus on selling tickets online, but its mobile site should focus more on check in information, live flight times, and airport locations for people who are about to fly. Similarly, a financial services company might view their website as a place for prospective customers to research their products, but their mobile site could add value by offering simple services to existing customers e.g. balance checks.

With a bit more budget you can start to build up data specific to your organisation. Marketers should be equipped with smartphones, as using a mobile browser is the best way to understand and discover the difficulties and opportunities surrounding your brand and the mobile web.

Understanding Mobile Users: Intermediate / Advanced Level

Google Analytics provides a segment for iPhone users, but a broader mobile segment for analysing this traffic would be preferential. The most obvious way to construct this segment is by grouping together the different types of mobile browsers currently on offer, but this list is ever-changing and many of these browsers are poor at executing JavaScript: mobile data will be missed altogether and the segment will be less accurate. [ more info here]

A better option is to construct a GA segment based around screen resolution, as there is a greater accuracy of data collection:

  • Open a new custom segment within your GA dashboard
  • Select “screen resolution” as the segment’s dimension. You can find this by drilling down on “Systems”.
  • Select the match type “Matches Regular Expression”
  • Paste the following regex into the next field: (^[1-2]?[0-9]?[0-9]|^3[0-1][0-9]|^320)x([1-3]?[0-9]?[0-9]$|4[0-7][0-9]$|480$ )

For the more advanced technicians amongst you the installation of mobile-specific tracking software is a further option, however this can be costly and difficult to integrate with GA. Bango Analytics, Mobilytics and Amethon are key players in this sector.

Once mobile users behaviour on your site is isolated marketers are able to analyse top content, entry and exit points, site search, etc. It is crucial to try and understand mobile user’s goals this data. These goals will define the architecture of your mobile site.

Top Design Tips for Mobile Sites

Users want a familiar experience, so try to take your design cues from the navigation styles on mobile handsets, not from the standard web experience. On a mobile device, users are familiar with drilling down through menus to access content, rather than having navigation and content crowded onto the same page. This approach should result in a more intuitive mobile site.

There are a broad range of mobile device screen resolutions: keep design as minimal and linear as possible to optimise the experience for all, whilst keeping page load times down. Ensure users don’t have to jump around the page: many devices still only have up/down functionality and non-linear design will make the user experience a nightmare, resulting in low conversion rates and poor RoI.

Make the most of your real estate by avoiding large pictures or logos. Page real estate is so valuable on a mobile site due to constraints in screen resolution and the need for large, clear buttons and boxes: images will add little value to most pages. If you wish to use images, do so pragmatically; a pared-down version of your logo atop each page should double as a link back to your mobile homepage.

Don’t transfer people from the mobile to full website without warning them first. Don’t link to the full site from your mobile homepage: all content important enough to be linked to from here deserves to be redesigned for mobile.

Form filling on a mobile device is a much more laborious process due to keyboard / screen resolution limitations. For each question on the form ask:

  • Is this question 100% necessary?
  • Can I offer multiple answers rather than making a user type?
  • Could I auto fill a section of the answer (e.g. instead of filling out an address just ask for postcode and house number)


You should be trying to understand your mobile users even if you cannot envision a mobile-specific web presence for your brand right now. This group isn’t going to stay small and seemingly insignificant: it will grow rapidly.

The key difference between a mobile site and a traditional one (especially for service based organisations) should be its core audience. Goals are immediate and simple, bite sized content is key, and rapid access to information is vital. Mobile users may appear not to complete whole conversion funnels “on the go”, however, they will judge your site and you may lose the valuable converting visit later by not bearing in mind the user’s initial experience.

Users browsing via mobile devices are also highly likely to be early adopters and social networkers; irritating or failing to serve their needs may result in a well publicised brand fail. However, a basic understanding of their goals may lead to the acquisition of a loyal customer base, as the range of good sites on offer to mobile web users remains limited. for now.

This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 4th Annual SEM Scholarship contest.

  • To be honest I don’t like mobile website at all.
    And I don’t like smart phone too.
    I use my mobile to call, and my laptop to surf when I’m not at home.

    Manfredi’s last blog post..Il ragno padano

  • A very well written piece that highlights the need to consider mobile website visitors as part of your digital strategy, and ensure you pay attention to serving your visitors in the best possible way.

    Getting Google Analytics stats about your current mobile visitors is really useful for internal buy-in (and the article shows how to do that). I’d be interested to read more about what else a digital marketer could do to get senior management to give the green light to develop a mobile site.

  • rich kirk

    Manfredi, whilst I appreciate that not all people enjoy using their mobile devices to browse, I think it would be a foolish marketer indeed who didn’t get to grips with their mobile audience in 2009, especially when its so easy and cheap to do so. This segment is only going to grow and grow.

    Suraj, thanks for your kind comments. Getting internal buy-in for a mobile site isn’t too difficult (usually it just takes a graph showing the exponential rise in mobile users of your site in the last 12 months – scary stuff!). However, getting buy-in for the development of an analytics strategy is often difficult. This is a real shame. In my opinion, their is no need for digital marketers to make decisions regarding an existing website. Analytics allows you to find underperforming areas (with a bit of knowledge) and at these points you can simply present customers with a choice between your current content and new variants. Your customers will decide for you whether this is a change worth making permanent.

    It’s great when a supervisor challenges your team and you can say “you might not like it, but its converting an extra x% of customers.” Arguments are a thing of the past!

  • Great article Richard although it is important not to forget all of the non-smartphone users out there.

    As you rightly point out, phones that do not support JavaScript will not be reported by Google Analytics and for some site in certain markets, this may be 90%+ of traffic that is not being counted.

    All of the analytics solutions you mention including our own Mobile Analytics avoid the problems with JavaScript to ensure all mobile traffic is identified.

    Google Analytics will also not help you to identify:
    – The brand and model of handsets accessing your site
    – The mobile operator and country of your visitors

    iPhones and other smartphones are leading to significant changes in behaviour. We analysed the impact of the iPhone when it was launched in Australia and compared it to the broader mobile browsing population and found huge differences in data usage, page views and search activity.

    If anyone would like a free copy of this report, please request it via the Contact Us page on our website.


    Michael Stone
    Amethon Solutions

  • Rich:

    Love the article! You bring up a lot of great points. You are so right that getting a grip on your mobile audience now is a smart move. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    Kim Dushinski
    Author of The Mobile Marketing Handbook

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