By the time I arrive in my office each morning, I've accessed no fewer than ten applications and twenty mobile websites on my smartphone.
I've checked daily website statistics with Google's new mobile analytics application, performed the necessary, hourly review of social postings through the Flipboard app, and even managed to get some real work done by uploading documents through Dropbox, communicating to buyers in an auction through the eBay application, increasing advertising bids in 7Search.com's new advertising management application, and all while intermittently swiping my way through a game or two of Fruit Ninja. Sound familiar?
While I'm not an average user (considering my moderate to high usage and preference for productivity over entertainment apps) it should not be difficult to see the opportunities presented in going mobile. If you see it, you're not alone. Mobile has arrived. As Web properties continue to see a dramatic increase in traffic from smartphone and tablet devices, the role mobile experiences play now will become even more important to business success in the future.
What's often needed is a little motivation to understand where the real demand and opportunities exist. We need a little inspiration too - to know who's doing mobile "right" so their achievements can be mirrored and surpassed by our own. And of course we'll need to perform some analysis as well - calculating and determining how the technologies, tactics and techniques employed (here and in every issue of Website Magazine) impact the success of mobile initiatives.
So, what companies are inspiring their users with their mobile Web and application experiences, and who is creating experiences that are both practical and compelling? How are leading brands, or any brands for that matter, motivating users to interact and engage with their products and services? And how can today's enterprise benefit from a more connected mobile world in general? These are the questions being asked by companies large and small, in countries around the world, within both emerging and established industries. To find out the answers, let's go mobile.
Many Web workers and business owners still aren't convinced that a mobile (smartphone and tablet) presence is required, and there's a lot of data to support this. A recent study (https://wsm.co/MJCOwi) from software developer Serif found that 74 percent of small business respondents had not desiged sites for smartphones, while 86 percent had not designed sites for tablets.
Consumers are using these devices (take a quick look in your analytics account to verify that), visiting your Web properties and experiencing your brand on them. That alone now makes a mobile presence mandatory now instead of optional, as in years past. The reason is that mobile is slowly, but surely, weaving itself into our daily lives and simultaneously influencing the success of businesses.
Mobile is Everywhere, Does Everything
There are plenty of statistics to prove mobile is worth the investment. For example, if you ever wondered exactly what it is people in public are always doing on their smartphones, chances are it's interacting with a social network. According to data from Microsoft Tag (March 2011), a startling 91 percent of mobile Internet access is for socializing. The influence that social media has in the mobile world can often be used as an argument against creating and maintaining a mobile presence, as businesses falsely believe that nothing else is occurring in the mobile space. That could not be further from the truth.
According to an April 2011 Google study, mobile does incite purchase activity. The study found that nine out of ten smartphone searches resulted in an activity such as a purchase or a user visiting the brick-and-mortar location of a business. For many, that is the primary reason they explored mobile in the first place and will only increase their investment moving forward.
Some retailers remain wholly unconvinced that mobile is the future of ecommerce. But as smartphone adoption rates continue their rapid upward trend globally, so will the number of consumers making purchases on their mobile devices. According to comScore, two-thirds of US smartphone owners already use the devices for "shopping-related activities," with 38 percent having made at least one purchase on their phone.
Without a doubt, mobile is the major driver in the rise of local Web marketing. Microsoft Tag found that half of all local searches are conducted using a mobile device, a figure that will only continue to grow as more and more consumers adopt devices capable of not just conducting searches, but leading us to new experiences with brands.
With all the proof that going mobile can, in fact, produce a positive return on investment, there is simply no reason at all why your business shouldn't be smartphone and tabletready right now. The only thing likely standing in your way of course are the challenges in actually getting mobilized quickly Before we do that though, let's first find a little mobile inspiration.
Finding inspiration for a mobile strategy usually only requires one thing - firing up a smartphone.
Whether iOS or Android, each major platform has its own dedicated, searchable app store, and that is where the quest to find the appropriate mobile strategy for your enterprise should begin. Don't limit the search to just app stores - businesses must also research and visit competitors' Web properties to determine how many of them have heeded the call to go mobile. Conducting competitive research will act as the foundation for your mobile initiatives and provide some confidence that your approach is in line with the expectations and demands of users.
That choice is often one between native apps (those that run exclusively on a smartphone, be it iOS, Android, or both) and the mobile Web. Applications are out of the question for many - mainly because they are inappropriate and serve no practical purpose. For the majority of businesses, being mobile-ready will suffice - but what does that mean? Well, it seems you have some more choices to make.
Achieving Mobile Readiness
Responsive Design vs Mobile Website
The challenge facing many businesses today is not about applications at all (so much for the "Web is dead," right?), but rather deciding between creating a separate, dedicated mobile website or simply leveraging responsive design techniques.
Responsive design (https://wsm.co/KIPcAZ) is wildly popular among the savvy Web set today as it makes it possible to design once and appear everywhere - meaning on multiple devices, including desktops and smartphones simultaneously - with roughly the same effect. It is the most important decision a business can make in terms of their mobile readiness and one that should not be taken lightly. It is so important that even Google shared its thoughts (https://wsm.co/MJIbLY) on the matter in early July 2012 (on the whole suggesting that it favored responsive sites over separate sites).
The answer for many unfortunately, isn't always cut and dry. If you are currently redesigning your website (or don't yet have one), then a website with responsive design elements is the optimal approach and should be discussed with your designer. This will likely make sense for most businesses operating on the Web today. "If you're going to build a website from scratch, building once with responsive design and letting it optimize itself for the user experience is best," says DudaMobile CEO Dennis Mink. "But if you've already invested in a website, it doesn't make much sense to start from scratch. Who in their right mind is going to throw away what they've already done?"
Platforms for Mobile Development
If you have invested in a website design already, and did not address mobile readiness at the time, then know that there are numerous platforms and solutions on the market that enable businesses to develop a mobile presence very quickly and to great effect. Two such providers are the aforementioned DudaMobile and FiddleFly.
In May of this year, Dudamobile - which ranked third in Website Magazine's Top 50 Mobile Movers and Shakers in the August 2012 edition - was chosen by Google to provide its small business customers with a free mobile site through its GoMo initiative (https://www.howtogomo.com). DudaMobile, which also partners with the likes of eBay ProStores and AT&T) offers a doit- yourself mobile website builder that converts regular websites into a mobile-friendly version in just a few (five) simple steps. Some of the best features in the platform during our testing include the ability to easily add features like click-to-call buttons, and integrations such as with restaurant reservation platform OpenTable. What should be most appealing though is its autosyncing feature, which automatically updates a mobile site when changes have been detected on the actual desktop website. Change once, update everywhere. Hopefully you are starting to see how truly easy it is to go mobile.
Dudamobile is far from the only provider on the market however - it's filled with numerous app builders including App- Makr, AppsGeyser and iBuildApp as well as many other DIY mobile website development platforms such as Fiddlefly. What is interesting about the Fiddlefly platform is that it is really designed for the agency-side as opposed to any business with a small, likely passing, interest in going mobile. No, FiddleFly's plans offer up developers and agencies alike the ability to create an unlimited number of sites (as compared to DudaMobile's single domain option). The system, based on our testing, was as easy (if not easier) than many other platforms that we tested including Dudamobile. It provided a sufficient amount of control over design elements, and offered some interesting features, including custom analytics, a terrific custom form builder, QR code generation, and its own built-in Store Locator tool. Fiddlyfly also offers the opportunity to export sites to your own server.
Mobile Frameworks for Rapid Development
You'll be hard pressed to find a business today that does not at least recognize the opportunity presented in smartphones and tablets - if you missed that, head back to the motivation section for another read. But when it comes to designing and developing for the mobile experience, most businesses either don't know how to take the next step (in which case these DIY platforms are good fit), or the do-it-yourself development platforms are just flat out insufficient.
Taking your business presence mobile is no longer optional, but mandatory. While building custom applications for smartphones should be a should be a consideration if the user demand warrants, but know that development can be expensive and inefficient. Fortunately, with a little elbow grease and some patience - and perhaps a mobile framework - it's possible definitely to go mobile with impressive results.
One of the most popular mobile frameworks available now is Sencha Touch 2. The HTML5-based mobile application framework enables developers to build apps that work on iOS, Android, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, and others. Footwear retailer Danner, for example, created an HTML5 Web application with Sencha 2 that lets users search and navigate product inventory (with filters), access product details, including images and reviews, and even locate nearby stores with a built-in GPS feature (see image below).
There are hundreds of examples to use as inspiration and motivation, but Sencha Touch 2 isn't the only mobile framework - not by a long shot. For the extensive list of alternatives, and to see what's possible with each, visit WM's Master List of Mobile Frameworks at https://wsm.co/MJB9H0.
Now that you're properly inspired and motivated to go mobile, there's another matter at hand - how do you know if all the time, energy, and money you've spent ideating and developing a mobile presence is actually worth it? Measure it. Mobile businesses are able to access performance data in more granular and meaningful detail than ever before.
In late June, Google announced (https://wsm.co/MBeq5t) that users of its Analytics product can create a custom tracking profile that tracks mobile apps. Google is then able to provide reports designed to measure acquisition, engagement and user outcomes. For anyone that has built an application in the past five years, the release is a virtual blessing.
The acquisition reports from Google reveals how people found the app (in the Play Store or from a website), how many apps were downloaded (and opened after ), and the users' location. Google's engagement reports provide some of the most useful information, particularly for user experience (and marketers) agents - from the top screens viewed to in-app events, and even information about when apps crash. Within the engagement reports another feature can be found, similar to the Visitor Flow function in Google Analytics, which visually displays the paths users take as they move through screens within a mobile application (see image) - a terrific feature for those who obsess over the minutia of their digital properties.
Finally, the new outcome reports make it possible to accurately track goal completions occurring with applications (including purchasing the app) as well as events (learn more about event tracking on page 32), which can be used to track mobile ad clicks, in-app sales, or other conversion-designated events including phone calls, emails or file downloads.
The benefit of all this application specific analytics data is immense. Marketers will be able to determine which channels drive app purchase, the content within an app that generates the most views, and which generates the most purchases. That alone is worth the (free) price of admission, but Google is not the only digital fish in the mobile analytics pond.
Localytics for example has earned the respect of both developers and marketers thanks to features including screen flows and retention analysis. Platforms such as Flurry are also top of mind, with more than 70,000 companies choosing its analytics solution, that is now used by nearly 200,000 applications.
Time to Mobilize
After years of promise, the digital age of mobile has arrived. While there are certainly complicated questions to answer about how enterprises navigate this still uncharted virtual territory, participation is vital. If not for yourself, then definitely for your users.