Small screens increasingly equal big business. Many experts predict that mobile searches will overtake those undertaken on desktop PCs by 2015. In some parts of the world that tipping point has already been reached.
In India mobile searches outnumbered static searches for the first time in August 2012, according to StatCounter’s global statistics. In China too, mobile usage passed the 50% mark for the first time earlier this year. A report by the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) detailed how mobile internet had soared, especially in rural areas. The report goes on to say:
“Mobile phones are a cheaper and more convenient way to access the internet for [residents in] China’s vast rural areas and for the enormous migrant population…The emergence of smartphones under 1,000 yuan [$157, £100] sharply lowered the threshold for using the devices and encouraged average mobile phone users to become mobile web surfers.”
High speed internet access might be considered a human right in some Western countries, but part of the reason for mobile’s explosion in developing markets is the lack of an extensive, reliable and affordable fixed broadband infrastructure. Most of these markets are busily improving the quality and accessibility of available networks but ingrained mobile habits are unlikely to change. Mobile search is on the rise everywhere, including markets where high speed fixed connections are readily available. Mobile searches quadrupled in the US last year, according to Google. Google’s Head of Mobile Advertising Jason Spero, asked the crucial question:
“Roughly one in seven searches, even in the smaller categories, are happening on a mobile phone, but how many of you are putting one seventh of your resources into mobile?”
In the UK, meanwhile, 58% of the population now own a smartphone, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). Fuelled by this steep rise in ownership, mobile advertising continued its meteoric rise, growing like-for-like by 132% to £181.5 million in the first half of 2012. Display, video, SMS and MMS advertising on mobiles increased like-for-like by 91% to £49.9 million whilst mobile search grew like-for-like by 152% to £131.6 million, accounting for 72% of mobile ad spend.
As Jason Spero suggests however, not everyone has been quick to respond to this swing in online habits. According to a survey by technology company Incentivated, only 20 per cent of FTSE 100 companies had a mobile optimized website in 2010. While this figure will undoubtedly have risen over the past two years, many businesses are still missing out on this relatively new route to new sales and customers. Similarly, the IAB report found that 60% of the UK’s biggest 100 advertisers didn’t have a mobile-optimized site.
There’s more to effectively targeting mobile internet users than simply having a website that can be accessed from a mobile device. Mobile users are increasingly demanding sites that are optimized for mobile for viewing and functionality on a smartphone, tablet or other handheld device. Fitting the content to smaller screen sizes, improving navigability and cutting down load times are all vital aspects and can make all the difference between a potential customer engaging with the site or abandoning the visit a few seconds in and heading elsewhere.
Loading times are one of the biggest issues for users. A survey by mobile and web performance management firm Keynote Systems Inc. found that two thirds of smartphone users cited slow to load web pages as one of their biggest frustrations. 64% of smartphone users wanted a site to load within four seconds while 60% of tablet users expected to wait less than three seconds for a page to load.
Large images, too much Flash and other animated content can all add to loading times and a stripped down approach is often best when it comes to mobile-optimized sites. Large images also often fail to display correctly and general design issues are equally important. The small screen size of mobile browsers is not ideally suited for clicking on small items or scrolling around on large, content filled pages. A single column format with clearly defined headers and large clickable areas is often a better bet. Many mobile devices use a finger as the primary input device and this can be considerably less accurate than a mouse cursor when it comes to clicking the correct button or link.
Some small businesses may question whether it’s worth jumping through the hoops of mobile-optimization. The browser breakdown on Google Analytics can be used to get an idea of how much traffic is currently coming your way via mobile devices but don’t forget, if the proportion is low it may in part be because your site isn’t optimized for this type of access. As smartphone penetration continues to grow, mobile marketing will also continue to grow in importance. Fail to keep up and you could be missing out.