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Is Your Mobile Site Missing the Boat?

An Interview with David Engel of Brand Anywhere

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Is Your Mobile Site Missing the Boat?
Image by Rufous / Shutterstock

Now that you've sunk all that money on a mobile-optimized site, think you have your bases covered? Not so fast, because some of the biggest names in the industry are still struggling to get their mobile act together. They are in the minority, however, because the vast majority of the top websites have yet to offer any kind of mobile support.

I spoke recently with David Engel of Brand Anywhere, a San Diego-based company that has helped companies such as Qualcomm, Coca Cola, and GM deliver marketing messages to mobile devices. When we spoke, David was busy tracking and analyzing mobile usage among the top 10,000 websites in the Alexa database available through Amazon Web Services. Here's Part One of our discussion:

David Engel: When we look at the top 10,000 Alexa sites, we're really looking at the top most trafficked sites in the world. We take the top 10,000 sites and run them through the Mobile Indexer, which is our product.

We also have the iTunes store in the database, so we can look at the top traffic apps, and cross reference that with how many Facebook fans each has, and produce a list of the top ten perfect candidates out of 10,000.

This information is what all the ad networks and mobile platforms dream of having -- to sort the wheat from the chaff and find people who have already spent money in mobile, because they are more likely to buy more mobile products.

Claire Condra: It's like getting a list of qualified leads.

David: I call it a big prediction tool. (I'm writing mySQL queries as we speak, so that's why I'm being a little slow…)

OK, I did a query and found that 15.71% of the top Alexa websites have a mobile site. That means roughly 84.29% of those top 10,000 websites on the Internet don't have a mobile-specific site. I would estimate that there's a 5% margin of error for that figure, but that's not a lot. It's been verified and is correct.

Now I'm looking for mobile redirect problems. I just ran a stat to see how many people do not show their mobile site to a Blackberry 9800 (compare prices). I have 599 websites that do not show a Blackberry mobile, but instead show a desktop site to the Blackberry 9800. If they just spent all this money on a mobile site, you'd think they would show it to a Blackberry. There are 1,513 that do show to an iPhone (compare prices), so divide 599 by 1,513… That's 39.6% of the Alexa top 10,000 sites invested in the development of an iPhone site, but fail to show it to a Blackberry 9800.

Let me give you an example: Microsoft.com. If you go to Microsoft.com on an iPhone, you get an iPhone site. But if you go to Microsoft.com on a Nexus One (compare prices), you get a desktop site. If you go to Microsoft.com on a Motorola Droid (compare prices), you get a desktop site. So that's one company that has failed to use a redirector. Microsoft.

Do you think these companies have invested all this money in mobile sites, just to have them be invisible on the Nexus One? They have invested in something that can easily be rendered on an Android phone, but it's not happening. It means the redirector isn't working.

I can also query this and tell you who's showing Flash to an iPhone, because as you know, Flash doesn't render on the iPhone. Here it is… about 17.7% of the top 10,000 Alexa websites are trying to show Flash to the iPhone.

Here's another problem -- sites that try to display Flash on the iPad (compare prices). That's just horrible. I've seen a lot of companies do this – especially retailers, because it's the dream user who has spent money on an iPad -- it's that niche of people who spend money. They're using a device that is way easier to buy stuff with and way easier to use. But if a retailer puts Flash on their site, the iPad users won't be able to see what the store is trying to sell to them. It's just the worst.

Claire: And they're putting Flash right smack dab on their landing page – so it must have a huge impact on their conversion rate.

David: Here's one that's kind of ironic because they do most everything else well. Go to Domino's Pizza. It's actually one of the best iPhone sites, in my opinion, on the Net. They have all the mobile stuff covered. But guess what? The main content on their home page is all Flash. iPads can't see it and it actually renders blank. It's just wasted space.

Claire: So that's bad news for hungry iPad users. But from what I gather, most everybody else is moving toward supporting Flash -- at least since version 10.1.

David: I know that Android supports Flash – that's been a big thing for Android. We did a survey awhile back and found that 55% percent of people who had Android hadn't upgraded to the version that supports Flash. So there are many reasons why a person might not be able to see Flash on a device.

Claire: Can most of these problems be solved by having a redirector that works correctly?

David: Yes. In most cases you can get away with having the same site for all smart phones. And there are website tools like Wapple which can dynamically format a site and make those adjustments per device. There are also some good open source redirectors that detect mobile browsers. We use the User Agent Switcher from Chrispederick.com.

Claire: So it detects the mobile device just like a regular browser sniffer?

David: Yes, it says, "Hey, what are we going to send to this device?" Then it says, "Let's serve them up this site." And if it's a Blackberry 9800, it'll say, "OK let's serve up this site rather than the desktop site."

Claire: It seems like a very simple solution. Where is the redirect managed?

David: There are two types of redirectors. The first is server-side, so it's in the code somewhere on the server. When a device makes a request to the server, the server reads who is making the request. It's called a User Agent.

JavaScript redirectors on the client side detect the browser after loading some part of the page -- maybe just a tiny part of the header. It will detect the browser, and then make that call to redirect you somewhere. JavaScript redirectors aren't so bad for desktop machines, because most have JavaScript. But mobile users seem to have a higher probability of not having JavaScript turned on.

Claire: So is this server-side mobile detector script something you can download and install?

David: Yes. I'm in Firefox right now looking at a User Agent. Do you know how to do that?

Claire: Tell me. (To be continued…)

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