How to Enhance Your User Targeting for the Mobile Web

The goal for any web site should be to know your customers in order to deliver to them the most appropriate content.

This goal is even more important with mobile sites — not only do you need to know your customers, but you need to know what they are likely to be doing on your mobile site, as well as where they’ll be when they’re doing it. Traditional web site customers are most likely sitting at a desk facing a large monitor that has a decent resolution. Visitors who are browsing your mobile site are unlikely to be in the same circumstances — they might be waiting in line, riding on the train or the bus, running to the departure gate, or lost in an unfamiliar town late at night and trying to get somewhere.

Google is one company that has invested considerable effort into streamlining its web applications to suit mobile users. The web developers at Google have identified and focused on three main groups, and they attempt to target their applications to those customers’ needs. These are three solid categories, and are worth examining for your own mobile site. Let’s look at them now.

1. The Casual Surfer

These customers act in a similar way to customers of traditional web sites. Casual surfers are not really interested in any one thing, but have a few spare minutes between tasks to take a look around. In the world of desktop PCs, those few minutes might occur between meetings, or while the user’s on a short break. For a mobile customer, those few minutes might occur when the user’s sitting outside waiting to meet friends, in a car or taxi traveling somewhere, or even during the morning commute. If your site is focused on the sort of content that would appeal to casual surfers, then be aware of the limitations on the time and screen-size of your mobile customer.

The goal should be to make your content more “sticky”, so that casual surfers come back for more. For example, you shouldn’t serve up long pieces of content. Instead, aim for small, bite-sized chunks that are just enough to keep customers interested, but not so long that users can’t browse your site in the time they have available.

2. The Repeat Visitor

Repeat customers are those that are constantly returning for some sort of specific news or data. If your site is the kind of site that offers information about stocks, weather or sports scores, you probably have plenty of repeat visitors. The interface of a mobile device is very limited, so if you know what your repeat visitors are coming back for, time and time again, let that naturally bubble up to the top of the site. Avoid burying the content your customers want behind 3 or 4 clicks.

Mobile web site customization can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. A traditional site might ask you to log in, but on a mobile device, data entry is not as easy to perform, so it’s best avoided.

One option is to allow visitors to use their desktop machines to streamline their mobile experience. Take a page from Apple’s iTunes Music Store as an example. A repeat customer might customize his or her version of the mobile site while at a desktop machine; this could generate a special URL in which all of that user’s preferences are encoded. The next time the user visits your site from a mobile device, he or she can take advantage of this special URL, enjoying an experience that’s completely customized to his or her preferences.

3. The “Urgent, Now!” Visitor

Depending on your business, your definition of “Urgent, Now!” will vary. For an online store, a customer might consider the following message urgent:

“My books were supposed to arrive yesterday. They’re late. Where are they?”

A more seriously urgent scenario might be:

“I’m running 15 minutes late. Will I be able to catch my flight?”

For some customers, everything is urgent! But by identifying the most important needs of your customers and making the relevant information accessible within one click or less, you’ll increase the usefulness of your mobile site enormously.

Of course, the other aspect of user targeting is knowing which device they’ll be using.

Know Your Phones

As plasma and HD TVs slowly hit the market, broadcasters have run into the problem of where to place their logo and news tickers. Previously, they knew that all TVs were the same 3×2 dimensions, so they knew the relative width of the screen. Now, they’re beginning to feel the pain of dealing with a wide assortment of TV resolutions and dimensions — an issue that web developers deal with on a daily basis.

Of course, the mobile world is even worse! Not only must we cater for different screen sizes and resolutions, but also different shapes, as Figure 1 illustrates. From rectangles that are short and long, to those that are tall and skinny, to perfect squares, the mobile world contains a rich tapestry of variation that almost makes you want to pull your hair out!

Figure 1. Overlays of major phone dimensions

If you consider the most common phones available, they can be categorized on the basis of screen size — give or take a few pixels:

  • 128 x 160 pixels
  • 176 x 220 pixels
  • 240 x 320 pixels
  • 320 x 480 pixels
For the iPhone 4 and 4S, you’ll need to cater for the Retina Display, which squeezes a 960 by 640 resolution into a 3.5″ area.

Knowing these screen dimensions helps you optimize some of your content, however it’s best to keep the shape and style of your site as minimal and linear as possible. There is no mouse on a mobile phone — only an up-down feature — so you can’t demand that users jump around the page.

Figure 2. Sony Ericsson T630, Nokia 6600, Blackberry 8800, iPhone

Smartphones & Tablets vs Green-screen Phones

There are a couple of exceptions to the norm in the mobile phone market. They are the really high-end devices like the iPhone, iPad or the Nokia Internet Tablet, and the very basic, old “green-screen” monochrome dot matrix devices such as the Nokia 3310, both of which are shown in Figure 3.

The Nokia N810 High-end Internet Tablet, and the most popular phone in the world � the Nokia 1100

Low-end mobile phones have several limitations, including screen resolution and a severely limited ability to render XHTML documents. As I mentioned in the previous section, if a majority of your customers fall in this group, then maybe WML is still for you.

At the other end of the spectrum, high-end devices often have the ability to run a web browser that’s comparable to one you might use on a desktop machine. Delivering a quality user experience to these devices can be tricky — while the device may be perfectly capable of rendering a full, traditional web page design, it’s probably transmitting data over a cellular network, which is much slower than standard broadband Internet speeds. So even though the device can handle a normal web site, the customer’s situation and the reason why they’re requesting your services may mean that sending them the normal version of your web site isn’t the best solution.

There’s a lot to know about your customers or users before you begin to design a mobile site. What advice or tips can you add? How do you gain data on the mobile users of the sites you’re developing?

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  • Boostinspiration

    Great article. Very well written.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Don-Dinesh-Duminda/1421713019 Don Dinesh Duminda

    Nicely done

  • Bill

    Too bad this site wasn’t easier to read on my phone.

  • http://www.tradeshack.ca Trade Shack

    Informative article, today’s cellphones had lots of features too for marketing purpose. This article showed every points. Thanks

  • Seomxicoders

    great cell phone pieces… I like this blog.

    ================
    Website Development

  • http://www.modred.co.uk Scott

    Good stuff.. mobile phone browsing is slowly taking over, so it’s important to know these things!

  • http://twitter.com/salyris Salyris Studios

    As a designer and web developer, it is becoming the new norm to have a mobile-ready site on top of the standard website being developed. Good post.

  • http://www.webiscuits.com/ Webiscuits

    Nice read. :)

    Recently my clients especially marketers now require mobile version of their sites.. The real pain in this development is you have to buy at least an iphone, an adroid and a symbian phone.. And if he or she is a little picky, you have to buy at least major brand of mobile.. lol.. Is there a PC based emulator of all these mobile? Just so for testing purposes?

    • http://openid.patcavanaugh.info/patrickc Patrick

      Check out Adobe Device Central – Opera also has a version of their desktop browser that can simulate Opera Mini for featurephones. And if you have a Mac, you can run iOS Safari in the iPhone Simulator included in the Development Kit.

  • Jim

    I usually go to The Web Squad for my web design needs, but lately I’ve been getting more into it myself. I keep up with stuff like this as I polish my web design skills.

  • http://www.oeilgauche.com Ludovic Pessot

    Very interesting article, thank you.

  • John

    one word: responsive

  • http://www.e-nile.com Yassein Bilal

    thanks for the nice post