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Going mobile

We live in an insanely speedy age of technological change, if you can catch a pause to think about it.


May 24, 2012
By Jim Chliboyko

We live in an insanely speedy age of technological change, if you can catch a pause to think about it. In a single generation, we have gone from rotary phones to cellphones to phones that are not even really phones anymore, but minicomputers.

A character recently criticized another character on the television show Community by saying she was out of touch because “She was born in the ’80s – she still uses her phone as a phone.”

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Web pages not optimized for mobile devices (left) are shrunk down to fit on the small screen, making them hard to see. Optimized pages (right) have fewer elements and a more vertical layout.


 

Of course, the evolution of phones into computers has been well documented, especially from the consumer/user side of the coin. What has not been so well documented is what this means for the business owner. The fact is there are websites meant for big-screen, desktop computers (though your phone can access them) and mobile sites meant for smartphones. To cite a comparison from last month’s issue, compare cnn.com and m.cnn.com, the mobile version of the CNN website.

The surge of the smartphone does not really show any signs of slowing down. It was announced this spring that Korean giant Samsung was now outselling the iPhone, by almost 10 million units; that is, 10 million units was the difference in their sales. The two companies alone shipped almost 80 million units combined in the first quarter of 2012.

Even people dedicated to other forms of communication, such as quick response codes, admit their codes can be seen as a customer delivery system for mobile websites.

“If your mobile website is not a mobile website, and it is just a desktop website, you are breaking rule number one,” said Erik Goldhar of the Toronto-based marketing firm QRE8 (pronounced create). “If that experience is sub-par, you are going to lose that connection.”

But there are several ways to make sure you do not lose that connection. Of course, it is always good to know your customers, and what their habits are, so you may want to use a website analysis tool to see how your customers are actually accessing your site, whether it is with their traditional desktop computers, or something that more likely fits in their pockets. If you find you are getting a lot of hits from handheld units, it may be time to do something about a mobile site. But also know that you are not alone.

Last fall, the Yellow Pages Group put on a series of seminars across Canada for small business owners about how they can better use technology to help their businesses. It was a mixed group. Some people were very active online, while some let their initial website slip away and were thinking of replacing it, while some had never even had a website for their business.

At the start of the presentations, one of the speakers, Montreal-based Matthieu Houle, product director for mobile and platforms at the Yellow Pages Group, asked the crowd if they, as business owners, were satisfied with how technology was benefiting their businesses. The crowd was also asked whether or not they knew about mobile optimization. A surprising number present were uninformed about the whole notion, never mind taking steps to address the need for a mobile-specific site.

Houle said a big part of his job is to demystify the notion of what is mobile. Because of the speed of technology, he has got his work cut out for him. “I ask who owns a smartphone, and find that 99 per cent of them do,” said Houle. “Then I ask them who is using a smartphone to advertise. Typically, 95 per cent do not. There seems to be a lot of confusion about how to leverage your business for mobile.”

When asked why many of these business people were adopting smartphones for their own use, but not yet embracing the potential of mobile marketing, Houle said that the cause is perhaps a combination of both the speed of development but also the need to educate people about all things mobile. “Two or three years ago, the mobile market was irrelevant for local businesses,” said Houle. “But now 30 per cent of all searches are done from mobile devices.”

So it may be time to look at your online offerings, to update and make sure your website is mobile optimized. But that may also present some problems, depending on how devoted you are to your website, and how good you were about keeping in touch with your web guy. “For many local business owners, someone did their website a few years back, and they have lost contact,” said Houle. It may be time to strike up that relationship again.

The key, said, is to be reflective and not to rush too hard into mobile development of that aspect of your business without first knowing what you need. Part of embracing these new technologies still has to do with the old adage of knowing your customers and not just what they expect of your business, but also what they expect of your business’ website, whether that website is mobile or standard.