Mobile: It's Not Too Late To Be Early

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Jason Spero, the head of mobile ads for the Americas at Google. Spero joined Google in May 2010 as part of the acquisition of AdMob where he was vice president and general manager of North America responsible for strategy and operations.

Mobile is finally delivering on its promise. All the technology is in place and consumers are engaging in droves, on smartphones in particular. However, many businesses still aren’t hearing the call. Most have not yet meaningfully engaged with mobile consumers and adapted their strategies to capitalize on the mobile opportunity. But, it’s still not too late to be early to mobile. Here are five simple steps that businesses should take —today—to build the foundation of their mobile marketing and commerce strategy.

1) Create a mobile specific site

Give consumers a great mobile experience when they visit your site on their mobile phone. Considering that over 50% of Americans are going to have a smartphone and there will be an estimated one billion mobile internet users by the end of the year, it’s pretty astounding that only 21% of Google’s large advertisers have mobile-optimized websites.

What’s a mobile specific site? It’s a website that’s been designed specifically for a smartphone: it prioritizes what’s important for a user on the go, it features elements that are easy to see and interact with (instead of minuscule type, or rich media components that may or may not load), and ultimately, it leads to happy users, and customers.

A mobile optimized site isn’t a desktop optimized site. In fact, it may be just the opposite: websites that look great on the desktop may be illegible, or require endless zooming-in, or may not work at all on mobile. The mobile web is not a smaller, portable version of the desktop web. When designing a mobile site, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Make site navigation easier, put key action-items front and center, and build for the on-the-go user. Think about the mobile behavior of your customers and design for it.

2) Think Local

It’s often said that mobile searches have more ‘intent’; but what does that mean? It’s a fancy way of saying that when people are looking for information on a mobile device they intend to act on it. Fast. For example, when you search for a restaurant on mobile, you’re probably hungry and want to grab a bite to eat somewhere close by. Or, if you’re trying to track down a boutique’s address at 2pm on Saturday, it’s more likely that you’ll visit the boutique and return the shirt that doesn’t fit than it would be if you searched for the same boutique at 11am on Monday morning from your desk at work. Mobile users search for information because they want to take action. After looking up a local business on their smart phone, 61% of users have called the business and 59% have visited .

Because of this increased intent, location is exceptionally relevant to mobile users, and should be especially important to marketers as well. If users intend to act quickly on the information they find on mobile, they’re more likely to take action somewhere near their locations. As a business, if you’re trying to reach a mobile consumer, understanding geo-targeted advertising campaigns and products is critical.

3) Get ‘Personal’

200 million videos are viewed every day on Mobile YouTube, an increase of over 3x from last year. 65 million minutes (over 125 years!) of Angry Birds games are played every day on mobile. We’re glued to our mobile devices, and engaged like we’ve never been before. There’s an opportunity to connect with consumers in ways that are both special, and only possible, because they’re on mobile.

Here’s an example. Not long ago, Adidas ran a campaign called ‘Basketball is a Brotherhood’. The goal was to enable players to connect with the brand, and each other, in a unique way. To accomplish this, they built out a mobile property that enabled high school basketball players to trade voicemails with Adidas-sponsored basketball pro players. Users could visit the mobile site, call their favorite pro, and maybe even get a call back, all from their mobile device.

Sure, Adidas’ campaign was mobile-specific. But, it was also mobile-special; Adidas wasn’t just taking advantage of the unique capabilities of a platform, they were also enabling a connection that can only happen when a high schooler with Kevin Garnett’s poster on his wall gets a voicemail from their favorite NBA Power Forward. These types of connections represent the promise of mobile

4) Track your mobile site separately

The web not only looks and feels different on a mobile device, but people engage with it differently, at different moments of the day, and often with different objectives. Google sees a 50% spike in usage on weekends for Google Maps for mobile and in general, mobile engagement increases in the evenings and on weekends, when people are away from their desks, or on the go.

Mobile is distinct from desktop; your mobile site tracking should be distinct as well. When you separate your desktop and mobile website data, you’ll better understand the users visiting your site, what phones they have, and what actions they are taking. You can then use this data to optimize your website and improve it, along with your campaigns.

Moreover, think about how you might be able reach a mobile-specific audience and consumer as well. For example, as people are able to make and adjust travel plans on-the-go from their mobile devices, they are increasingly booking travel arrangements on a much shorter timeline, and sometimes even after they’ve arrived at a destination. Anyone with a mobile device that’s gotten stuck in miserable traffic, or needed to shuffle a schedule to accommodate a client, or just needed an extra day or two on the beach, probably understands this. Mobile is transforming the travel business, and others too; think about how mobile is changing your business, and build campaigns that will enable you to reach these new consumers.

5) Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

We’re in the earliest chapters of mobile’s history – change is in the air and hopefully will be for a long time. Remember, before January 2007, the iPhone didn’t yet exist, and neither did Android handsets, or any app marketplaces. The rate of change in mobile over the last five years is astounding and you need to have a fast development cycle to stay ahead of that change.

The tactics and strategies that work today may be very different from what works months, or even weeks, from now. Make sure to iterate regularly on your site, your mobile apps, and campaigns. Test to see what works and learn from actual usage. You should be excited to dive-in to mobile, and be prepared to continue working on your mobile ads, websites, and apps.