Prep Your Web Presence for Mobile Browsers

A few weeks back, I needed a new sound card for my PC. Before leaving work, I used my PC to read reviews and technical specs, eventually settling on a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum, a high-end card that met my needs. I made a mental note to pick one up the next time I was at an electronics store.

Leaving work that day, I sprinted to Penn Station and made an early train - much earlier than the one I usually get. As I sat looking out the window, I thought to myself that I would have plenty of time once I made it to the train station to go pick up my sound card. So I took out my Treo 600 and fired up the Web browser.

A quick search on Froogle revealed that Best Buy had the card for a reasonable price. Great. Now all I needed to know was the location of the Best Buy retail outlet closest to the train station. So I headed over to hoping to find a store locator.

I had used the site before from a PC-based browser, and it loads terrifically fast on a broadband connection with Internet Explorer. But Blazer, the browser that comes with my phone, choked on it. I tried several times to re-load the page, but after waits of several minutes apiece that resulted in errors, I simply gave up.



And that's too bad. Had I been able to locate a store near the train station, I would have swung by a Best Buy store and spent at least $200. Instead, I elected to wait until I got home to order it online.

With the fully functional Web browsers available in many smart phones and other mobile devices these days, it's a wonder many Web sites don't create multiple versions of their pages, so that these limited-bandwidth devices can quickly get to the content they need. It's easy to program a web server to recognize the user-agent string of a requesting browser and tailor the returned page appropriately.

Many Web sites do this already, and have been doing so for years. Others are sadly behind the times. With mobile Web users measuring in the tens of millions in the United States alone, why would anyone fail to optimize their site for mobile devices?

Stepping down the load for mobile devices also ought not to be limited to Web pages. We can do the same thing for our ads. Many mainstream ad management systems have the ability to segment ads by browser type.

Might I suggest moving to low-load ad graphics that tend toward static information delivery, rather than robust animations? Many mobile device browsers load the HTML content of the page before the ad graphics, so getting your message across in less time and with a smaller load becomes critical.

This issue will become much more important over time as U.S. Web usage diversifies in its use of various browsers, whether they are PC-based, mobile, or otherwise. Rather than depend on reports of mobile Web usage that come out from time to time (and range widely in their assessment of penetration), may I suggest taking a look at your Web site's log files to check the percentage of users trying to access your site with alternative devices?

That will give you a more accurate gauge of the demand for your company's information via Web phones, and might also give you some insight into what other devices your consumers are using to access your site.

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