The Unoptimized State of the Enterprise Mobile Web

Enterprises aren’t making the grade when it comes to building mobile websites. That’s the harsh truth offered by a recent Whir article that dug deep into research by Restive. How bad is it? According to the report, only 15 percent of all websites are “fully responsive,” meaning they don’t require redirection to be accessed by mobile devices. It gets worse; just three percent of all sites are both responsive and fast, leaving mobile consumers with few options.

The gauntlet has been thrown — the number of mobile subscriptions is set to outstrip the world’s population this year, according to the BBC — so how should businesses respond to the challenge?

Meet the Mobile User

It’s tempting to think of the mobile user as a hybrid, someone who accesses websites from a smartphone or a tablet while commuting or having lunch but who wants the full desktop experience whenever possible. But, thanks to an emerging group of users who exclusively prefer mobile, that is no longer the case, reports Harvard Business Review.

Almost one-third of mobile users say they primarily access the web from their devices, and retail giant Amazon gets 20 percent of its traffic from mobile devices. What’s more, smartphone and tablet site visits aren’t coming from the train or the coffee shop: According to research from Google, a whopping 77 percent of site visits are from home or work. And if websites aren’t optimized for mobile use, 46 percent of visitors say they won’t return.

What’s at Stake for Businesses?

More than just losing mobile users, enterprises that can’t compete in the mobile web market stand to lose money. As noted by the Huffington Post, 33 percent of online shoppers of the top 10 retail brands choose smartphones or tablets over desktops to make purchases.

More importantly, those shoppers use the mobile web, not apps, to make purchases. Nielsen reports that during the 2011 holidays, mobile sites were two times more popular than official apps. In 2013, Google found that 65 percent of U.S. smartphone shoppers opted for websites over applications. So while building a great app can improve brand recognition, it’s not the mobile solution.

Improving Your Site’s Mobile Offerings

So where does a company start if an improved mobile web presence is the end goal? Content.

An infographic from Strangeloop Networks proves the point: One-third of users prefer to view full sites on their mobile devices, even if a brand offers a mobile version. Why? Because dot-m sites are notorious for leaving out random — and pertinent — bits of information, meaning the user experience isn’t the same on a desktop as on a smartphone or tablet.

Consider the example of Tesco, a U.K. supermarket chain. In 2002, the company created “Tesco Access,” a streamlined way for disabled users to buy groceries online. The site was such a hit that Tesco expanded it and made it available to all consumers. The problem? Blind users weren’t getting the same kind of advertisements as everyone else and complained; Tesco changed the experience for a subset of customers and had to suffer the backlash.

To avoid the same problem, companies have two choices: Build a mobile-only site that properly handles cross-linking and device redirects, or create a responsive website that displays the same content regardless of device. Mobile-only sites are often cheaper, but they require enterprises to make judgment calls about what users need from a mobile site.

Many leading web hosts now offer mobile site services in addition to desktop hosting and can help to streamline the process. Responsive websites are more expensive to design and can get bogged down on mobile devices if companies don’t optimize images or compress JavaScript properly. The advantage? Users get the same experience no matter what platform they choose.

Regardless of which approach your company takes, keep in mind that mobile-first users have high expectations and limited patience, and they demand the same content quality as desktop users.

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