There’s no denying that mobile devices account for a huge amount of Internet traffic today. In fact, nearly 44 percent of Facebook users now access the site on their mobile devices. And although most executives are quick to say that multi-channel e-commerce and mobile apps are an important part of their sales strategy, many of them don’t realize just how vital a robust strategy can be.
In my role at EPiServer, a provider of social and e-commerce platforms, I’ve worked with customers and partners as they’ve begun to go mobile. From this experience, I’ve found that analyzing your users is just as important as understanding the technology. Before you begin implementing a mobile strategy, here are a few things you need to consider:
1. Understand the visitor’s journey
Knowing when and why a person would visit your company’s site on a mobile device is crucial to ensuring that you’re providing the information they would find most relevant. Are they using your site for research? Are they using it for an impulse buy? Or are they using your mobile site for social connections? With Google Analytics, you can research patterns that validate assumptions about the user journey.
For example, a greeting card company that I worked with assumed that its users preferred to design cards on their computers, and that they were unlikely to use the relatively small screen on their smartphones for this. Surprisingly, analytics showed that mobile visitors were in fact using smartphones to customize and send cards while they were “in the moment.” Through an optimized version of its mobile Web app, the company’s mobile visitors now comprises 10 to 15 percent of its e-commerce transactions.
2. Check assumptions
I cannot overstress the importance of conducting primary research. Many marketers want to cut corners when it comes to learning about their customers’ behavior, but that can lead to a very poor customer experience. You need firsthand information from your visitors. Whether you set up interviews or collect analytics through A/B testing on a design prototype, validating consumer behavior can make all the difference in conversion rates for mobile apps.
A hotel chain I worked with recently conducted a series of A/B testing that has proven incredibly successful. Testing indicated that users were more likely to convert and book a room on a mobile device, and they were less interested in researching options. While other hotel websites try to fit the choices and variety of a Web experience into a mobile footprint, this hotel chain’s simple mobile site appeals more to travelers making reservations on the go. By basing its mobile design on research, the company has increased its reservations.
3. Understand what kind of experience your users are looking for
If your research indicates that you need to offer anything more sophisticated than a simple mobile Web page, it may be necessary to understand the benefits of a mobile app. But your decision making does not stop there. You need to decide whether or not your user experience requires a mobile Web app, or a more sophisticated native app. Depending on how complex the user interaction is, or whether you need to store information on the local device, work offline or use sophisticated phone features, you may need a native app. For example, access to GPS information used to require a native app, but now it is accessible from a mobile Web app or mobile Web page. Over time, other functions will shift this way, such as using the camera to read a bar code or recognize a friend.
Both mobile Web apps and native apps have their pros and cons. Unlike native apps, Web-based apps are faster and easier to develop. And since they use the same technology as desktop websites, they are easier to manage and have analytics built in automatically. Although they don’t provide the flexibility and sophistication that native apps have, they are platform agnostic, easier to maintain and extend, and are less expensive to develop and operate. That said, native apps traditionally perform better (though experts say this won’t be the case for long).
4. Understand the analytics behind your apps
With a mobile Web app, you can use Google Analytics just as you would for your regular site. But with a native app, you need to build in analytics. If you don’t do that at the beginning, it can be costly to add later. There are two ways you can collect analytics from a native app. The first involves building a custom process of collecting information from the app, but unfortunately that leaves analysis separate and siloed from the rest of your analytics. The second, and ideal way, is to send tagged information from the native app to Google Analytics and then analyze user behavior side by side with information from your desktop site.
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses are using mobile apps with absolutely no analytics, leaving marketers in the dark. Understanding how your app is used is crucial to increasing conversion rates. A media company I’m familiar with realized after the fact that an increasing amount of their traffic was coming from tablets — a medium that required a different format for its newspaper and magazine articles. With this knowledge, marketers went back to work and ensured the company was meeting the needs of its most common visitors.
If you’re just starting to think about going mobile, this may be a lot to take in. Here are three key points to keep in mind: First, make sure your users can cross channels freely. If they use a login on a desktop, allow them to use the same login on your mobile site. Second, socialize your app and make sure your users are able to share content with their friends. Finally, remember that personalization makes a difference in conversion rates.
Engaging your visitors in the mobile channel is now table stakes, but a mobile strategy can fall flat if the proper planning is not done ahead of time. Using analytics and research to understand your customers and visitors before you begin developing the technology — and as you continue to maintain it — is essential to a successful mobile strategy.
Bob Egner is the vice president of product management and global marketing at EPiServer, a provider of multichannel digital marketing and e-commerce software. Egner regularly interacts with customers who are working to improve the results of their online and mobile presence and customer engagement.