Reports

Volume 2, Issue 7 October 25, 2007

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Mobile Web

Introduction

In this digital age, we are quite literally attached to our mobile devices. From children as young as five to the elderly, we are a global population that is addicted to being in constant communication. Today, estimates put the number of mobile devices worldwide at approximately 2.7B, which equates to nearly one device per 2.5 people.

At its onset, mobile devices were simply telephones and were primarily used to place and receive phone calls. Today, in response to consumer demand for constant information, mobile phones have evolved into handheld multi-functional devices that allow us to stay connected and interact in many more ways than just speaking with one another.

With the recent introduction of popular data-ready mobile telephones and the decreasing costs of wireless Internet plans, the usage of mobile devices will continue to expand at a rapid pace. From phone calls, to email, to SMS and Mobile Web, mobile devices offer the most direct and personal way for advertisers of all kinds to interact with a customer or prospective customer. This direct connection to consumers offers all businesses a new and valuable means with which to interact with potential customers. Much as the Internet has grown into a platform where business and consumers interact freely, mobile devices offer a new platform for businesses to differentiate themselves from others and to speak directly with their customers.

According to Eric Schmidt, Chief Executive of Google, “the biggest growth areas are clearly going to be in the mobile space.” As a leader in the Internet, Google’s focus on the mobile space is indicative of what is to come.

The near universality of mobile phones in the post-industrialized world, coupled with increasing reliance on the Internet for news, commerce, driving directions and information, highlight the tremendous potential that the Mobile Web embodies. In many parts of Asia and Europe, the use of the Mobile Web is already widespread.

Since the advent of the Internet, companies have gone to great lengths to manage their online footprints. Taking advantage of the power of the Internet requires companies to meet consumers where they expect to find them, to provide useful and attractive content, and to safeguard against trademark infringement. The Mobile Web, while still in its infancy, demands similar attention from marketers, who will leverage it, and corporate counsel, who may be in a position provide tools such as domain names.

In this edition of FairWinds Perspectives, we examine the Mobile Web, and why it is relevant for companies to begin thinking about how it impacts their business. While the development of a Mobile strategy for a corporation will involve many groups, it is especially important for those who are involved in the management of domain names, online consumer marketing, and the enforcement of trademark rights to be up-to-date on this emerging market. This Perspectives provides insight from Google on the Mobile Web and examines this new medium as it relates to consumer behavior and expectations, focusing on search versus Direct navigation and its impact on domain name strategy and enforcement.

What Is the Mobile Web?

The term Mobile Web refers to the Internet when accessed via mobile devices such as cell phones, PDAs, and other similar products. For the purposes of this article, we distinguish the Mobile Web from the Internet we use on desktop and laptop computers by referring to the latter as the “traditional Internet.”

When a device accesses the Mobile Web, the content delivered differs from that which is seen on the traditional Internet not only because of the screen size, but also because of the type of interaction that can take place. Typically, companies can provide Mobile Web content to their customers and partners by creating Mobile Web specific versions of their content, or by relying on various usability technologies that reformat traditional Internet content for the Mobile Web. Though many companies have not set up their Web sites to respond correctly, in an optimal scenario, corporate servers should detect the use of a mobile device and respond with suitable content.
 
A glimpse into the potential adoption rate of the Mobile Web in Europe and the United States can be gauged by the Mobile Web usage rates in Japan. A recent study estimates that 53.6 million people in Japan access the Internet via mobile devices, which nearly equals the 53.7 million people who navigate via the traditional Internet.[1] It is estimated that Japan’s Mobile Web technology is roughly 1.5 years ahead of the technology in the United States.[2] Given the superior technology that Japan enjoys, it is clear why more people utilize the Mobile Web in Japan than in both Europe and the United States. It is likely that Mobile Web use will continue to rise as consumers are increasingly able to easily access desired information through their mobile devices.

A comparison between the United States and Europe suggests that Europeans are generally more likely to use the Mobile Web than Americans. Specifically, Germany and Italy lead the way with 34% of Internet users in each country also using the Mobile Web. France (28%), Spain (26%), and the UK (24%) each show greater Mobile Web usage than in the United States (19%).[3] Europe’s increasing use of the Mobile Web is reflective of their widespread use of fast 3G data networks and indicative of the growth American users can expect to witness. The Mobile Web will become more popular in the United States as Mobile Web usage becomes more efficient and companies dedicate Web content specifically designed for the Mobile Web.

Consumer Behavior

In order to grasp the tremendous potential and the possible pitfalls of the Mobile Web, one must first understand the unique motivations of mobile consumers. Mobile Web users exhibit different behavior when using a mobile device than when surfing the traditional Internet. Mobile Web users are not online simply to browse and surf the Internet. Rather, they are online with a specific need or purpose in mind and convenience is of the utmost importance to them.

Since users are often using a small numerical keypad or a QWERTY keypad, it is important to understand the relevant points of entry that such users will look to when they access the Web for information. As with the traditional Internet, users will access information either by using search engines or by navigating directly to a known or guessed Web address. Mobile Web users are typically looking for very specific information and they expect a quick and user-friendly experience. Since some of the first providers of relevant mobile experiences have been search engines, mobile users often look to companies like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN to provide the starting point for their experiences.

When searching the traditional Internet, direct navigators and specifically Freestyle navigators (users who combine brands with category descriptive terms when entering domain names) have found that they can find the information they want quickly by entering in very targeted domain names. It is likely that Mobile Web users will also use specific domain names to gain access to the information they are looking for. Since typographical errors are more likely to occur on mobile devices and each user’s expectations are different, owning the right domain names, and pointing them to relevant content is an important consideration.

Mobile devices give companies with consumer-facing Web sites the ability to speak to each of their consumers directly and fulfill their immediate needs at an exact location and time. As the Mobile Web continues to develop, it will become increasingly important for companies to consider developing Mobile Web content that more effectively promotes their brands and products.  It is important to consider consumer behavior and their preferred methods of entry, as well as the type of experience a brand owner delivers to consumers when they attempt to find them.

We examined the two typical points of entry consumers may choose (Mobile Search and Mobile Direct navigation) in order to better understand their intents and behaviors:

3.1 Mobile Search

Mobile Web users are looking for different content and different experiences than what is offered by traditional Internet sites. As a result search engines like Google are tailoring the format and relevance of their search engine results to better suit the unique needs of mobile consumers (specifically search, email, weather, sports, and maps). Last month, FairWinds sat down with Google Inc. to discuss the future of the Mobile Web and the role of search in providing better consumer experiences.

For Google, the mobile space will be the future of delivering relevant results to consumers. According to Dilip Venkatachari, director of product management for Google's mobile team, optimizing users’ mobile search experiences entails reducing data entry and including mobile-specific content in the results. This reduces the time a user spends trying to find the information they require and thus provides the user with a successful and quick experience. By focusing on search relevancy Google aims to make their search the premier starting point of all mobile experiences.

To see it in action, we performed a test (on a BlackBerry™ 8700) searching for a famous brand name that is commonly associated with a variety of categories – entertainment, consumer products, and news: Harry Potter™. What we noticed first was that unlike the traditional Internet, Mobile Web search results list natural and paid results together in a single, vertical pane. In addition, the results were organized nicely into expandable sub lists based upon what Google thought a Mobile user would be interested in. This included returning sub lists for local businesses, news, Web pages, and images. The order of the categories is a reflection of Google’s understanding not only of what the mobile consumer is interested in seeing, but how they want to act. In the case of the Harry Potter search, Google returned show times for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” at local theaters. Each theater listed an address, a click-to-call telephone number and show times - each of which was a hyperlink to Fandango.com where you could purchase tickets in advance.

Fandango.com

Through the use of their algorithms and technology, Google is able to project that the mobile user is looking for the closest movie theater. This newfound ability to retrieve relevant information instantaneously will drive the usage and growth of the Mobile Web.

Regardless of what a particular user is searching for, Google and other search engines are working to reduce the number of clicks necessary for users to find what they are looking for. By saving zip code entries and leveraging GPS, mobile search engines are able to provide even more specific information.

Search engines recognize that the intentions of mobile users are different than those of traditional Internet users. By realizing this early on and by providing quick and relevant experiences, they aim to become the preferred point of entry to the Mobile Web for the growing number of mobile users.

3.2 Mobile Direct Navigation

While search engines lead others in the delivery of relevant mobile experiences, we need only look to the volume of traffic that goes to corporate Web sites to see an indicator that mobile users will attempt to find what they are looking for not only via search but also by using the domain name space. Since domain names offer the ability to provide a user with a very targeted entry point (UPS TRACKING, CHASE ATMS, STARBUCKS LOCATIONS for example), companies need to consider how they can use the combination of domain names and content to provide valuable experiences to their consumers.

Direct Navigators (users who enter their intended destination into a browser’s address bar) and specifically Freestyle Navigators (hoping that upstracking.com will place them directly on the page to track a package) require corporations to think about the importance of domain names with respect to providing improved customer experiences. Users that are taken to non-existent pages, pages that do not resolve properly, or third-party information rather than the content that they were looking for are likely to have a negative impression of the company or brand in question.

It is necessary for corporations to ensure that the domain names they own help deliver the expected content to traditional Internet users and that their Mobile Web content caters to the specific needs of mobile users. Unlike a traditional user, a mobile user is typically more interested in location-specific information such as where a bank’s ATM machines are located, the location of a retail store, or when and where a movie is playing. The opportunity to sell products via the Mobile Web may be years away, but the opportunity to interact with consumers and provide them with positive and relevant experiences is available now and is important in establishing positive impressions in the minds of consumers.

The difficulty of entering text on mobile devices, elevates the importance of registering typographical variations of names. Cramped alphanumeric and QWERTY keypads can turn even the most deliberate users into chronic typographical offenders. On the traditional Internet adjacent keys can wreak havoc on corporations that are intent on protecting and promoting their brands. On the Mobile Web, the problem is multiplied – not only by the concentration of keys, but also by the variation in keypad layouts including QWERTY, shared-key QWERTY, alphanumeric and symbol menus.

Customer Experience

Regardless of whether a user accesses a Web site via search or Direct navigation on a mobile device, the content they find will dictate the quality of their experience.

Ultimately, the adoption of the Mobile Web relies on the widespread availability and accessibility of user-friendly mobile content. For a company to add value through a Mobile Web presence they must not only be where consumers expect to find them (at their chosen point of entry such as a well-known or likely Freestyle address), but their Mobile Web content must serve the needs of mobile users to deliver optimal results. Building a Mobile Web presence allows companies to deliver positive impressions via a new kind of Internet medium, thus reaching more potential customers and interacting with all customers in a more productive manner.

It is essential that companies differentiate their Mobile Web content from the traditional Internet to create a more positive customer experience. In order to deliver the convenience that Mobile Web users desire, the Mobile Web should be streamlined to contain content that is easy to access and applicable to users’ needs.

Unfortunately, many Web sites that are accessed via a mobile device today are confusing (or even inaccessible) and they fail to deliver positive customer experiences to the consumers they seek to please. According to iCrossing’s Opinion Research Corporation poll, “An overwhelming 84% of mobile searchers expect the sites they visit frequently to have a dedicated mobile version.”[4]

It is important to consider how content is presented on a mobile device. Specifically, is the content optimized for a mobile device and does it display in a meaningful and easy-to-navigate way? For example, attempt to access www.target.com on a mobile device. While the site resolves, the mobile device is forced to show all of the content in a vertical display. The result is a confusing site that is difficult to navigate. Next, attempt to access www.cnn.com. This site, which recently became Mobile Web optimized, displays a small sampling of top news stories rather than attempting to display the standard site in its entirety. CNN recognizes that their Mobile Web users are probably not accessing the site to casually review the news, and are most likely looking for headlines, so that is exactly what they serve.

One key point to consider when creating Mobile Web content that delivers positive customer experiences is that mobile devices typically do not serve Flash, which is a commonly used graphic animation technology.  Since many corporate sites use FLASH, they will not function properly on a mobile device. To illustrate this point, attempt to access www.nike.com (a site which uses flash) on a mobile device. The site does not resolve and the user is offered a blank screen with a link to “home,” which recycles back to the same page when clicked.

Beyond just optimizing a site to resolve in a useful manner, corporations must consider the reasons why a Mobile Web user will access their site from a mobile device. The reason will be different for each company, but that reason should drive the type of content that is served. 

A good example of a company offering an optimal experience to users accessing the Web via a mobile device is www.bofa.com (Bank of America). On a mobile device, this site resolves to one screen of text with four links:

  1. Sign In
  2. Locations
  3. What is Mobile Banking?
  4. About Bank of America

Not only does Bank of America realize when users enter its site from mobile devices, but it provides them with mobile content that is different than that which is displayed at www.bofa.com on the traditional Internet and the information is targeted to the specific needs of a customer on the go.

Impact

Up to this point, the discussion has focused on the need to be where customers expect to find you and the need to provide them with tailored experiences especially when they are accessing the Internet from a mobile device. It is also important to examine the impact of the Mobile Web on two specific areas: Domain Name Strategy and Trademark and Copyright Enforcement.

5.1 Domain Name Strategy

Domain names offer brand owners the ability to interact immediately and directly with their customers and partners online. While search engines are effectively providing positive Mobile Web experiences today, the demands of consumers for more streamlined and relevant interactions will force other kinds of corporations to look to the Mobile Web in the near future. Specifically, companies will need to look more closely at their Web sites and the domain names that provide doorways to mobile interactions.

As discussed throughout this paper, domain names can impact the experiences of direct navigators, who FairWinds will argue make up a large percentage of traditional Internet users. Since these types of Internet navigators are typing domain names in the address bar in hopes of finding targeted information, it is important to own and use the right set of domain names to meet customers where they most likely will attempt to find you.

The onset and future growth of the Mobile Web requires companies to revisit their domain name strategies to ensure they are prepared. By understanding a mobile consumer’s behavior, you will be able to predict the types of names that will be used on the Web. Through analysis and strategic study, companies will be able to update their domain name strategies to own the right set of branded, unbranded, category generic, and typographical variation names needed to achieve online goals.

It is important to consider what Mobile Web users are interested in finding when they venture online and ensure that your domain name strategy properly anticipates their behaviors and protects against fraudsters who aim to beat companies in this race. By tying the right set of domain names to mobile-optimized content, users will have great experiences and will become more loyal customers.

5.2 Dot Mobi

dotMobi is a sponsored Top Level Domain (sTLD) domain name registry created by investors that include Visa, Nokia, and Microsoft specifically for the Mobile Web. Domain names in the .MOBI extension are intended to point to content that is designed for mobile consumption, and the dotMobi registry requires that a name provides such an experience if it is going to be live. Some have championed .MOBI as the catchall solution to providing dedicated Mobile Web content. At this point, however, registrations in this extension have slowed and judging from the scarcity of Mobile Web optimized content they appear to be predominantly protective in nature.

Despite the slow acceptance of the .MOBI sTLD, creating Mobile Web-specific content can add latitude to a company’s overall domain portfolio. Some examples of successful .MOBI sites include Amtrak.mobi, Hilton.mobi, and Zagat.mobi. These sites enhance visitor experiences because they cater to Mobile Web users by delivering the information they commonly expect, and by presenting it in a clear and effective way.

The inclusion of .MOBI domain names in a domain name strategy and in a Mobile Web strategy should be considered as the extension gains traction in the minds of consumers. As more users navigate to sites such as Amtrak.mobi, Hilton.mobi and Zagat.mobi, they will be more likely to attempt to access other more heavily trafficked Web sites by similar means.

5.3 Enforcement

As the Mobile Web continues to develop and attract more regular users, issues with domain name and sponsored advertising trademark enforcement are likely to surface more frequently. From a search engine perspective, since mobile search delivers results in a different order and different manner, it opens the door for fraudsters to operate more successfully and evasively than on the traditional Internet.

Since the technology allows users that access the Internet from mobile devices to be ushered to different content than a user from the traditional Internet, even though both users typed in the same address, Mobile Web allows fraudsters to operate Web sites and serve illegal content unbeknownst to many brand owners, governments, and Internet monitoring services. In addition, the change in user needs and behaviors and the difficulty of typing accurately on a mobile device may cause a spike in cybersquatting as the Mobile Web grows in popularity.

For a company to successfully harness the power of the Mobile Web, it must keep abreast of the domain name enforcement issues associated with this new medium. Delivering the information that consumers want requires companies to be vigilant in protecting their brands and trademarks, particularly as new technologies continue to arise. It also requires companies to be proactive in order to reduce infringements that are likely to occur as the Mobile Web continues to increase in popularity.

Conclusion

As mobile technology continues to grow and evolve, mobile devices and the Mobile Web will offer vast opportunities to consumers and business alike. While this space continues to change, many companies are still determining the best ways to navigate this uncharted territory.

Companies will need to keep pace with the development of the Mobile Web in order capitalize on the large number of people who use it on a regular basis. As a sign of what is to come, eMarketer projects that the global budget devoted to mobile brand advertising will rise to $3.5 billion in 2011 – up from $123 million in 2006.

In summary, we recommend that companies continue to monitor and explore this new medium since mastering the Mobile Web can offer access to new consumers, and may generate increased business and positive brand impressions.

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