How to Improve Mobile Website Performance and User Experience - Mobile Commerce Forum 2011
Develop | Posted October 26, 2011

As many of you already know, a few weeks ago I had the honor of speaking about the challenges of mobile website performance with Rob Foley of Akamai Technologies and Nathan Holthaus of Your Electronics Warehouse at Internet Retailer's Mobile Commerce Forum.

For those of you who couldn't make the event, I'm going to share my slides and key points with you here today.

To begin, why all the fuss about mobile? Because it's huge!

And not because recent data says smartphone penetration will reach 50 percent. Or even because mobile commerce will reach $31B in 2016.

Mobile is so important because it changes how we interact with customers. Smartphone users rarely go anywhere without their device, meaning access to them is constant. It creates the opportunity for a totally different type of relationship, a more personal relationship with your customers.

Because for consumers, mobile isn't just a purchasing channel. It's a way to impulsively pull up a product review to validate an in-store purchase. Or search for a mobile coupon. Or identify the brick-and-mortar store closest to their location.

It is these touch points and this engagement that not only make mobile shoppers more inclined to think of you when they are ready to buy, but that convert these buyers into repeat purchasers.

So if you're pursuing a mobile strategy (which you should be), what are your options?

3 Mobile Website Strategies

There are three: a website designed specifically for mobile customers, a native smartphone application, or your existing standard website.

  1. M-dot-com sites seem to be the best option for most retailers to invest in. Today's HTML5 mobile websites are every bit as rich as applications--something I first noticed accessing Gmail on my iPhone. The mobile Web version is every bit as good as, if not better than, the iPhone mail app. Besides, most mobile applications are really just a presentation interface and navigation containers making Web services calls to your Web back-end for the necessary data to display.
  2. Mobile applications that sit directly on a mobile device are a good option for the really big brands--Amazon, EBay or Newegg (for us techies)--or perhaps even for certain luxury brands. But given the amount of app real estate on mobile devices, a good mobile website is the best option for most retailers.
  3. Viewing your regular website on a mobile device is not a great option. In most cases, it presents a sub-optimal user experience, as it does not take into account how mobile differs from traditional Web interactions. Also, the smaller viewing screen could make it difficult to read text or view images or other objects that were added to the site assuming a normal size display.

The vast majority of mobile users expect a user experience as good, or nearly as good, as your main site. They expect a website tailored to viewing on smaller devices that provides rich functionality, easy search, and fast load times.

That said, recent reports liken the current mobile Web to where traditional Internet was in 1999.

Obstacles to Delivering a Great User Experience on a Mobile Device

What are the obstacles to delivering a great user experience on a mobile device? And how do you overcome them?

First and foremost, you need to recognize the role that website performance and website speed, in particular, have on your ability to deliver a great mobile user experience.

Speed matters. How long you make users wait to view a complete Web page can significantly impact business results. In fact, the consequences of a website slowdown on business performance are twice as great as those of a website outage.

For proof, just look at how your site's response times correlate with key performance indicators such as time on site, page views, bounce rates, conversions and order sizes.

There are many variables that affect website speed and performance and subsequently, your ability to deliver a great user experience on a mobile device. Here are just a few:

  • Slower networks with higher latencies
  • A smaller amount of screen real estate
  • An abundance of different mobile devices

The same level of operational stewardship must be applied to understand if a mobile site is available and how it's performing from different geographies and carrier networks.

I have three main recommendations for dealing with these challenges:

  1. Have a mobile-specific website.
  2. Optimize the resources on that site to maximize performance. The top two deliverables here are to resize images and reduce third party content.
  3. Optimize for perception of performance by pre-loading content or using local storage. Layer your functionality. You want your product reviews to be accessible, but do they need to load on the product detail pages like they do on your full website? Or can they be put on another page that requires another click?

Mobile commerce is only expected to grow, so it's time to start investing in your mobile persona and performance now.

For some additional insight, here are my slides from our Mobile Commerce Forum presentation.

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