Essential tips for making your mobile site work better, from Yankee Group

There are some valuable lessons to be learned from Yankee Group’s most recent assessment of the top US (mostly) mobile sites. Of the 26 news, search, sports (among the more popular categories for mobile surfing – see stats below) and carrier sites evaluated, it’s surprising to see only Google, Yahoo and Major League Baseball receiving a pass grade of 70+ out of 100, while Yankee found that many otherwise respected sites still show room for improvement. The average score was 52. The US national carriers’ public mobile sites – with the exception of Sprint – received particularly low scores, which would be a turn off to potential customers (who don’t have access to subscriber-only sites).
Whether or not you agree with Yankee’s assessment of these destinations, every mobile site can benefit from the tips drawn from the study and should ask themselves the 25 best-practice questions Yankee asks as it evaluates each site.

The Best of the Anywhere Web report can be purchased here.

Statistics:
• More than 2 million mobile Web domains in use today;
• 31 percent of mobile phone-owning consumers now browse the mobile Web at least once a month;
• Asked what sites they visited on their mobiles, most popular responses were: general news or information (26 percent); search sites (26 percent); weather (25 percent).

Yankee’s tips for improving your mobile site:

1. Prioritize mobile information. Far too many mobile Web sites simply reformat desktop data for a mobile device.
• Yankee says many sites, such as NBC Sports, would be improved by being put on a diet – video and other heavy content makes them too slow to load where 3G networks aren’t available.
2. Take advantage of mobile context. Both Google and Yahoo successfully use user locations to tailor their local search results. Using mobile context both makes the user’s life easier and your application smarter.
• Yankee points out that news sites such as USA Today would benefit from using location-specific features.
3. Make sure your site works on all phones, by using device detection. Google, Yahoo, MLB all recognize and adapt to different handsets. Yankee found that some mobile sites, including the public sites of leading US carriers, didn’t work with some phones.
• Yankee suggests using a database such as dotMobi’s DeviceAtlas or the open source WURFL to help your site detect visitors’ devices.
4. Accept all mobile addresses. Make your mobile site easy to find by using all the obvious naming conventions to direct to your site, whether that’s m.yourcompany.com, wap.yourcompany.com, yourcompany.com/mobile or yourcompany.mobi.
• [mobiThinking notes that 42 percent of the destinations in this survey use .mobi addresses (among others): apnews.mobi; att.mobi; bbc.mobi; bing.mobi; espn.mobi; foxsports.mobi; google.mobi; mlb.mobi; msn.mobi; taptu.mobi; weather.mobi].
5. Validate your mobile Web site. Surprisingly, the majority of mobile Web sites reviewed did not deliver valid XHTML. Yankee says: check your site complies to industry standards with dotMobi’s mobiReady or the World Wide Web Consortium’s mobileOK.
6. Hire a designer with mobile Web experience and tools. Mobile Web design requires knowing hundreds of device eccentricities, understanding countless programming standards and having enough scars from doing mobile Web wrong to know how to do it right.

The scores:

News – winners: Google News (73/100); Yahoo News (73/100). Near miss: Reuters (61/100); Associated Press (61/100);
Sports – winners: Major League Baseball (71/100). Near miss: Yahoo’s Rivals (58/100); Disney’s ESPN (57/100);
Search – winners: Google (81/100); Yahoo (76/100); Near miss: Microsoft’s Bing (58/100);
Carriers – winners: 0. Near miss: Sprint/Nextel (53/100).

Mobile Web Report Card: methodology
Yankee asks 25 best-practice questions when evaluating each site. These fall into five different categories:
• User: These questions tackle how much the site focuses on the Anywhere user, as well as how easy it is for users to achieve specific mobile goals.
• Device: This category’s questions examine how well the site adapts to the mobile devices that Anywhere users are carrying.
• Network: Questions in this group address how the site’s content is designed to work on actual carrier networks.
• Design: Questions in this category look at how the site design contributes to Anywhere usability.
• Effectiveness: This last category examines broader technical and usability issues that Yankee Group believes are important to a good Anywhere experience.

Thanks to Volker Hirsch for including this blog in the latest Carnival of the Mobilists, a weekly roundup of the very best in mobile and wireless blogs.


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