15/09/11

By Boris Kraft, CTO, Magnolia CMS

Why go mobile?

An excellent starting point when deciding whether to dedicate resource to a mobile implementation lies in understanding your users.

Deploying analytics tools to assess which devices people use to access your existing site will help you understand the level of user demand for a mobile experience. If the proportion of visitors to the site using a mobile browser is particularly high - say over 40% - then this already makes a strong case for dedicating resource to a mobile implementation. Having said that, it may equally be true that the poor performance of your current site is deterring mobile visitors.

This leads to the next consideration ¬ the value of mobile users to your goals as an organisation.

Two immediate considerations come into play here: Are your most valuable audiences more likely to use mobile? For example, you could be targeting highly mobile executives or perhaps teenagers glued to their phones.

Alternatively can customers become more valuable precisely because they are mobile? Consider also how your content can become more valuable to people by being mobile. Accessing the Internet on the move also has a clear advantage of making relevant information and services available to users at the point of need ¬ which, most often, won¹t be when they¹re sat at a desk.

Driving e-commerce

Internet guru Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley argues that e-commerce can gain a huge boost through mobile usage, due to the inherent advantages of mobile. These include the ease of payment, with users accessing content with immediate access to trusted payment systems such as the mobile operator¹s billing system, or though platforms like iTunes or Amazon that offer safe payments within a mobile-friendly minimum number of clicks. These systems create a secure and readily available infrastructure for payments, making it possible to generate revenue from impulsive behaviour. Indeed, these payment options, which are cheap and simple enough to viably enable micro-payments are well suited for the type of transactions that are more common on the move - such as buying virtual goods like music, games, or any type of digital content.

Let¹s consider some of the key models for driving revenue from your mobile website:

1. Ad-sponsored content

Going mobile can be fundamental to solving a key problem for publishers ¬ how to monetise online services or content that users have become accustomed to getting for free. Online, free content has been traditionally supported by display advertising, but the viability of this model has been challenged as display advertising revenues have steadily declined. However, some of the early implementations of mobile display advertising have suggested that mobile content may perform better than the desktop - and as such may also mean that ad inventory on mobile sites may sell at a better price. The early evidence from tablet advertising is promising, suggesting that ads within digital editions have been more successful. For example, an ad campaign by
M&Ms [/nurl] was recalled by more users that had seen it on an optimised iPad version of a publication than on the desktop or print versions.

2. Subscriptions

One response the publishing industry has taken to declining revenues has been to move away from the advertising model towards subscription models - placing content behind a paywall. While the fixed internet has seen mixed results for this model, on mobile users have thus far seemed more inclined to pay for an optimised experience. For example, The Wall Street Journal reported adding 200,000 [furl=http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2011/mar/11/wallstreetjournal-ipad?CMP=twt_fd] paying subscribers to services dedicated for tablets including the Kindle and iPad. These new subscription models are being facilitated by dedicated payment platforms, with both Google and Apple developing specific payment solutions to enable subscriptions and purchases for mobile editions. The rush of newspaper and magazine publishers into mobile reflects the natural fit of a mobile device to formats often consumed by commuters on the move - an improvement in this respect to the fixed Internet which can¹t replicate the portability of print.

3. Supporting your off-line businesses

As well as being a saleable asset in itself, mobile content should also be considered as a way to generate revenue from off-line business.

Location-based services provide a channel where content or information specific to a user¹s location can be delivered to their mobile device. This can include helping users find nearby services - a good example being store finders that can provide directions to a store or branch near to the user.

Additionally, the mobile Internet can also help people¹s real-world engagement with a brand. Services like the UK¹s VoucherCloud, provide onscreen vouchers to users for shops and services in their immediate
vicinity.

To App or not to App?

Getting closer to users, using location, generating new revenue streams present good reasons for many organisations to create an optimised mobile experience, and in recent years this has started to become synonymous with the smartphone app. Mobile apps offer several advantages, but its also important to understand their limitations. By asking the user to download a programme, it can often be possible to provide a very rich experience - i.e. with complex graphics or functionality - that won¹t be as easily compromised by limited Internet connectivity. Apps can also repackage web content in a format tailored to a particular mobile operating system and may offer a greater ability to exploit the built-in features of a device such as its camera, accelerometer or GPS. It should, however, be noted that this can be increasingly also achieved on some devices through a mobile site - with the browsers on many leading smartphone platforms providing sites with access to device capabilities like GPS.

While the mobile browser is increasingly able to offer an app-like experience, developing a mobile app can present financial advantages ¬ with revenue generating opportunities ranging from paid-for app downloads to free downloads with in-app purchases or subscriptions (and every permutation in between). Additionally, creating an app is another way of making your brand and content more ³sticky² ¬ via a more permanent presence on the user¹s device and an experience where users can¹t browse to another site.

These advantages come at a cost, with an additional overhead of developing for a range of platforms. The programming skills and tools needed to develop for the leading smartphone operating systems Android, iOS and Blackberry devices all differ significantly, so creating apps could involve making multiple investments or taking the call to focus on one community of device users to the exclusion of others. Taking the app route involves balancing the investment in the resources and skills with the potential gains.

About The Author

Boris Kraft is Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of
Magnolia CMS

Boris Kraft has focused on the development of the Magnolia Content Management System since 2002, expanding the business in 2007 with the launch of the company's New-York-based subsidiary Magnolia Americas, Inc.. Today Magnolia CMS is used by customers including the US Navy, EADS, Vespa,
LOVEFiLM and Lloyds TSB. He has been writing software for 25 years and lives in Switzerland with his wife and three kids.