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Application Software
Roger Lee  |  October 31, 2014
Software Entrepreneur’s Playbook: Don’t Make the Mobile Web a Stepchild

Today’s business-software entrepreneurs must start out mobile-first, building an elegant, simple mobile app before dealing with the desktop. (It’s a topic I wrote about in a previous “Playbook” post.) And while it’s always preferable to access a product via a company-specific, mobile app—instead of a mobile-optimized website found through a  browser on a phone or tablet—that doesn’t mean entrepreneurs should ignore the mobile web altogether.

In fact, the mobile web is a powerful animal: It plays a critical role in how users find your company, learn about your products, and decide whether to become paying customers.

Once someone decides to start using your product, chances are he or she will opt to interact with it, at least some of the time, via an app on a mobile device. But first the user has to find your product—and more times than not, they’ll use the mobile web to search for keywords related to your business.

When someone types “cloud storage”, “mobile CRM”, “BI for small businesses” or any other term that describes your product into a search engine on their smartphone, is your business getting found? And if that person then uses the phone to click through to your site, is the site optimized for a mobile device, providing quick, seamless browsing and easy access to information? Or is it a clunky web interface that stalls on a mobile screen, leading the prospective customer to jump ship and search for a competitor’s products?

The mobile web may account for just 14% of consumers’ time spent on mobile devices, but that time is mostly consumed by pointed, purposeful searches for specific information. [tweetherder]One-third of organic web searches now originate from mobile devices[/tweetherder], and that number will soon pass 50%, according to several studies.

Yet many enterprise-software companies put little thought into how their websites perform for users on mobile devices. Research done by BrightEdge*, a search-engine optimization (SEO) technology company in which my firm invested, shows 72% of websites encounter issues when accessed by mobile devices—and this includes websites that are supposedly ‘optimized’ for mobile.

There’s an analogy here. Let’s say your company is planning to do business in China, where much of the population does not read or speak English. You wouldn’t target that audience with an English-only website or product. And yet that’s exactly what many leading brands are doing when it comes to mobile—offering up an experience that is completely foreign for their mobile users.

On top of ensuring mobile users land on an optimized website that provides all the information they need in an easy-to-navigate format, enterprise-software companies also must ensure they’re managing their SEO and SEM campaigns to capture the highest number of interested searchers. When it comes to SEO, few enterprise companies have cracked the code on how to manage their mobile vs. web keywords, and more than 60% of keywords now rank differently on Google depending on whether a user searches using desktop or a mobile. In other words, just because your company is the #1 or #2 result for top keywords on desktop search, you might not even make the first page in mobile searches.

The disconnect is similar for SEM campaigns, with paid search terms going for wildly different prices and offering varying  click-through and conversion rates, depending on whether the click comes from mobile or desktop.

To ensure you’re taking the right steps to master the mobile web, here are [tweetherder text= “Four key strategies to mastering the mobile web”]four key strategies[/tweetherder] to get you started:

Get found

To ensure your mobile content is getting in front of the right people, you first need to understand demand. In today’s marketing landscape, targeting demand is less of an art form and more of a science. Use data to identify the target categories of largest demand, and with low competition, to create the right content. Also, dig into the data to identify high-value keywords that rank for paid and organic searches on mobile devices. By using both historical and real-time data, marketers today can get invaluable insights into demand that, when applied to your mobile strategy, can maximize traffic and engagement.

Keep mobile visitors engaged

For mobile and desktop alike, optimizing content for high performance is critical. Guessing what mobile content will work best for converting visitors into loyal, credit-card-swiping customers is an exercise in wasted resources. Don’t fall into this trap. Instead dig into your user data to determine demand and better understand what mobile users are looking for.

You’ll likely find that mobile users perform different searches and have different content expectations on mobile vs. desktop vs. tablet. For example, in the retail industry, desktop users are more likely to visit a store’s website to make a purchase, whereas mobile users are often looking for the location or hours of the local storefront. Once you’ve identified mobile users’ needs, tailor the mobile-optimized web page to reflect those insights. If it’s easier for them to find exactly what they need, you’re more likely to keep those visitors engaged and happy, leading to return visits and potential sales in the future.

The mobile web can pinch hit for an app

If for some reason your enterprise-software company doesn’t yet have a mobile app, make sure mobile users can access your product via a mobile-optimized website. It’s preferable to have an app—because users will expect a seamless, app-driven experience to use your product—but if you don’t have one, the mobile web can serve as a substitute until you build one. Make it super easy for mobile users to log into their accounts from the mobile-web homepage, and then build a mobile-optimized interface that lets them perform key functions.

One size does not fit all

There’s an evolution occurring today in the way brands approach mobile. Many are finding that, increasingly, mobile isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. When choosing a configuration strategy, brands are experimenting with elements of both responsive and dynamic design, mixing and matching to find the highest performing strategy. BrightEdge data shows that all mobile configurations rank about the same for a given keyword if implemented correctly. Carefully choose which mobile configurations work best for specific sections of your website and consider that it might be a mix of more than one strategy. For example, many brands have found that a responsive site works best when they mix in dynamic serving of content on their most important pages.

In today’s enterprise software market, the mobile web plays second fiddle to mobile apps, but that doesn’t mean you should forget it exists. As an entrepreneur bent on building the next billion-dollar enterprise software company, there are no shortcuts; when it comes to mobile, that means building a killer mobile app and nailing the mobile web.

Roger Lee is a general partner at Battery Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif.; this is his sixth “Software Entrepreneur’s Playbook” blog post about building a billion-dollar software company. Jim Yu is the CEO of search-engine optimization firm BrightEdge.

 *For a list of all Battery portfolio companies, please click here.

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