Changing Shape: How Device Selection May Indicate User Intent

A mobile version. A tablet version. A smartphone version. Marketers these days cannot seem to have enough versions of their website. And on the surface, recognizing that most websites are next to impossible to navigate on a screen smaller than your hand, having multiple versions of a site may make sense. But if the point of these alternate versions is to better engage users, then many of these sites are still missing the mark. And the metrics used to assess performance may be even more off target.

The problem with many of these alternate sites is that they are simply doctored versions of a traditional website. Some have more streamlined navigation, less or no Flash, and maybe fewer pages, but few of these sites are created with new content or functionality directed specifically at the on-the-go user. Even fewer of these sites are targeted at specific customer intents. As the overall mobile market continues to grow and smartphone and tablet users stay on pace to outnumber “traditional” mobile users (comScore reports that in December 2010, nearly 47 percent of mobile subscribers in the U.S. were mobile media users), marketers must begin delivering more directed, relevant, device-specific tools and content – and use more specific metrics to track success.

Each of the different “versions” of a site serves a distinct purpose – and should be optimized to reflect that. A few considerations:

  • Tablet site. For group decision-making and sharing of information – especially sharing rich visuals like pictures – tablets such as the iPad, Galaxy, or Xoom are an ideal medium. The devices can be held and passed along easily, and the high-definition screens call out for robust presentation. However, these devices don’t come with a mouse handy – and the sensitivity of the touchscreen is not exact, making detailed navigation and content entry a chore. Understanding the limits of these devices, marketers should consider that users of the tablet devices may tend to be earlier in the buying cycle – thus consider delivering more content for browsing and decision-influencing tasks, like reading reviews and ratings, and less direct focus on driving users to the booking process. The use of broad, category-level search terms rather than detailed, product, or branded terms may be additional indicators of the early stage of this audience – and further indicators of intent.
  • Mobile site. In many ways, the emerging capabilities of smartphones is making even the definition of mobile hard to agree upon. In most instances, mobile is the location-based screen, making it the ideal option for immediate consumption content – from dynamic coupons to account status updates. Mobile also provides a logical service touchpoint – from finding an installation manual to making a dinner reservation. However, the smaller screen and inconsistent bandwidth of certain mobile phones make data-heavy transactions less desirable and simple navigation a must. From a search perspective, indicators like Zip code are dead-clear indicators of the immediacy of a user’s need.
  • Traditional website. Often the first place of reference for more complicated searches and transactions, the traditional website still is the big behemoth in terms of content and complexity. Users have the ability to enter long amounts of text, click on small objects, and save items to review later – all done over an increasingly high bandwidth. Complex transactions, such as booking a cruise or customizing a laptop are most effectively completed on this type of site. As this is the most mature type of site, advanced targeting techniques based on keyword and clickpath are already in the repertoire of most marketers.

As non-PC devices become standard tools for web browsing, organizations must better predict the intent of users and optimize the experience accordingly – or risk a poor user experience.

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