Dot-Mobi, We Hardly Knew Ye

    .mobi
    Sept. 26, 2006-June 29, 2007

Dot-mobi (define), the top-level domain for mobile Internet sites, lived a brief (and not particularly productive) life. The iPhone killed it. Marketers, as well as consumers, will ultimately be better off without it because it’s getting easier to build sites for, as well as to browse, the mobile Web without jumping through too many additional development, architectural and duplicate content issues.

In fact, the only ones who appear to be mourning the suffix’s rather rapid demise are those who invested heavily (sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars) in .mobi domain names (e.g. flowers.mobi). It’s unlikely they’ll see a return on that gamble, as was the case with one unhappy customer at “The Death of .mobi,” a session I chaired at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose last week. But for the rest of us, thing are looking up insofar as the mobile Internet, and mobile search, are concerned.

It’s no secret that the iPhone is a game-changer, and since it relies on Apple’s Safari browser rather than some sort of proprietary mobile platform, it’s made .mobi domains redundant. Even if you offer one, an Apple iPhone will pull in the .com or .net site over a mobile domain, assuming one exists. Looming on the horizon is Skyfire, a mobile browser that’s going to do pretty much the same thing on Windows mobile devices; it transcodes regular Web sites on-the-fly and shoots them to mobile platforms.

Cindy Krum, director of new media strategies at Blue Moon Works, delivered a terrific tutorial on what marketers can do to adopt their sites for the mobile Internet. The four alternatives she offered are well worth repeating here for anyone interest in adapting their site for mobile, most particularly for sites offering local information, but also for news and finance plays — currently, the most popular plays on mobile platforms.

According to Cindy, as well as most of the other experts I discussed mobile search with last week, .mobi is rarely the ideal for mobile SEO (define) or mobile Web browsing.

A stand-alone .mobi site splits up traffic, links, and the size of the index, in addition to creating duplicate content. Bottom line: you just don’t need two separate Web sites anymore, one for mobile users, and one for PCs.

That said, here are Cindy’s suggestions.

Do Nothing

Examine your site and decide if it renders well on a mobile phone. Is it worth the effort to optimize for mobile? Sometimes, no additional work is necessary. Search for the site in the major engines via various mobile devices and take a look at the transcoded version. If it’s reasonably legible, it’s probably not worth the extra effort. Already got a .mobi site? Then simply redirect it to the .com (or .net, or whatever your primary top-level domain may be).

Obviously, this is not only the easiest approach, it’s also the one that fits every budget. But be aware that transcoding only works through search. So on mobile platforms the user experience is harder to control.

Create Mobile-Only Pages

Create mobile-specific pages for designated portions of your Web site. The pages will be narrower, have less functionality, contain smaller images and navigation adapted for mobile users.

With this approach, all that’s necessary is updating code that already exists. The drawback is that the site’s homepage will likely have to work on mobile browsers, or alternately, an extra click will be required to get from the traditional home page to the mobile one.

Create a Mobile/Traditional Hybrid

This model calls for one set of site content (unlike the mobile-only pages option, which duplicates content), but at least two sets of CSS (define); one for PCs, and an alternate mobile version. In fact, you can build multiple versions of CSS to accommodate different mobile browsers. Each is automatically pulled by appropriate browser.

This approach eliminates the duplicate content problem, but it’s not going to be 1000 percent reliable. Mobile devices just can’t be counted on to select the right style sheet all of the time.

Use Dynamic Mobile Pages

This is the most foolproof — as well as the most costly — alternative. Pay a programmer or developer to combine your content database with a user agent detection to transcode the site on-the-fly.

In addition to the cost and work levels involved, Cindy warns this is a short-term solution, due to continually changing mobile technology. But this is your best bet if you want to offer users the best possible experience and also bake the highest level of SEO into a mobile site.

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