How to test the viability of your mobile-friendly website or app project

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To avoid failure of your mobile project – whether that is a mobile-friendly site, web app or native app – it is imperative to properly evaluate whether your latest great idea really has legs.

Mobile has been a catalyst for many innovative digital services and products, some of which have proved huge commercial successes, but it has spawned as many, or more, that should never have made it off the drawing board.

To avoid your big mobile idea turning into a big business and financial embarrassment, it is essential to conduct a viability or feasibility study.

This is the discovery or research stage of a mobile project. The purpose is to answer the following six key questions to help you discover if you’re proposed project is: a) feasible; b) heading in the right direction; or c) a lame duck:

  1. Does the project meet the business objectives and fit with company culture?
  2. Will it meet the requirements of the mobile audience?
  3. What is the competitive environment? What are the opportunities and threats?
  4. Is the project viable from a technical and operational perspective?
  5. Will the project deliver return on investment (ROI)?
  6. Is the go-to-market strategy credible?

This article will help you answer the first three of these questions, with best practice processes, techniques and tools.

Also included is a detailed SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for you to follow. The final three will be addressed in future articles.

Geoffrey Handley a China-based venture capitalist and mobile-marketing veteran:

There isn’t a lot of difference in terms of what is required for assessing the viability of a mobile project – whether that is an overarching mobile strategy or a specific mobile app or site, within that strategy – with any other type of technology project.

The main problem is that companies commonly overlook viability studies with mobile-related projects, whereas they rarely forget to do viability studies for normal IT projects.

Business fit

Experts love to claim “Mobile changes everything” – see for example this presentation from Andreessen Horowitz.

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But this could be misleading. Mobile should not change what business you do, but it could provide a new or improved way for you to do your business. If your business is selling widgets, then your mobile project should help you sell more widgets – if it doesn’t, then why are you proposing it?

Businesses are made up of a web of different elements e.g. sales, marketing, tech, finance, legal, investors, business partners and customers (see next section). These are commonly referred to as stakeholders. If a mobile project is in the business interest then it will affect any number of these groups.

Whichever team is driving the project, each of these stakeholder groups should be consulted to properly identify disparity of expectations, objectives, opportunities and risks associated with the project. This will ensure the project is properly scoped from the start, reducing costly and time consuming additions and subtractions further down the line.

Put together a stakeholder Q&A and ensure you have written responses from all parties. This generic stakeholder interview template from UX Apprentice is a good starting point for this process.

Explains Handley:

I’ve always started with the discovery phase of the strategic process with an inward look to gain brand / business understanding – i.e. what “fits” the culture, vision, guiding principles for the business.

Often this is seen purely from the aesthetics / UI / design perspective i.e. whatever we build has to look “right” – but it should be more than this. A company’s culture often guides what type of risk it is prepared to take which in turn guides what type of functions you propose / build (more complex, less complex, more innovative etc).

Customer fit

Once you have identified your mobile audience and their needs you are then in a position to evaluate if your mobile project meets those people’s needs in terms of what it does, how it does it and whether it does it better than the competition.

There are a raft of techniques for evaluating if your project and those of the competition (see next section) meet the needs of customers. Many of these are commonly associated with usability testing but are very effective for all aspects of discovery.

These include:

  • Soliciting opinions via online surveys, focus groups and interviews.
  • Studying how people use mobile devices, websites and apps through ethnographical (behavioral) or field studies.
  • Asking users to compare and contrast different mobile projects – including competitors services – with preference and desirability testing.

There are multiple survey tools, but for viability studies, mobile insiders recommend Google Consumer Surveys which conducts surveys on visitors to participating websites and users of the Google Opinion Rewards Android app.

Daniel Rowles, CEO of Brighton, UK-based digital marketing training firm Target Internet and author of Mobile Marketing:

Google Consumer Surveys is a hugely underused and powerful tool. For around 10-30 cents per response, you can get real people to answer your questions. You can target by location, demographic as well as using pre-defined groups for some countries. It’s hugely useful and valuable.

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Also useful is Google’s Keyword Planner, which is a free tool for advertisers on the Google search engine.

But as Keyword Planner shows how popular particular keywords are with mobile searchers and which terms are more regularly used in mobile search than on desktop, it is a good indicator both of potential consumer demand for your service, as well as showing how interested advertisers are in targeting them.

When surveying customers, don’t just test for preferences for particular types of mobile services and user experience, but also for what types of device they use and how they use them.

You need to know: what proportion of customers have smartphones and data plans; and will customers prefer to engage with your service via download/native app; mobile web; social media; SMS; email; video etc?

Competitor analysis

It is highly unlikely that your great mobile idea is entirely original. So it is essential to evaluate the competitive landscape.

This helps establish how crowded the market is, how you can improve upon the competition’s offering and if there are gaps in the market to be exploited. This is sometimes called a landscape audit.

Melody Adhami, COO and president, at Toronto, Canada-based Plastic Mobile:

The landscape audit is an overview of the competitive landscape for both direct and indirect web/app competitors. Through this process, we are able to identify what competing brands are doing in the space.

This report not only serves as a competitive audit but also helps to educate clients on their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses in the space. It’s important to look at a broad spectrum, specifically taking a look at indirect competitors to learn what’s going on in other industries and which features, if any, could be a good fit for clients.

There are two stages to competitor analysis:

  • The first stage is to identify the sites or apps that already exist in this space and establish which are the most popular and how well established they are.
  • The second stage is try the sites and apps out, recording the features, pros and cons and then analyzing which of these should/can be emulated and improved upon, what features are lacking and if there are audiences that are underserved by these competitors.

For mobile-friendly web properties start by conducting web searches – with a mobile device – using keywords relevant to your brand, proposed site/app and customers, study which competitors rank highest and which are deemed “mobile-friendly”.

Back this up with search engine optimization tools, such as SEMRush to research top performing mobile keywords for competitor sites.

Though not mobile specific, a useful measure of user preference for types of content and which sites users prefer for certain content is BuzzSumo which tracks what content web users share most often on social media.

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Search for topics relevant to your project to see how much they are shared and which web pages and sites receive the most shares.

For native apps, check out the apps that top categories relevant to your app and conduct keyword searches of the app stores. App stores keep downloads a secret, so it’s not clear how popular any app actually is, but the user reviews provide invaluable insight into what users like or don’t about them.

Tools such as App Annie and Sensor Tower provide insights into murky world of app stores. For each category App Annie shows the top performing apps (according to its data) – free, paid and grossing – giving details on rankings, reviews, ratings, keywords for each app.

For any app, Sensor Tower estimates downloads and revenue, gives keywords and rates apps for overall performance, for visibility (how easy it is to find in the app stores) and international coverage.

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While tools can help with the first stage: identifying the key competitors; there is no short cut to testing, evaluating and recording the pros and cons of all relevant sites/apps and reading available reviews in articles, blogs or apps stores.

It is this research that will really determine if your grand idea is pioneer, me-too or lame duck. The more intensely the competitors are studied the clearer you will be about whether there is a market, how well it is served and the opportunity that arises from doing it a lot better than the competition.

N.B. If you are planning a web property, it is important to study native apps, because much of the user experience of native apps can now be brought to a much larger audience with web apps.

Native apps only work with particular types of handsets – typically the latest iOS or Android handsets – and only if users download them to the device, thus services that are native-only will always be excluding the majority of potential users.

This provides a big window of opportunity for rival services which work on any devices with a web browser.

SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis

Establishing and evaluating the potential risk and rewards of your mobile project is critical. A good approach to this is SWOT.

This technique documents the internal factors (i.e. to do with the company or the project) which help or hinder the project – categorized as strengths and weaknesses; and the external factors (i.e. to do with the market or competitors) which help or hinder the project – categorized as opportunities and threats.

For competition analysis, SWOT is a must, explains Robert M. V. Gaines, a Kansas, US-based web and app developer:

Since it is not always clear if a question will yield a “Strength” or a “Weakness”, sort the questions into internal and external categories and then sort the answers into SWOT quadrants.

Start by asking probing questions along the following lines. Then pop the answers into a SWOT matrix, similar to the hypothetical example below. Do this for the project, then if time and money allows, do it for each of the main competitors’ offerings.

Internal factors:

  • How closely is it aligned with company strategy, programs and technology?
  • What is the budget for development, promotion and ongoing maintenance?
  • Is the budget and schedule realistic?
  • What is the unique selling proposition?
  • What can this company deliver to this project that others can’t?
  • What audience is it serving and does it meet their needs?
  • How will it deliver return on investment (ROI)?

External factors:

  • How does it compare to competition?
  • Is there demand for it?
  • How fierce is the competition?
  • Are customers satisfied with current offerings?
  • How will market trends impact the app?
  • Will new technology provide opportunities?

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Beyond business fit, customer fit and competitor analysis there are three other elements to consider when assessing a mobile project’s feasibility: technical and operational viability; potential to deliver ROI and the credibility of the go-to-market strategy. These will be covered in future articles.

This is the fifth part of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

Here are the others:

  1. Six mobile strategy questions.
  2. How to identify your mobile audience.
  3. Why prioritize mobile-friendly web.
  4. Web apps: advantages of native apps in a web browser.

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