Mobile Measurement: Let’s Clear the Air(waves)

The desktop is yesterday’s lunchmeat. Mobile is the new black for digital marketers.

Every person on the planet, it seems, has a way to connect via a mobile device; and marketers have responded by creating mobile-oriented content in astonishing volume. We now find it routine that a “website” will have adaptive technology – that is, it detects your device and wraps its content around that device profile to dynamically optimize the experience. Neat!

Everybody is in love with mobile. But mobile measurement? Not so much.

We don’t have the inches here to be comprehensive, but we can point out some broad outlines about the challenges facing mobile measurement – and the ways in which this inhibits the attainment of an understanding of ROI on mobile platforms.

The fact is that mobile measurement is still young and uncertain of itself. Among other shortcomings, some of the terminology is a bit squishy.

For instance: mobile means what, exactly? It means at least iOS and Android, and most folks kind of stop there. But what about user behavior as it relates to tablets? What about minified tablets? Or massive smartphone screens? And what about feature phones in the third world? And what about laptop use in cafes? It may sound like I’m kidding, but I’m not. If anyone bothered to look, this is probably an identifiable market with distinct behaviors apart from so-called “desktop.” Add apps to the mix and you begin to see the fragmentation.

One mild suggestion might be that we need to stop calling mobile “mobile” pretty soon, because it will be too inexact a term to be useful to us as marketers.

An example of where this plays out in the real world made itself plain when I attended the AdMonsters Ops/Mobile Conference in New York recently. If the conference indicated anything besides advertiser excitement, it was the very newness of it all; and it is clear that even expert participants are still taking small steps toward understanding mobile comprehensively.

VivaKi teamed up with USA Today to present its study of ad effectiveness on tablets. The study was comprehensive and the results were clearly given (there were three successful ad types identified), but the study apparently included only browser experiences on tablets.

Apps were not mentioned.

Apps are classified as “mobile,” too – but they did not make their way into this otherwise impressive study.

Nonetheless, there are things we can already say about apps and app measurement.

Apps are experienced in very different ways than any website, and demand new measurement paradigms. They’re also not searchable the way a website is, because (for instance) Google can’t spider through the compiled code of an app, nor allow you to access its contents on the fly. This in itself represents a profound change in the way marketers need to think about mobile. Apps are Kryptonite for SEO and SEM. You can’t optimize an app for search engines. Full stop.

Prior to 2012, app measurement was a tiny twig upon the tree of digital analytics; now it’s a branch you might be able to swing from if you’re not too heavy. Early on there was Flurry, a company whose primary business was (and is) to sell ads via its ad network; and it offers today a relatively simple and easy tool to measure some basic app activity. There are others in the market – Mixpanel, Radian6, KISSmetrics, Lavastorm, and Kontagent, which has come from the gaming world and may have the most robust mobile measurement platform today. Even stalwarts like Adobe Omniture and Webtrends have app measurement plug-ins if you care to indulge.

Google Analytics entered the mobile measurement field in 2012 with an API for app data collection. Not surprisingly, it has become a force in mobile measurement, because now the full weight of Google Analytics is put to work on a glaring inefficiency in the digital analytics market: measuring the now-ubiquitous app. With Google Analytics’ new API, you can deploy the burgeoning sophistication of this measurement tool against your app. You will have to alter your nomenclature, adjust your KPIs, and understand the nuances of “conversion” inside an app (beyond mere opens). But with Google Analytics in the mix, apps now become very measurable using an industry-standard tool.

So “mobile” can mean HTML content on multiple platforms and multiple device types, with very different development profiles and distinct experiences on each; it can also mean apps and games that conform not at all to any web paradigm.

What seems clear today is that “mobile” is rather a misnomer for several distinct disciplines; consequently, there’s really no such thing as a “mobile strategy.” Mobile is multi-faceted, and the world of mobile content and measurement is probably due for some recalibration of its taxonomy before we lose an opportunity to understand its rich potential.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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