It's slow. It's cumbersome. Still, the mobile web, now accessible to 70% of the nation's 220 million cellphone users, literally offers the internet in the palm of a consumer's hand -- and an opportunity for marketers to put their hands right in that consumer's pocket.
Publishers, marketers, mobile-commerce companies and even a growing group of bloggers are building websites heavy on text and light on simple graphics for quick loading on the mobile phone, whose connection speeds are akin to dial-up connections in the web's early days.
Forget the past
"Forget everything you thought you knew about the PC web -- mobile is different," said Louis Gump, VP-mobile at Weather Channel Interactive.
Mobile websites are often called WAP sites, short for Wireless Application Protocol, and can be either "on deck" or "off deck." On deck refers to the first page consumers see when they go onto the mobile web. This page is controlled by the wireless carrier, which has deals with featured content providers, such as CNN for news or ESPN for sports. Off deck refers to pages consumers can access directly; these have no ties with carriers but are often more tedious to peruse than on-deck pages.
Mr. Gump advises marketers to overcome the temptation to put too many things on a page. "Think of how to write a short letter vs. a long letter. It takes a lot more discipline and thought," he said. For consumers, having to scroll on the small screen can be irritating.
And as for requiring additional clicks -- forget it. "The quicker you get to the destination, the better the experience," said Boris Fridman, CEO of Crisp Wireless, which manages 130 mobile sites. What are the key ingredients? "Ultimately what makes a great mobile site is content: news, sports and entertainment," he said.
Many marketers have limited their pages to simple landing pages to back up specific promotions. Burger King was the first fast feeder to set up a permanent mobile-web presence; traffic has increased steadily since it launched almost a year ago, said Tia Lang, manager media and interactive. Monthly visitors range from 100,000 to 150,000 a month, she added.
Google looms large
One of Ms. Lang's challenges is to get consumers to the site. And for all the differences between the PC and mobile webs, things such as Google keyword ads perform well on both. "We have found it a really effective way to drive people to our site," she said.
Branded terms purchased on Google, such as "Burger King" or "Whoppers," saw a click-through rate of 2.95%, while nonbranded terms such as "fast food" or "cheeseburger" didn't do as well, bringing the overall BK average to an 0.98% click-through rate. Additionally, messages at the top of a mobile-web page are 10 times more likely to be clicked than information at the bottom, according to Jeremy De Bonet, CEO, Skyward Mobile.
Some of the biggest obstacles to mobile-web growth are in the hands of the wireless-service providers: specifically the slow rollout of high-speed data service and the relatively high fees consumers must pay to access the mobile web. Only T-Mobile, with its $5.99 monthly plan, is getting the pricing right, according to Jill Aldort, senior analyst, Yankee Group, whose most recent study found 7% of mobile-phone subscribers are using the mobile web. Often, she said, "the plans are clumsy, confusing and expensive."