Smartphones changing the face of Web analytics

As more and more users access websites via mobile devices, marketers and Web designers need to adjust their metrics and analysis.

While the recent high-profile release of the iPhone 3G may have lured more people to mobile Web browsing, the activity itself is creating challenges for marketers and website designers. They must start thinking about mobile Web analytics, according to experts.

"It's early days, but it's time" said Bill Gassman, research director with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Industry projections certainly back up that assertion. Framingham, Mass.-based IDC predicts that worldwide shipments of smartphones will grow from 164.7 million units this year to 363.2 million units in 2012. And Gartner expects worldwide mobile advertising spending to increase from $1.7 billion in 2007 to $12.8 billion in 2011.

That's why New York-based Warner Music Group is experimenting with catering to the mobile crowd specifically. It launched a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-based site for one of its bands and expects to expand the service to additional sites in the fall.

Paramore, the band serving as the test case for the mobile site, provided a perfect opportunity because the band is intimately involved with the site itself -- blogging regularly and updating the site with photos from their own smartphones, said Carmen Sutter, director of analytics with Warner Music Group.

 

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Until recently, though, Warner had little insight into whether the site was really mobile-friendly. They had no idea how content was being consumed or whether the screen size was correct, Sutter said.

WAP-sites require additional measurement. Warner has been using SiteCatalyst from Orem, Utah-based Omniture for the past five years and recently served as a beta tester for its latest release, which includes mobile analytics. The new release offers reporting on such metrics as the percentage of mobile visitors to the site (versus PC or other devices), identification of device types, and data on visitors by country and carrier.

"One of the surprising things we've seen so far is in the devices," Sutter said. "The T Mobile Sidekick is the most popular device. We think it's due to the fans and that the band uses the Sidekick as well. We had expected a more even distribution between devices."

Already, that mobile analytics information has opened up potential sponsorship opportunities with T Mobile, she added.

Other organizations -- airlines texting travelers' flight information, financial services companies providing alerts to their customers, some retail sites -- also find themselves confronting the challenges of the new delivery method.

"These are the early adopters. They need to understand more about their mobile users," Gassman said. "The standards in the mobile world are not as advanced as they are in the Web world. Companies need to understand what type of phone people are using, what carrier they have, and ultimately who it is."

As the mobile devices mature, they will ease the transition for the next wave of users, Gassman said. For example, the new iPhone supports cookies. The key performance indicators will also have to evolve, he said.

"Today, it's really about 'Where are you?' 'What kind of device do they have?' " Gassman said, "so you know where to target your content and then the standard stuff around Web analytics -- the size of the screen, is it black-and-white or color, screen resolutions, etc."

But there are more complex challenges, he added.

"If the phone companies are going to reveal the user's name -- there's some work that has to be done," he said.

The way that website analytics software firms tag sites has been proprietary and very difficult if a company elects to switch from one vendor to another. Mobile access introduces another wrinkle by introducing a proxy in the form of a wireless carrier.

"There's a land grab going on there [with the Web analytics firms]," Gassman said. "If the phone companies are smart, they will dictate a standard. That way it would make it easier for customers to choose any Web analytics company."

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