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Best practices for ensuring high-quality mobile Web experiences

By Matthew Poepsel

While mobile Web users may be willing to trade some functionality for the “anytime, anywhere” convenience of the mobile Web, they’re not as willing to sacrifice performance in key areas like availability and speed. 

For example, a recent Gomez study found that two out of three mobile Web users have encountered problems when accessing Web sites on their mobile phones in the last 12 months, with slow load time being the number one performance issue.  

Expectations for performance were made even clearer by a majority of study participants who said they expect to be able complete simple transactions like checking their bank balance in a minute or less, or they will abandon the site. 

Clearly, mobile Web experiences are not yet matching visitor expectations, which can put revenues, customer relationships and brand loyalty at risk. 

Consider these additional findings:

• 85 percent of participants said they are only willing to retry a mobile Web site two times or less if it does not work initially.

• More than half are unlikely to return to a Web site they had trouble accessing from their phone.

• 40 percent said they’d likely visit a competitor’s mobile Web site instead.
Within this context, the following best practices are designed to help businesses maximize mobile Web performance and investments in mobile Web initiatives.

• Bring all stakeholders into the Quality of Experience (QoE) process – All individuals with a stake in end-users’ mobile Web experiences should have a clear understanding of existing performance levels versus “expected performance,” which helps enhance collaboration and productivity among functional teams.  For example, e-business/m-business executives can make a stronger case as to why certain priority applications may require more infrastructure support (and why others could suffice with less support), which helps IT teams make smarter resource allocation decisions.  IT can also help e-business/m-business teams see what effect (if any) new functionalities may have on the end-user experience, which enables greater discretion when adding new features.

• Share common experience management technologies, metrics and best practices across your mobile and Web initiatives.  Today’s Web performance management solutions are available in a SaaS model, which makes them significantly more accessible, affordable and easy-to-use than they’ve been in the past.  By applying tools and established best practices from the PC Web to the mobile Web, businesses can measure and monitor performance across a shared set of key criteria.  This helps create a more unified approach to Web performance management which elevates the growing importance of the mobile Web, while fueling greater efficiencies and cost savings and leveraging existing expertise.

• Establish a baseline for historical analysis and benchmark yourself against the competition.  Today there are mobile Web performance benchmarks for several industries, which are updated on a regular basis and allow businesses to compare and contrast their performance with their industry counterparts and overall industry norms.  Businesses can also determine how well they are satisfying high end-user expectations, compared to the competition.

• Test and monitor from your end-users’ perspective.  Any effort to optimize mobile Web performance must begin with a true understanding of end-user experiences in different geographies, and with different ISPs, carriers, content delivery networks, browsers and devices.  Today, worldwide testing networks include thousands of device profiles (for example, an Android user on T-Mobile in Seattle; a BlackBerry user on Verizon in Chicago) and offer businesses a quick and easy view into these experiences.  Armed with this knowledge, businesses can understand which end-user segments may be experiencing a performance issue; and then proactively identify, isolate and fix a wide range of performance-impacting variables.

• Test across the entire Web application delivery chain.  Like the PC Web, mobile Web sites and applications have grown increasingly complex, incorporating numerous third-party services (for example, mobile advertising providers and mobile analytics) from beyond the firewall.  This is known as the Web application delivery chain, and unfortunately, if an end-user has a poor experience with your mobile Web site or application, they will not care what is the root cause; they will simply hold you responsible.  For this reason, businesses need to drill-down to understand the performance of all the individual touch-points making up the whole of their mobile Web experiences, and validate third-party SLAs.

• Test and monitor at a frequency to insure you can resolve issues before end-users are impacted.  Up to 80 percent of Web performance problems are identified by end-users.  To avoid this scenario, businesses should test their mobile Web sites and applications not only before deployment, but also afterwards (and frequently) in order to pinpoint and resolve issues quickly — before they impact end-users — and drive continuous optimizations.  In addition, businesses should consider first testing existing applications and services (to ensure they’re performing optimally), before deploying any new ones.

Unless performance is addressed, the mobile Web experience will likely remain much like the traditional Web of 15 years ago – slow and unreliable; a nascent opportunity with vast potential yet to be fulfilled.  Businesses looking to exploit the full marketing power of the mobile Web must leverage best practices and put performance management squarely at the top of their to-do lists.

Matthew Poepsel is vice president of performance strategies at Gomez Inc.