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Responsive Web design is not nearly enough

By Daniel Weisbeck

A content-aggregation site ? the kind that shows slideshows with click-throughs ? recently had a piece that caught my attention.

Using the Internet Archive, it showed a before-and-after look at the Web sites of major brands the day they were launched, and the way they look today. It was amazing to see the nascent online presence of companies such as Burger King, Home Depot and Walmart from as far back as 1996.

Back to the future
Back then, Web sites were little more than online brochures with store location listings, over time evolving in to what they have become today: online destinations that drive in-store or ecommerce conversions. Web analytics seemed as futuristic as online video content ? no one really knew much about their online users, other than through rudimentary Web counters at the bottom of the homepage.

In many ways, mobile-optimized Web sites bear many similarities with the early days of its desktop predecessor. The interface may be slicker, and brands may have improved their knowledge of how visitors are interacting with their Web sites, but they still lack the deep analytical tools to better understand their customers, serve-up experiences based on device, context and user personas, and ultimately move from engagement to conversion.

Think back to five years ago.

As a precursor to the arrival of tablets, the promise that a mobile device such as a BlackBerry or even an early iPhone could present users with a mobile Web experience on par to its desktop counterpart seemed like a far-off dream.

It was enough to be able to surf the Web, or access information while on-the-go, even if the Web site itself looked terrible. But that was OK. The mobile Internet was such a luxury that user experience was something few even considered. Delivering the same user content similar to the desktop was just not an expectation. How times have changed.

Mobile Web: More than a pretty face?
Fast forward to today, to the hundreds of mobile phones, phablets and tablets running various flavors of iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry operating systems.

Each operating system and the multitude of browsers in turn dictating the differences of how a mobile-optimized Web site should render. The be-all and end-all solution meant to address this complexity is the highly-touted ?responsive Web design? approach i.e. the practice of applying code break-points so mobile Web pages can render according to device screen size.

Once considered an advanced concept, it has now very much become the norm for mobile Web development.

Irrespective of whether it is always a practical solution for every device type and context, it at least goes some distance to addressing mobile visitor expectations that your Web site will render correctly on their device.

So we now have a cross-platform Web approach to how we design for mobile. Hooray. Or, more importantly for brands, so what?

As sophisticated as we have become around monitoring desktop visitor behavior, it is not often that we hear marketers talk in such advance terms about how they are measuring mobile engagement and conversion. They are so proud of how their shiny, new mobile-optimized site looks that they overlook the fact that this is merely best practice for meaningful customer engagement.

Yes, obviously your mobile site should render correctly, but going beyond just design considerations, what drives real brand affinity is delivering a personalized experience. What do you know about your mobile visitors? How are you able to determine the type of content and site functionality according to what is relevant to that visitor?s profile? And how quickly can I solicit the kind of user behavior I am looking for ? be it purchase, loyalty or advocacy?

After all, your mobile site exists to achieve conversion. However to be able to create that stickiness, the big question that remains unanswered here is: Do I really know who my mobile visitors are?

Mobile sites deserve same scrutiny as traditional counterparts
We have spent more than a decade optimizing desktop Web sites, primarily to improve conversions.

Everything from advanced A/B testing, to extensive investment in desktop analytics software, we have turned marketing into a real science as part of our quest to get to know everything about online visitor behavior.

So why are we not making similar investments, particularly in analytics, for mobile?

Marketers should demand access to the same metrics to truly understand the capabilities of their mobile surfers, whether it is browser profiles, device usage behavior or browser capabilities.

Mobile analytics have evolved tremendously, with more advanced modules able to categorize mobile users into personas. From identifying your ?morning surfer,? who does their online purchases on a tablet before heading to work, to the ?lunchtime power browser? who does product research on a tablet during a break from work, having access to these insights allows brands to offer more targeted mobile Web experiences.

Though rendering and usability are clearly key to that first touch, ultimately what makes a mobile Web experience is not just about how the site looks. It is about better knowing your customers and the behavior that they are displaying through mobile usage.

RELYING ON responsive Web design and desktop analytics alone to create a perfect mobile Web experience is no longer enough.

We now have access to the sort of mobile data analytics that have been used to monitor traditional Web site visitors for years. It is time for mobile marketers to get better acquainted with their users and fully understand their funnel metrics, while personalizing the Web experience to improve mobile conversion rates.

Daniel Weisbeck is chief marketing officer and chief operating officer of Netbiscuits, London. Reach him at .