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Is your business ready for the mobile web?

In the month of October 2009, I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Mobile Web Africa Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two day event proved to be a real eye opener in terms of what is possible on the mobile web and how much ahead South Africa is. However, mentions of Kenya as a leading mobile web country in Africa kept coming up which got me thinking – are businesses in Kenya ready for the mobile web? From what I can tell, and to be honest, I highly doubt it. Most of the web sites in Kenya tend to be designed for the PC Web, let alone the mobile web. However, the reality is that according to a recent article in one of the daily papers, up to 45% of Kenya’s 4 million odd Internet users go online via their mobile phone.

The uptake of the mobile web in Kenya is quite extraordinary in terms of growth. In the last 6 months, I have been monitoring the trends and there are some spectacular patterns. For instance, in the August 2009 State of the Mobile Web Report (SMW) by Opera Software (who make the hugely popular Opera Mini web browser for mobile phones) it is expected that Kenya is projected to enter the top 10 global country list from its current position of 14 within the next few months. In an earlier Opera SMW report from April 2009, It was also found that Opera Mini users in Kenya have the highest number of page views per month of any country in Africa at 372 – this number has probably since increased. In the same report, Kenya’s page views growth between April 2008/9 was 572.6% and unique user growth for the same period was 146.4%

Other interesting statistics that I picked up from the Mobile Web Africa Conference came from a BBC representative. Apparently, the highest amount of traffic that the BBC receives for their mobile news and sports web sites comes from Africa. The order of ranking in this respect is Nigeria first, followed by Kenya, and then South Africa – very telling indeed! As a result, the BBC plans to launch Kiswahili versions of these mobile web sites in the very near future. In another report from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) approximately 200,000 mobile internet subscribers we’re signed up between the months of March and June 2009.  Safaricom also recently announced its half year financial results whereby 18% of its Kes. 40 billion revenues came from data services including Internet, SMS and M-Pesa.

The statistics speak for themselves. The mobile web should indeed be a very big deal for businesses in Kenya. However, as it turns out, most of the top mobile web sites being accessed are the usual suspects like Google, Facebook and Twitter. The truth of the matter is that there is very little popular local content on the Kenyan mobile web with the exception of local mobile variants of the Daily Nation (mobile.nation.co.ke) and the East African Standard (www.eastandard.net/m). Some of the pioneers on the Kenyan mobile web include Kenya Airways (www.kqwap.com), Silverbird Cinemas (m.silverbird.co.ke), and CFC Stanbic Bank (www.cfcstanbicbank.mobi). There are probably a good number more but its clearly early days with very little information on how many Kenyan mobile web sites exist.

So, the big question is if you want to get in on the mobile web as a business, how exactly do you do it? Its clearly a large market opportunity but the rules are quite different from the PC Web or other media marketing channels. In most of the developing world, most users of the Internet have their first Internet experience via a mobile phone. It also ends up being the only “screen” that they will ever use to get online. However, the mobile phone is incredibly powerful from a marketing and service delivery point of view since its the one device that we always have with us, all the time. In fact, a few months ago, the mobile phone surpassed the FM radio to become the most ubiquitous electronic communications device in the world.

In a mobile web world, the biggest challenges are screen size and content. In terms of screen size, most mobile phones have small screens which requires that your mobile web site has to be optimized so as to render effectively to the end-user. This typically involves stripping down a web site to its basic essentials so that most of the content is text based and has small bandwidth efficient graphics. Also due to screen size, mobile web sites usually will have a menu or navigation that has significantly fewer options and sub-pages, compared to a PC web site. A key driver in this respect is giving your users only content that would be relevant to a  mobile web user. Its highly unlikely that a visitor to your web site will have the patience to pore over voluminous content in their mobile phone like they would do on the PC web.

The following are the some steps you can follow in developing a mobile web site that will generate business and improve service delivery to your current and prospective customers:

  • Have a mobile web strategy, first – there is no point in building a business mobile web site just for the sake of having one. The most important reason should be that you have a mobile web strategy that will result in business benefits, and a compelling value proposition for its users. This could anything from delivering office branch locations, special daily offers, downloadable ringtones and anything else that you think your customers would want from the mobile web site.
  • Update content, regularly – the mobile web is the real-time web. This is due to the nature of the mobile phone, which is always with you, day and night. On the mobile web, users get online at any time and for any reason. For this very reason, its absolutely essential that your mobile web site content is updated quite regularly or you will lose traffic. This is probably best exemplified by the fact social networks like Twitter and Facebook are some of the most popular mobile web sites in Kenya due to the highly dynamic nature of their content.
  • Keep it simple, really simple – On the mobile web, less is more, really! Its very very important to keep your content and services on the mobile web as simple as possible. A mobile web site has to render effectively on a basic Nokia model or the latest Apple iPhone so the spectrum is very broad indeed. Its important to work with the lowest common denominator – the most basic web-enabled mobile phones should be able to work with your mobile web site.
  • Context, context and more context – Who are you targeting with your mobile web site? What do they expect from your mobile web site? Why will they keep coming back to your mobile web site? What do they do and where do they come from? Its all about context, know thy customer! Better yet, ask them what they would want from your mobile web site before you build it!

This article was first published in the December 2009/January 2010 edition of Management Magazine, a monthly publication from the Kenya Institute of Management.

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5 Comments

  1. November 30, 2009 at 6:37 pm — Reply

    also for your content, you should use a backend system that supports differentiated templates for different medias (one for pc’s and one for mobiles e.g.)…
    *shameless note* Like Taesk CMS */shameless note*

    want an example – just try http://www.pluspeople.dk from an iphone / ipod touch 😉

  2. December 1, 2009 at 9:45 am — Reply

    Hi Mike. Thanks for the *shameless plug* on Taesk doing mobile web. Hope your well otherwise.
    .-= Moses Kemibaro´s last blog ..Is your business ready for the mobile web? =-.

  3. Ntwiga
    December 3, 2009 at 1:40 am — Reply

    I am not sure I completely understand this.

    From a traffic perspective, content certainly is an issue. Business however are about revenue and I am not sure that there is any business out there that, at this point in time (2009), has figured out a surefire way to monetize content over phones aside from pron.

    It can be argued that the one organization that has figured out how to monetize mobile delivery effectively is doing apps (services), not content, even though all that some of those apps do is deliver content. This model extends quite well to Africa (think M-Pesa, txteagle, Frontline SMS … ).

    Any thoughts on this?

  4. December 13, 2009 at 12:49 pm — Reply

    nice stuff

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