Road-ready content

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Several years ago, handheld wireless devices such as the BlackBerry were used by relatively few businesspeople. Since then, smartphones and cell phones with Internet connections have become more affordable and popular, providing a wider potential audience for b-to-b publishers' online content.

"In my opinion, two of the biggest trends impacting b-to-b media over the next couple of years will be video and mobility," said Eric Shanfelt, senior VP-e-media at Penton Media. Yet, he cautioned b-to-b publishers against jumping headlong into mobility for its own sake. "First, you need to find out how many of your audience members are using mobile devices, which ones they are using and how they are using them to access your content," he said.

Stephen Wellman, CMP Technology's editorial director of newsletters, looks at mobility from two perspectives: first, as a provider of content to mobile users, then, as editor in chief of Over the Air, a blog focused on the topic of the mobile enterprise for senior IT executives. Launched in February, the blog itself is designed to be viewed on mobile devices.

While mobility is nothing new, Wellman said, "We've gotten a lot of feedback telling us that mobilizing the enterprise has become a top priority in IT."

Alec Dann, general manager-magazines online at Hanley Wood Business Media, pointed out that most b-to-b publishers first encounter mobile users as readers of their e-mail newsletters. While offering a simple text version of the newsletter in addition to the standard HTML may seem the solution, it's really only the beginning.

"What happens then is that the mobile user clicks on a story and is taken to a Web site that's not usable," Dann asked. "So you launch a mobile edition. Now the mobile user clicks on an ad. Then what happens?" He estimated that advertisers will probably take 18 to 24 months to address the mobile issue, so publishers may have to provide an interim solution, such as a simple landing page for users of mobile devices.

For b-to-b publishers exploring mobility, Shanfelt, Wellman and Dann offer the following suggestions:

  • Mobile editions: "Right now, I think you need two different editions of your Web site, for mobile and computer users," Wellman said. "There is still a lot of balkanization in the mobile world. It will get easier, but it will remain complex for a few more years."
  • Design: All three executives stressed that e-mail newsletters and mobile Web site editions need to be easy to read and navigate on a variety of mobile platforms. "Try to access your content from a number of the most popular devices—using the default setting," Shanfelt said. Dann said publishers don't necessarily have to default to text only. "In many cases, you can use HTML, as long as it's not too complex and doesn't have a lot of Java script," he said.
  • Images: To deal with wireless bandwidth issues and security, certain networks block images. "Whenever you use an image as content, you need to have an alternate piece of text for the image that takes its place, such as a description," Shanfelt said.
  • Search: Wellman said that mobile search is not dominated by one player, as Internet search is by Google. Because the market is more fragmented, "You have to optimize search for a number of engines right now," he said. "The search box needs to be very prominent at the top of the page," Dann added. "Because the smaller screen is more difficult to navigate, mobile users really rely on search."
  • Advertising: Wellman and Dann both advocate using text-oriented advertising for mobile editions and e-newsletters. "The advertiser's primary selling proposition certainly shouldn't be contained in a graphic image," Dann said.
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