Interview With Cindy Krum: Mobile Marketer Maven (Summer 09)

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Cindy Krum is the Chief Executive Officer of Rank-Mobile, LLC. She brings fresh and creative ideas to her clients, speaking at national and international trade events about mobile web marketing, social network marketing and international SEO. Cindy also writes for industry publications, and has been published in Website Magazine, Advertising & Marketing Review, Search Engine Land, ODG Intelligence, and quoted by many respected publications including PC World, Internet Retailer, TechWorld, Direct Magazine and Search Marketing Standard.

Cindy also served as the co-chair of the SEMPO Emerging Technologies Mobile Web Task Force, and is an active member of the search community. Cindy is passionate about bringing creative online marketing solutions to clients, and working with clients to develop high level mobile and international marketing strategies.

SMS: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Cindy. You are an outspoken advocate for mobile marketing and a frequent speaker at major industry events. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got into this field, and some of the things you’re working on right now.

Cindy: My background is in search engine optimization and web marketing; I have always been fascinated by communication, and what makes ideas or suggestions compelling to different people. I became interested in mobile marketing when I was doing some research and realized that no one was really talking about it. Before the iPhone was even a rumor, mobile marketing seemed like an immense opportunity to me.

I have been speaking for the past three years about mobile marketing and mobile search engine optimization — I am very passionate about both subjects. At the end of last year, I left the interactive agency I was working for to start my own company, Rank-Mobile, and focus more on mobile marketing. My goal with Rank-Mobile is to help companies effectively integrate mobile marketing into their existing marketing initiatives. I am also working on a book for Pearson Publishing, called The Truth About Mobile Marketing. It will introduce a lot of available mobile marketing strategies and tactics.

SMS: There has been a lot of talk about online/offline integration in the past year or two. We even ran a cover story on conversion attribution and the difficulties marketers face when measuring the impact of offline campaigns on search. In the past, you’ve mentioned that mobile devices could be used to bridge that gap when it comes to collecting and measuring data. What are some of the ways you believe that mobile can be used to help integrate online/offline marketing?

Cindy: Attribution is one of the most difficult parts of a marketer’s job, whether they are working online or offline. In a down economy, where marketing budgets are being cut left and right, attribution becomes even more important. Mobile marketing is a great way to make offline marketing — previously static and untrackable — interactive and trackable.

If you think about it, marketers can have a very difficult time determining the effectiveness of TV, radio, and outdoor advertising. In most cases, all you have is a visibility statistic that tells you, in general, how many watchers, listeners, or passers-by were exposed to your marketing message, but that doesn’t tell you anything about how engaging those people found your marketing message. When you allow people to respond to your advertisement through their mobile device, it becomes interactive and trackable. You can actually get real information about how well your offline marketing is working, and you can further engage people who are interested in what you have to say.

There are a few companies doing a great job integrating mobile marketing into their outdoor posters and billboards in subway stations, at bus stops, and in airports. These are excellent locations to integrate mobile marketing because people are frequently waiting around and open to any type of brief interaction that will help pass the time. You must be careful, however, to stick to places that have good cell reception, which can be a bit tricky in subways and bus stations.

I have also noticed that some companies are doing a good job using mobile to learn more about TV and radio audiences. It is simple enough to encourage participants to text in to participate in a contest, cast a vote, or make a comment that can be aired live on a TV or radio program. You can also offer more long-term value by offering to send SMS alerts when a favorite show or song is about to air, or to remind you of special events the station is sponsoring.

QR codes have not taken off in the United States, but I believe they will soon. QR codes, otherwise known as 2D bar codes, are small, square dot groupings. These codes can be scanned by the camera in a mobile phone in order to enter a phone number, web address, or bring up a text or picture message. I believe these will be a very important way that marketers will track the success of their offline marketing campaigns in the future. They can be used in signs, as well as in newspapers, magazines, and flyers.

SMS: Is the .mobi domain extension completely a dead issue with the iPhone and the “one web” approach gaining traction?

Cindy: The dot-mobi domain was conceived to help companies who wanted people to be able to reach very limited versions of their site on a mobile phone. At the time, the phones could only render very simple text websites, and then only if the website was coded in a language meant specifically for mobile phones called WAP. Even before the iPhone, mobile browsers had improved to the point that the separate domain and coding language were no longer necessary.

In the United States and Europe, I think the dot-mobi is pretty dead, though in Asian countries, I think it will be slower to die. The culture around mobile phones is slightly different, but in the long run, I think it just won’t make sense for most companies to maintain two versions of their website.

SMS: In your presentations, you also talk a lot about the need for a device-independent design. Please explain what the concept means and why it is becoming so important.

Cindy: As we move into the future, more and more devices will be web-enabled, and they will all have different screen resolutions, and different input devices. Soon enough, not just phones, but all MP3 players, game systems, and GPS units will be web-enabled too. We will not be able to develop a new programming language or protocol for each web-enabled device, and we won’t want to. The overhead to create and maintain just two sites that do the same thing is too high. Instead, it will be important to create web content that works well across a whole host of web-enabled devices.

SMS: If you do take your main domain onto the mobile environment, what options can you suggest in terms of site architecture that can help if its appearance is less than desirable on the mobile platform?

Cindy: The most important thing you can do is code your site in XHTML and use an external style sheet for the styling on the site. Both of these things will minimize the amount of code the phone will have to render, and eliminate many snags that can cause mobile browsers to render a page poorly. Also, be very careful if robust drop-down JavaScript navigation will have to render on a mobile phone — the navigation could display in full, pushing all the valuable information on your page down very low and causing usability issues.

SMS: If you could choose just one thing, what is the most important area to focus on to make your site mobile-search-ready – keywords, its appearance, linking, or something else?

Cindy: The quickest win for mobile search is to use your existing site and pages. Creating a new site, or even new pages on a mobile sub-domain or sub-directory, will cause a delay in mobile rankings, while the new content is added to the mobile index and evaluated by the search engines. Instead, use multiple external style sheets to make your existing pages display well on mobile phones, and rank well in mobile search.

SMS: What are some of the pitfalls companies fall into when optimizing their mobile websites?

Cindy: The biggest pitfall I see is companies who allow their marketing agencies to convince them they need a separate domain and a separate experience for mobile users. In my experience, that is rarely true. Keeping everything on one site is the best for SEO, but I think it is also a really great move in terms of branding, usability, and engagement. It is also important not to rely on just one phone for testing. Websites will look differently and rank differently depending on the phone you are using to do the testing.

SMS: Let’s talk a little about the future of mobile search engine marketing. What are some of the new developments in mobile search that we should expect in the near future? In your opinion, how will these changes affect mobile search marketers?

Cindy: Mobile search engines are getting smarter. They are already looking at what type of phone you are searching on and referencing the results based on how well they will render on your phone. I believe that this aspect of the mobile algorithm will begin to be given more weight, as more and more mobile searchers enter the market, and demand a good experience from the sites recommended in search.

I also believe that geo-location will become more important in mobile search, but I don’t think it will be as seamless as some others are predicting. While I do think that phones should automatically have information about your location ready for use in mobile search, if desired, I think it is important to note that not every search on a mobile phone is for a local business offering. For example, if I do a search for “Monsters vs. Aliens,” I may be looking for a theater and movie times, and that information would benefit from my GPS location. But I may just be looking for a summary of the movie and some reviews, in which case my GPS location will not only be useless, but could be harmful to the result set. I think we will always need some way for searchers to indicate whether they are looking for generic or location-specific results. Mobile search marketers need to keep things like this in mind while continuing to explore ways to get the most out of the new capabilities and possibilities.

About the Author

Andrey Milyan was the first editor-in-chief of Search Marketing Standard, the leading print publication covering the search marketing industry. He has been following and reporting on industry developments for over 10 years. Andrey now works in the paid search sector of a prominent search marketing agency.

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