16/01/2014 08:02 GMT | Updated 17/03/2014 05:59 GMT

It's Alive! Taming the Monster on the Journey to the Mobile Web

I get to talk to many companies around the world, from many different industries about how to build a compelling and manageable mobile website strategy. Many today still struggle to grasp the potential risks to their business that stem from getting the mobile web wrong. One thing I consistently hear is that these companies have spent many years building, testing, integrating, tracking and ultimately improving their desktop websites and more importantly the engagement of visitors to their website.

Yet, it's this affinity for their desktop web creation that is problematic and that can block them from the path to the mobile web and the definition of true innovation. I equate it to owning a car. Your first car always has that emotional connection, you cherish it and because of the bond you develop and the investment you make into making it run effectively, it's hard to even think about buying another car. Yet, once you make the leap, slowly you begin to understand that the new model offers a slicker experience, is more effective and will serve you better in the future. Evolution over emotion.

The leap to the mobile web is one that so many companies today are afraid to make. Instead, some opt to use clunky templates that 'screen scrape' content from their desktop and forcefit it onto mobile screens. Rather than creating the kind of quality experience consumers are now coming to expect, we are actually seeing websites becoming Frankenstein's monster. Companies, desperate to breathe new life into old desktop web design and functionality are forcing experiences built for desktop platforms on to the mobile web with little thought for their end user. You might be surprised to learn just how many sites out there are doing this, even when the company behind them knows the user experience is bad and managing templates is almost impossible.

Rather than building a monster that is threatening to spiral out of control, companies need to face some short term pain to realize the true capabilities of engagement with mobile web users. Quite simply, you cannot start a mobile strategy with your desktop. Stop trying.

So where to start? Well, don't even write a single line of code without first understanding your customers. Unlike the desktop web of three browsers and two screen sizes, this new world is made up of users on thousands of different devices and profiles with incredible variations in capability. They are using them at different times of the day, in many contexts and with very different expectations. It shouldn't be a guessing game of how to reach your customers. When building a campaign, companies should understand that there are patterns to the devices being used to access their websites and having awareness of this is crucial.

Don't create a monster, control the beast. What you need to do is obtain very detailed data on user devices, how they are used and then group them into profiles. If your website content is video heavy, you will need to know the bandwidth speeds available and battery capabilities of your users' devices. Armed with these analytics, you can build high, medium or low-resolution video ready profiles and design a mobile site that serves users with the right content for their contextual experience. A low-res video customer profile may serve up a still image with the ability to click and watch at the customer's choice. This gives them fast information with options based on their specific requirements. If your website is image centric or you want to build a social marketing campaign, you're going to need to understand and group the camera, GPS and permission settings of your users.

In order to build the right adaptive web strategy, you need data. Real, accurate and detailed data on your current customers' devices. This should go well beyond the model of the device or OS vendor. Just knowing if it's an Apple tablet or a Samsung smartphone is not enough. I'm talking about bandwidth, processors, GPS, NFC, cameras, real screen sizes, screen resolutions, and so on. The good news is that this type of profiling is now available.

While in the past this type of profile data was hidden behind the browser, inaccessible to anyone other than native app programmers, this information is now available to any company with a website. And if you're not using this data to create a mobile web strategy that adapts to your users, then it's likely you're playing Dr. Frankenstein, framing your desktop site for a mobile audience - and we all know how well the villagers took to Frankenstein's creation in the end...