Selecting a Mobile Web Site Domain: Choose Wisely

Posted by Mike Brittain on January 08, 2009
Mobile

I recently did some research on the web addresses (or, host names) that companies use for their mobile web sites.  Turns out, there are quite a few varieties.  That isn’t helping anyone who is trying to find on of these sites on their phone, which can be a painful experience as typing is more difficult and network latency (for mobile) is high.

This all stems from a discussion I was having recently about one company in particular who uses the subdomain “pda” for their mobile web site.  “pda” seems to be somewhat of an outdated name for mobile devices.  I’m not even sure that the “pda” subdomain was ever in vogue.

What I came to understand is that the term “pda” was used heavily by the company, maybe stemming from internal use.  I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before — corporate vernacular turns into marketing speak.  Often, the only people who understand the lingo are inside the company.  On their own web site, this company referred to their mobile site as their “mini browser”.  For me, a “browser” is a piece of software and not a web site.

I initially assumed that “m.example.com” and “example.mobi” were becoming the heavy favorites in this area.  When I started digging around, I also found some other URLs that turned up frequently: “mobile.example.com”, “example.com/mobile”, “www.example.com/m”, “iphone.example.com”.  The last is obviously device-specific, but worth noting.

The term “wap” is also used by some companies in their hostnames (“wap.example.com”).  It stands for “wireless application protocol”.  This is not very consumer-friendly acronym, and should be avoided.

I also looked at a list of “top mobile domains” (I forget where I found this) and the sites that came up were:

  • m.google.com  (google.com/m and google.com/mobile are also used for some of their mobile services)
  • m.twitter.com
  • m.cnn.com
  • m.flickr.com
  • m.yahoo.com
  • m.myspace.com
  • wap.aol.com/moviefone/  (I don’t know how anyone would guess this one)
  • restaurantrow.com/avantgo  (“avantgo” was one of the original mobile products back in 1998-ish)
  • mobile.answers.com
  • foreca.mobi
  • weather.mobi  (also hails under “xhtml.weather.com”, which is another terrible acronym to use in a domain name)

Notice some of the trends here?

The mobile industry is still quite young.  Usage of mobile sites is on the rise.  To be found, companies need to make sure they select the right URLs for their mobile sites.  Help out your customers — don’t buck the trend.  Additionally, you should be casting your net wide.  It’s not technically difficult to pick up three of four of these URLs and forward them to your primary URL (and I don’t care what your IT department says, it’s not).

My guess is that within two years, you’ll see 90% of mobile sites operating under “m.example.com” or “mobile.example.com” (“m” being short, it’s easier to type on a little bitty keyboard).  These will stick with consumers the same way that they figured out what URLs were back in the ’90s.  Remember the first time you saw “http://” somewhere and thought, what the hell does that mean?

With any luck, I’ll be able to find your mobile web site in one guess of the address.

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