March 9, 2011

Mobile-Friendly vs Mobile-Optimized: An Analysis of Carnival’s New Mobile Site

In this post I suggest a distinction for brands between being “mobile friendly” and being “mobile optimized.” I think it’s important to recognize how too narrow a definition of “mobile-friendliness” can alienate mobile consumers. I advocate for taking a more integrated approach towards mobile marketing. (I’ll also help you find out how “mobile-friendly” your e-commerce site is compared to your competitors, using Mobile Site Analyzer, our exclusive mobile site auditing technology.)

To illustrate, I’ve analyzed a brand (Carnival Cruise Lines’) newly launched mobile commerce platform. I chose Carnival Cruise Lines for a few reasons:

  1. We think they’re representative of where many consumer brands are with respect to mobile initiatives.
  2. They (their mobile vendor) recently announced new mobile commerce capabilities, placing them on the leading edge of mobile marketing.
  3. I’m a satisfied Carnival customer who has spent many hours researching an upcoming anniversary trip, from my iPhone.

So as someone with high expectations, and who is familiar with Carnival’s mobile site to research subsequent trips, I felt Carnival made a great candidate to analyze from the perspective of both  customer and technology point of view.


So first, is the new Carnival mobile site ( an upgrade to their mobile experience? Generally speaking, I think it is. Carnival follows most mobile page best practices. Here are some of the positives:

Carnival Mobile Home Page

Carnival Mobile Home Page

  • Mobile pages are properly fitted to smartphone device window size
  • Site detects you’re using mobile and directs you to the mobile home page
  • Minimal typing required with clickable, pre-selected cruise time slots
  • Makes connecting on social networks easier
  • Offers click-to-call functionality
  • Internal search prominent and semi-functional (caveat below)
  • Step by step visual instructions make it easy to buy from device

There are some issues, the most concerning: download speed.

  • Pages consistently took over 10 seconds on WiFi and over 20 seconds on non-3G
  • According to W3C, page size is partially to blame, exceeding 200KB, nearly 10x best practice.
  • This is compounded by latency from excessive external references to assemble (39 for some pages).
  • By setting “no cache,” users have to reload each page when hitting “back” button in their mobile browser.
  • Typos (like “Gest information” on Step 2 of booking process) raise an eyebrow
  • Clicking to login brings you to a pinch-and-zoom mobile-unfriendly page

Those issues aside, I think Carnival’s new site is “mobile friendly” to an extent. Mobile customers (especially brand visitors) will reward Carnival’s work by increasing their conversion rate and sales.

But while Carnival’s page content has been made friendlier for mobile viewing and buying for some segments, mobile devices are also used to search the mobile web, to be social, to text, to email, and use apps. Along these dimensions, I see missed opportunity. In my view, Carnival is not mobile-optimized (or put another way, has not maximized its mobile-friendliness).

Mobile Search

Search is where some of those “minor” site issues can start to accumulate and do harm:

  • Page weight and speed is a relevance factor for PPC and SEO, particularly as it affects bounce rates. Carnival needs to speed these page up, and should look closely at how to optimize the page markup (it’s huge).
  • Speaking of markup, the mobile pages also fail to validate as XHTML format. This is recommended practice for your mobile content to be included by Google.
  • The mobile pages lack meta tags. This is an ideal tag set for brands to differentiate mobile search listings from competition by including mobile-targeted calls-to-action. For example: “Research and book your [Caribbean, Alaska, etc] Cruise to with Carnival, straight from your smartphone!”
  • Carnival’s individual cruise package pages (the ones you’d be most inclined to bookmark and want to visit again later) need page titles – it is irritating to have to delete the word “untitled” and type a bookmark to save it.
Carnival Cruise Mobile Search Results

Carnival Cruise Mobile Search Results

More importantly, the site misses an opportunity to apply intelligent redirection to direct searchers to appropriate mobile landing page (a technical issue I covered in a recent article). For example, when I Google for “Caribbean Cruise,” Carnival has no mobile PPC listing (not sure why), but their desktop page for “Caribbean Cruise” ranks #2 organically. Clicking this link, lands you at the home page, not the mobile equivalent Carribbean Cruise landing page that you really are looking for.

The problem is Carnival is forcing users to choose between bouncing back to Google, renavigating the site, or using the internal search engine. (Which returns desktop links, not mobile site links. When clicked, they lead you back to the mobile home page. Unhelpful.)

Carnival Cruise Mobile Internal Search Results

Carnival Cruise Mobile Internal Search Results

This is frustrating for searchers and others entering from non-traditional access points – including search engines. In fact, Google recommends against this practice in their optimization guide because it is easily abused by spammers, and high bounce rates indicate low relevance pages. This issue also hurts mobile social media conversion.

What’s optimizing for mobile search worth? Google reports there are over 280,000 monthly smartphone queries across nearly 100 location-specific cruise phrases (“Bahama cruise,” “Mexico cruise,” etc.). In sum, it outweighs Carnival’s mobile brand query volume. So it’s puzzling why these optimization opportunities were not part of the initial mobile site requirements (see XLS or PDF breakdown),

Mobile Social

In the same release, Carnival announced availability of its Facebook commerce engine. Carnival’s very active in social media, with multiple tweets each day to over 24,000 Twitter followers and over 500,000 Facebook fan likes. But the mobile presence can be better optimized for interaction at these touchpoints.

When Carnival pushes social campaigns with links to special offers, the mobile user gets lost. Unbranded URL shorteners like obfuscate the destination link, and lack helpful keyword clues. This is important because the mobile user can’t hover over a link to see where it leads, like on desktop. In Carnival’s case, if they click the link, the need for intelligent redirection rears its head again – redirecting mobile social users to the home page. Good luck hunting down that quickly expiring special offer.

Carnival Cruise Mobile Social Feed

Carnival Cruise Mobile Social Feed

Does that help explain Carnival’s campaign stats here and here, showing mobile Twitter and Facebook driving paltry campaign click-through volume? To be fair, Carnival’s mobile social network may be small, and the product’s infrequently and seasonally purchased nature may contribute to lower campaign results.

We believe Carnival can increase mobile social interaction with technology to deploy for instance compressed branded links that include keywords or special offer code, to increase recognition, discoverability in social search, and click-through from tweets – and retweets.

Last, given Carnival is such a social brand, you really want to see reviews pulled into the mobile site, and ability given to consumers to share/socialize the site content. It’s a social purchase, let me Tweet the Bahama package. Or post the Alaska destination page to Facebook for feedback. Let me text a link to my wife to learn what she thinks. Making content more sociable for mobile consumers builds stronger connections with consumers than through traditional desktop marketing.

Mobile Apps

In the app department, Carnival needs to clean up some brand confusion and trademark infringement issues. When you visit the mobile Carnival site, you may wonder if they have an app to explore the various ships, or learn about the ports of call, or read reviews. If they have an app, it’s not being promoted to site visitors by device type. The problem is when you search the iPhone app store or Android app store for Carnival Cruise, you do find a match for “Ship Mate – Carnival Cruises” with the Carnival logo on the cover. The app sounds useful, gets 4 of 5 stars, but a few bad recent reviews makes one hesitate to download, and question Carnival’s commitment to the app given it costs $1.99. Then in the fine print, you discover this app isn’t made or supported by Carnival but by a third party developer (a fact not disclosed in the iTunes desktop version of that page).

While this is a different problem to those highlighted above, it clearly is confusing for mobile consumers and needs to be addressed.

Concluding Analysis

While I did not examine Carnival’s mobile site with respect to other channels (like SMS, Email, Local Search), I see this situation as an instructional (perhaps cautionary) tale for brands, and a compelling case for taking an integrated approach to mobile marketing.

Make no mistake, Carnival’s mobile-friendly site is good for a certain segment of consumers, and is unquestionably ahead of their competition. And Carnival may plan to optimize along these analyzed dimensions in the near future (and one assumes SMS, Local, Email, etc). We do not know. Nor do we know the capabilities of the underlying platform.

But I’m unsure why Carnival would not insist on these optimization requirements at time of launch. I’d be surprised if the marginal cost of attainment (particularly around search and social issues) did not warrant the additional investment. In my view, this represented a low-cost opportunity to satisfy the maximum number of mobile consumers in the least amount of time. In the process, Carnival I believe could have truly maximized mobile ROI, and mastered the internal resource allocation processes that would keep Carnival on the leading mobile edge. Now that milestone will be delayed, at likely greater expense, and hinges on the assumption that the underlying technology and integration is capable of flexing in that direction.

Given those execution risks, I see clear advantages for brands to aim higher than just being “mobile-friendly” and go for being “mobile-optimized.”

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