Friday 11 November 2011

Why don't mobile browsers recognise a URL?

Shamed as I am to look at the last time I wrote a blog post, I thought I'd try and get back in the groove on a topic that's been bugging me for a while.

We often talk about how mobile is uniquely positioned as, not just a channel in it's own right, but also as an integrator of channels - able to connect an offline user to a digital destination.  I've blogged before about how too much activity that is talked of as "integrated" is often more like "parallel" activity with two activations running at the same time and no real integration.

However, using mobile you can engage with a consumer with a poster while they are walking down the high street; from a magazine ad they see when they are on the bus; or with a TV commercial they watch whilst sitting on their sofa, and drive them to a destination where they can get more information, register an interest or even complete a purchase.

That is a far more compelling capability than it seems to be based on the prevalence of such calls to action.

But there is an issue...  There is yet to be smooth and seamless way, a completely intuitive and simple call-to-action, that enables a mobile user to respond and interact.  So how do we get users to hit a URL, whether that be to visit a mobisite or download an app, for example?

Well, what have we got now?  In truth, there are four credible alternatives available right now:

1. Just show the URL and ask the user to enter it themselves.  One benefit of this is that the same CTA can work across desktop and mobile (assuming device redirection is in place).  In addition, there is no dilution of the branding on any marketing material - the URL is often included anyway.  The downside is that we are asking the user to manually type a URL, beyond the fact that this is not as easy as on a desktop (although not such a chore as it is often portrayed), it is a bit clunky and shouldn't it be easier with a smartphone?

2. Ask the user to "Search".  I actually quite like this as a CTA - it's simple and familiar for users and, as with manual entry, is a consistent across desktop and mobile.  That said, it forces you to ensure that your SEO is flawless and potentially require you to direct budget at search if you were not already.

3. Include an SMS shortcode/keyword CTA.  Familiar for users and requires little effort, with the URL returned via SMS this is clickable and so drives the user to the destination without much fuss.  That said, it's generally not liked amongst creatives for aesthetic purposes and, if a brand doesn't already run SMS activity, requires that they get this in place (that's not to say it's difficult or expensive, but it is still a barrier).

4. QR codes (or MS Tags, Shot codes etc. etc.). They have their place, and for some reason some people like them (I received an email with one in recently - ask me about it if you want a 30 min rant on the nonsensical things that some mobile companies get up to).  On the plus side, they are the quickest/smoothest way of driving online from ATL.  That said, this is only if you know what they are and have a reader app on your device.  Oh, and they are also ugly.

So the other day it struck me, why do I have to type a URL into my mobile browser?

My phone has a camera right?  Jeez, my phone can translate text so there's no reason that it couldn't recognise a URL and open the URL.  So why haven't Apple or Google added it as a feature to Safari or the Android default browser?  Surely they can add a button that activates the camera, recognises the text as a URL (think Google Goggles but within your browser, not a different app), and then opens the page, or even performs a search.

Am I missing something?

[Bear in mind that this is possible as it's not a webpage that accesses the camera but the browser itself, which as a native app, of course can do this.]

I may be being immensely naive but having this capability would mean that both of the routes 1 (URL) and 2 (search) above become much easier.  In fact, it means that anywhere a URL may appear, it becomes 'clickable' and a call to action.  Doesn't this make "integrated" activity even more feasible?

So come on Apple, get a move on Google and pull your finger out Microsoft/Nokia.  Why not do this...?

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