Why You Should Care About AT&T’s iPhone Data Plans Even If You Don’t Own an iPhone

While a lot of the attention on AT&T and Apple in the past few weeks has been focused on the release of the iPad and new iPhone,  the elimination of unlimited data plans is an equally important development, especially for website owners and publishers.

Even though the iPhone is meant to render full web pages, research has shown that people still prefer mobile-formatted content on iPhones …

In prior years, AT&T offered unlimited data for $30 a month; however, they maintained that a small percentage of users were using a disproportionate share of data. To compensate for this, they announced two new data plans and eliminated the unlimited plan. As I understand it, existing customers are grandfathered until they renew. Upon renewal, they have to choose. Engadget has an excellent breakdown of the details of the plan.

So what does this mean to website owners and publishers? IMHO if you are a publisher, you really need to evaluate your use of rich media and use of a mobile version of your site. If you think that AT&T dropping the unlimited plan is an aberration, you might want to reconsider that position. While free wifi may be on the rise, it’s not as ubiquitous as many in the valley would have you believe. I can find open free hot spots if I really need one, but it isn’t easy. So it’s not unreasonable to expect consumers to start being more conscious of their data use. Additionally, while smart phones and devices like the iPad, Blackberry, or Android can handle some rich media, studies have shown that many users prefer “lite” or mobile websites when on these devices.

From an SEO perspective, creating a mobile website has a few pitfalls to watch out for. In my experience, it’s best to avoid using a separate subdomain or subfolder for a mobile version; instead, you want to serve a different CSS version or serve modified content based on mobile user agents. Again this strategy is tricky if you don’t want to look like you are cloaking; however, as long as you serve the same content to Google’s mobile crawler as you do to mobile browsers, you will be fine (for more info, see this post from Google’s webmaster central team).

While using Word Press as a CMS has issues, this is one area in which it works to your advantage: there are multiple plugins to help you address the problem. I use WP Touch, but you can also use WP Mobile. I’m sure there are other plugins or adapters for other CMS systems. Make sure the systems can handle mission critical functions like shopping and ordering. In the month I’ve owned my iPad, I’ve made a dozen purchases from my iPad, which I suspect is a growing trend.

To wrap up, here is what I would concentrate on as a publisher:

  • Rethink your use of complex, hard to read layouts that are overflowing with ads or other large-file-size elements and images.
  • Minimize your use of rich media elements to the places where they are most essential. IMHO, at this stage flash is a liability on so many fronts it’s not worth the headache.
  • Avoid using a subdomain or subfolder for mobile content. In addition to being a maintenance point, the potential for duplicate content and split link equity is another liability.
  • Choose your mobile implementation method carefully to avoid creating cloaking issues.

photo credit: Jilles

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