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There is a mobile web…at least for advertisers

By Jason Grigsby

Published on January 30th, 2012


When I wrote about the business challenges of responsive web design (RWD), advertising was a minor point in my mind. I was more interested in the challenges of analytics and search engines.

But since I wrote the post, the idea that advertisers want to target mobile web differently than desktop web keeps coming back into my thoughts.

Last year there was a bit of debate about whether or not there is such a thing as the mobile web. I wrote about this in my post On My Context. There are links in that post to much of the online conversation at the time.

I don’t want to rehash all of that conversation. Instead, I want to highlight one paragraph from my post on the business challenges of RWD:

Sometimes advertisers just want to advertise on one form factor and not another. App developers who want to drive app store purchases may not be interested in advertising on desktop. An advertiser interested in location-based advertising is also unlikely to consider responsive advertising desirable.

I wrote that paragraph without thinking much about it. It seemed obvious then and even now I find it hard to refute.

When it comes to advertising, it seems clear that there is value in distinguishing the mobile web from the desktop web (and yes, the tablet web, the tv web, etc.).

Whether or not the way advertisers look at the mobile web can or should influence the way web site publishers look at the web is a separate question. A question that I keep finding myself pondering without resolution.


Ethan said:

Great point. The challenge as I see it is that at the moment, most ad networks I’ve encountered treat “mobile,” “desktop,” and (more recently) “tablet” as separate products—which means many companies are forced into the behavior you describe. So if a company did want a more coordinated, device-agnostic strategy, there’s just not much of an alternative at the moment.

Rob Flaherty said:

This is a key point! It’s in the best interest of the business to take multiple products to market. And it’s common for advertisers/agencies to allocate spend budgets based on device (“we can spend X on mobile, X on tablet” etc). Offering apps and mobile-specific sites allows the publisher to service those budgets, unlocking more advertising dollars and establishing new revenue streams. In this particular case RWD is very much at odds with the business needs.

Matthew Babbs said:

Surely there’s no technical reason to serve the same ads, or even ad network, to all RWD breakpoints, any more than you’d want to serve them all the same image?

Do the ad networks insist that their code must be inserted server-side, or restrict sites from using more than one network? Otherwise there should be a way to detect which breakpoint you’re at, client-side, and drop in the ads you want for that form-factor.

It might compromise the purity of RWD a bit, but as an idea it could work *now* rather than waiting for the ad people to catch on.