Mobile Sites Improve, With Google at Top, Yankee Group Says

Mobile websites are improving and Google ranks top in the category, according to the Yankee Group, which Tuesday announced its third annual survey of mobile sites on the Internet.

Retail giant Walmart came in second in the analyst firm's rankings, with three transport sites tying for third. The ranking looked at three key areas: the speed of loading pages, how much data is downloaded when using the site and how often users could access the sites without experiencing failures. Other factors looked at included the frequency and types of advertisements and how obstructive they were as well as the complexity of accessing information. Sites were marked down if they did not automatically adapt to the user's browser or device.

The awards were split into four categories; a total of 48 transport, retail, technology and national wireless carrier websites were judged. The testers used a variety of devices in New York and San Francisco on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Sprint networks.

According to Yankee Group director, Carl Howe, mobile web sites are getting better every year with online shopping proving to be the best improvers. He added that apps, such as those found in Apple's App store, were not included in the survey.

"The mobile Web is no longer a novelty," he said. "When we started doing this two years ago this was actually pretty rare...it was only one year after the original iPhone showed up and as a result there weren't as many mobile Web users.

"Nowadays our data shows about 205 million mobile data users in the United States and our forecast predicts that we'll have about...[125 million] smart phones in use in the U.S. by 2014."

In the retail space, Walmart was judged to have the best site with 75 points followed by Best Buy on 68. Online shopping provider Amazon.com came in third with 67 points.

For technology sites, Google dominated the space with a score of 81 points. Microsoft's Bing came second with 70 points and AOL came third with 69. Google's use of location-based services, less advertising, and voice-search functionality won the day along with its simple interface and fast response times.

Transport sites caused an upset as airlines dropped in quality and rail providers improved. First prize went to a three-way tie between JetBlue, Amtrak and San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit mobile website winning with 73 points each. New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) site placed second with 72 points and Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's 71 points earned it third place.

Finally, four national wireless carrier mobile websites were judged with all found to be lacking and barely adequate. Sprint was the best of a bad bunch, getting just 59 points. AT&T and Verizon, with 15 points each, tied for second while T-Mobile, which scored 14 points, was last.

Howe said one of the biggest surprises was the effectiveness of traditional brick and mortar retailers in the mobile Web space.

"They have realized this is a viable and powerful medium for addressing their customers and I think we'll see a real battle here," he said. "It won't surprise me to see the shopping sites get close to Google's score over the next few years mainly because there's money in it."

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