7 hidden costs of mobile development


What is the true cost of the mobile revolution to your business?

After launching a mobile website with over 2,500 pages of content at NRMA Motoring & Services, I’ve emerged at the end with several interesting insights. However, for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to discuss a key learning – and that is the hidden cost to the business of the mobile revolution.

When building websites you are aware of the direct costs and these are easy to quantify and document. However, launching a mobile version of our website resulted in a steep learning curve with a range of indirect costs which you generally don’t consider – and if you do, it is a challenge to put a dollar value to them.

Direct costs – these are easy

There are a number of direct costs relating to mobile development you can easily estimate depending on whether you’re using mobile-specific templates, responsive templates or a combination of both template styles:

  • Mobile-specific templates – separate wireframes, graphic design, unique website content management system (WCMS) templates, development time, unique tracking code and so on. You will need to test everything twice (desktop and mobile).
  • Responsive templates – I conservatively estimate unique responsive designs will take at least an additional 20% of time and costs to wireframe, create, develop and test.

Indirect costs – this is where it gets interesting

As mentioned above, I estimate responsive design will increase direct costs by 20%, but it is the hidden or indirect costs where it is difficult to attribute a dollar value which interests and concerns me the most. These indirect costs are not only associated to the development of a website, but are ongoing throughout the life of your mobile site.

Here are 7 hidden mobile development costs:

  1. Content – remember when we had to rewrite brochure copy for a desktop website? We now need to look at this for mobile. I would still say it is early days for mobile development, but I would also think we will soon start seeing more differing CTA’s across mobile, tablet and desktop. A/B testing for this will be challenging with responsive templates and is dependent on the capabilities of your WCMS. Also consider potential SEO impacts of having different content on mobile-specific pages to your desktop site, but I’ll save that for another time.
  2. Analytics – understanding if there are any differences in usage patterns, especially on the path to purchase, between devices and the additional reporting required for mobile.
  3. Images – depending on your WCMS or digital asset manager, you may need to create and save different image sizes for mobile and desktop.
  4. Advertising spaces – mobile requires different advertising spaces across devices and these will need to be tested. If you are advertising on external sites you will also need different ad unit sizes and although this can easily be costed with creative quotes, no doubt your media agency may increase costs and time for handling more ad units. Don’t forget additional time to review, approve, dispatch, track and report on additional types of ad units.
  5. Testing – although this cost is easier to quantify when you first develop your mobile site, it is the ongoing testing requirements that are challenging. You will need specific testing scripts and will have to consider when a new smart phone is released, or a new operating system or browser version. The new Galaxy 6.3 has a 6.3” screen size so you will need to regularly use testing software to validate your design on various screen resolutions. I’m pretty sure some responsive designs will look like they are stuck in limbo between a standard smart phone, desktop or tablet.
  6. Now let’s talk email marketing – do you have your mobile-friendly templates ready? And if you do, how deeply have you tested across the various email platforms, as they often render HTML differently. Testing is going to cost you much more in consideration and your own time.
  7. Staff training – you need to start including the new theory for mobile designs in any training for staff.  There will be more and more data detailing the differences between mobile and desktop navigation in the future as this matures. No doubt there will be those pushing for specific tablet designs as well as mobile and desktop.

The impact of all of the above is inevitably time to market, which often means what has essentially become a larger effort into a shorter-than-ideal timeframe.

Mobile is an interesting time for the digital industry and as technology improves, development will become simpler, but these hidden costs will, in my view, remain.

When mobile usage overtakes desktop this will also require a rethinking of how your business develops websites.

One thought on “7 hidden costs of mobile development

  1. Good advice, Jase. These indirect costs are also worth keeping in mind for any online project, particularly re content. Recently I ran a project for a major company re-building their website. Over 1,000 pages. After we delivered it they asked “who is going to up load the content” expecting us to do it even through it wasn’t part of the brief. Client simply hadn’t considered that they would need to assign a resource to managing content.


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