For the past few years, we have all been inundated with information pushing practices to focus on the mobile Web. Consequently, we now have a lot of mobile-related terminology and chatter about your website needing to be mobile-ready, mobile-responsive, mobile-friendly, mobile-first, mobile-optimized and more!
Many practices use these terms interchangeably without realizing there is a distinct difference between being mobile-friendly versus mobile optimized.
“Our website is already mobile-friendly. Why do I need to spend more on a mobile optimization strategy?”
I get this question frequently, and my answer is simple: All mobile-friendly websites are not the same.
Mobile-Friendly vs. Mobile Optimized
By now, most practices have upgraded their website to be responsive to the different devices visitors use to view their site. If you have not, it is imperative that you do so immediately.
When a practice says their website is mobile-friendly, they understand that the site recognizes mobile vs. desktop visitors and dynamically changes to fit in the user’s screen. Typically, this is a slimmed down version of the “main” desktop version. However, just because a website is mobile-friendly doesn’t mean it is optimized for mobile visitors and search engines. Your site may fit in a smartphone screen, but that doesn’t mean it is designed to maximize user experience, convert mobile traffic into leads, or improve your ranking on Google.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many “out-of-the-box,” or template website designs have little preference or flexibility to adapt to your mobile users’ state of mind. They are initially designed with the desktop view first, and then “squeezed” it into a mobile version. Many template websites have mobile versions with very limited capabilities to make changes.
What is Mobile-Optimized?
So what makes mobile-optimization different? Mobile optimized websites are designed and built using a mobile-first approach. Rather than using a pre-themed design where the mobile design is already pre-programmed, mobile-first designs start by developing a custom mobile wireframe and layout. A mobile design will take a number of variables into consideration:
- Design for mobile-specific behaviors
- Minimize visitors’ mental load and distractions
- Incorporate mobile-driven design elements
- Optimized for mobile SEO (see Google below)
- Utilize ongoing user data to adapt and course correct
Understanding that mobile users experience, navigate, read, and act differently on your website than those viewing the desktop view is critical when developing a mobile-first, mobile-optimized website.
Mobile Optimization For Google
One area that has become increasingly important to practices focused on online marketing is the impact mobile is having on gaining organic exposure – Google Rankings.
Last October, Google indicated that it will start slowly rolling out its mobile-first index. What does this mean? Although Google serves up different results on mobile as it does on desktop for the exact same search, Google will factor how your website performs on mobile before it considers how it does on desktop. In December, they announced it has started evaluating some sites (and hints to what they are looking for) and will continue to roll out mobile-first indexing.
One factor that Google uses to determine how your website performs on mobile is how fast your website loads for smartphone visitors. Referred to as the “Speed Update,” Google announced that it will use page speed as a bigger ranking factor in mobile search rankings starting in July, 2018.
The underlying message with these updates is that practices need to maximize the mobile experience for users in order to boost the credibility and exposure of your site. Thus, building a website with a mobile-first process makes increasing sense.
Mobile User Engagement Tips
So what can your practice do to ensure it is doing the most it can to address the changing mobile marketplace? Here are some design tips that you should consider when making updates to your site, or when you decide to build a new site.
Keep Your Menu List Short and Concise – Just because your desktop may have a long list of drop-down menu items and list nearly all the pages of your site, doesn’t mean the mobile view should as well. With a much smaller display to work with, your navigation strategy needs to fit the screen and focus on usability. Effective mobile-first designs anticipate users’ needs and habits on a deeper level than those focused on desktop.
Use a Site Search Feature – Part of developing a more concise menu is to still make sure visitors can find the information they are seeking. But you should not view a search feature as a be-all-end-all fix. In fact, studies have found that mobile visitors prefer navigating to typing in a search feature. However, for deeper, more comprehensive sites, an effective search feature can provide more focused and driven visitors (who typically make for better prospects) more immediate access to relevant information and resources.
Readability/Font Size – We all realize that mobile visitors read website content differently than on a desktop. Make sure you are developing your content with this in mind and that your font size (and spacing) make the content readable. I have found numerous studies that indicate anything smaller than 16px will negatively impact the readability of your content.
Touch-Friendly Targets – Much like font-size, it is also important to make your call-to-action targets not only visible, but touch-friendly. This means that targets should be about 48dp and with enough spacing (32dp) from other linked elements.
Avoid Interstitials (Pop-Ups) – Although interrupting the visitor may increase the number of intended actions, overall, pop up ads that force visitors to engage before they can access the information they want will turn off the majority of users. Equally important, Google made it clear in 2017 that it does not like websites that pirate the user session by redirecting or blocking mobile screens (or majority of it) with pop-up ads or promotions.
Track User Activities and Adjust – Once a website is completed and turned on does not mean optimizing for user experience ends. No two websites are the same and each industry and market has a variety of visitors that interact with websites and pages differently. Even “best practices” mobile-first website designs can be improved. In order to update your mobile design to maximize the user experience, I recommend you implement mobile heat mapping software that tracks detailed user activity, including: scrolling habits, compelling sections, hot elements (lots of clicks), etc. In many cases, we found mobile users were not scrolling down long pages with ten or twelve different sections on a page as we once thought. The activity below five dropped off dramatically. Your site may be different, so check. Also, you can also use Google Analytics to help guide your website design decisions.
Free Mobile Optimization Tools
Mobile-Friendly Test: https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly
Website Test: https://testmysite.withgoogle.com
Make the Web Faster: https://developers.google.com/speed
AMP Pages: https://search.google.com/test/amp
Mobile Optimization Guide: https://varvy.com/mobile
As the world, your marketplace and business is being conducted more and more on your smartphone, your practice needs to take a mobile-optimized approach. These are quick “take aways” as you develop and think more mobile.
- Go beyond mobile-friendly and optimize! Mobile-friendly is not enough.
- Think mobile-first in all your digital marketing; it starts with you!
- Utilize user data and continually optimize.
- Be creative and anticipate your users.
- We are still in the early stages of a mobile dominated Web and consumer market. Be open to change!
If you feel your website can be optimized more effectively, call us at 800-368-9910 for a complimentary evaluation and recommendations. I promise you will get some great insights and suggestions.