Standing up to the mobile first test

With mobile devices tipped to become the dominant platform for brand and shopping experiences are Australian businesses prepared for the transition?

While it’s likely that your website traffic and usage currently dwarfs the numbers of customers coming to you via mobile - all this is set to change.

At some point very soon the majority of your customers will use mobile first. Forrester Research claims that there will be one billion smartphone wielding consumers globally in just four years’ time. Meanwhile, Bernstein Research predicts that by 2016, the majority of web search queries will come from mobile devices. Indeed, 27.8 billion more search queries will be performed on mobile devices than on desktops. Furthermore, at some point next year, more people access the internet via their smartphone than they do via their desktop.

These are serious numbers with profound repercussions. What all this means for businesses and brands is that the experience you deliver on a mobile device is fast becoming the very first experience people will have with your brand. And first impressions last. As you can appreciate, if this is less than optimal, your brand will be viewed as less than optimal. When you deliver a woeful mobile experience, your customers will not hang around.

Mobile search first

In addition, if your mobile site cannot be found via mobile search then you’re effectively not even visible to the 27.8 billion more mobile searches. This no doubt will represent a large part of your target audience and thus you’re closing down a major part of your market. You need to be everywhere that your customers are and you should present a consistent experience between platforms. In this mobile first world, you need to provide a seamless experience across all the touch points and you need to build the experience around a multi-screen strategy.

Sequential screening

Indeed, interesting new research from Google,who recently teamed with Sterling Brands and Ipsosto study the media habits of 1,611 people across the US in the second quarter of this year, reveals that sequential screening is both common and purpose fuelled. In their study, smartphones were the most common starting point for many online activities, before users moved on to a PC, and some still to a tablet to complete the activity the same day.

While this is just a small study, based on my own media habits and those around me, it feels right. So you not only need to be everywhere that your customers are but you need to present a consistent experience between platforms.

But mobile is not easy. You’re not just designing for a tablet and a smartphone along with the desktop.

It’s a hugely fragmented world. There are literally hundreds of web-enabled devices. They come in all shapes and sizes with a vast array of possible abilities, operating systems, speeds and screen resolutions.

Responsive design not a panacea for mobile

While I’m certainly an advocate of responsive design as a philosophy and methodology, I’m a firm believer that responsive design is not about making your website work on a mobile device. Responsive design simply rearranges the content of your site to fit on a mobile screen. Responsive only solves one half of the mobile equation, it does not optimise for the behaviour, it only optimises for the resolution. So while on the surface responsive design seems to promise a fast way of both delivering mobile content and offering content parity, in practice it’s a poor compromise.

Without specific mobile design, responsive design simply delivers endlessly scrolling pages, enormous page sizes and poor loading times. All of these things add up to a poor mobile experience.Cutting corners and hiding much of your responsively designed content to mobile users will allow you to achieve more acceptable page sizes though it’s a myth that mobile users don’t want access to all of the information and functionality available to desktop users. Not offering content parity will only serve to frustrate users.

Mobile first sites a more elegant solution

When it comes to the mobile experience, specific mobile first sites are a more technically elegant solution than a single, one size fits all, responsive build. With a mobile first site, you can think about, and optimise for access, interaction, performance as well as deliver enhancements that recognise that mobile devices and browsers can do things that desktops cannot.

Of course an elegant solution will allow you to design unique navigation for the space so you avoid inaccessible, hidden or just hard to reach navigation that delivers a poor user experience. At the same time avoiding unwieldy pages with enormous load times is a must. 71% of mobile users expect mobile websites to load as fast, if not faster, than desktop websites, and 74% of mobile visitors will abandon a website if it takes more than 5 seconds to load. With responsive design, this is hard to manage without turning off your content to mobile users.

As more and more people use mobile first, it’s critical that they can access your mobile experience and you provide content parity and a full experience regardless of device.

Simon van Wyk is the founder of digital agency HotHouse. 

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