As new media continues to grow and change while pushing traditional marketing platforms to the back-burner, preconceived notions about marketing have to change with them. Your business’ digital marketing footprint has to respond and react to trends and fluctuations in the marketplace, and stay ahead of them if possible.
We in the digital marketing department hear from our new clients all the time what they think the best keywords for their business are – these tend to be industry terms, insider jargon, or specific technical descriptions of their business.
In turn, we marketers have to explain that while those terms are good descriptions to other businesses, and that while their title is properly “European Grand-Master Darner and Certified Distributor of Lace-Edged Feet Foundation Garments,” their customers are going to be searching for “fancy socks.”
It is said there is strength in numbers, a saying that should become your mantra when you consider your digital marketing platform. You have to go where the people are: search volume, social engagement, and even real-life events if that’s where your target demographic is congregating.
The seismometers read that a digital shift of tectonic proportions has happened: mobile-friendly websites are crucial to the success of your business online.
As you, the business owner, have learned to adapt to changes in SEO and digital marketing, so too must you now acknowledge and respond to the necessity of the mobile mindset.
What is Mobile-Friendly or Mobile Responsive Web Design?
It’s likely that you’ve experienced a mobile-friendly or mobile responsive website already: they are websites that rearrange their layout, links, and interface to be better suited for a mobile screen or a touch screen. Mobile-friendly websites are a huge trend and shift from the decades-old desktop and computer mouse browser.
Responsive web design is a newer approach to web design, which allows a website to “respond” to the size of the actual screen or web browser on which it is being viewed. The responsiveness typically changes the layout and interface of the site from the desktop version to one that can be navigated easily on such a device.
History of Mobile Web Design
With the rise in popularity of smartphones came the rise of mobile-friendly websites. It’s hard to believe that less than 10 years ago we were performing “pinch-to-zoom” on most websites with our mobile phones.
Until within the last several years, most designs for the web had a standard size that they would automatically adhere to as the vast majority of the traffic was only desktop users. This made mobile viewing difficult. Users had to zoom in to be able to click on a link, scroll all around the page to be able to see and read everything, and load times were incredibly slow because of the connection speed.
The short-term solution at the time was to create separate, mobile iterations of the website while keeping the desktop version. Special mobile websites were created off of the main domain, many beginning with “m.” to differentiate themselves from the desktop version. This often ended up leading to more confusion – browsers weren’t always capable of recognizing devices and would still direct mobile users to the desktop version and vice versa.
Some site designers even went so far at the time to design their site only for mobile, a decision that was met with a lot of frustration and complaining. The webcomic series “Penny Arcade” highlighted the issue and the general feeling about the change in a comic from 2011:
As fortune would have it, mobile traffic began to take off, and so did the need for the development of responsive web design. Ethan Marcotte first coined the term and presented a solution in his paper on alistapart.com in 2010, where he not only predicted that mobile browsing would overtake desktop in three to five years but also put the heart of the problem in writing:
“We can quarantine the mobile experience on separate subdomains, spaces distinct and separate from “the non-iPhone website.” But what’s next? An iPad website? An N90 website? Can we really continue to commit to supporting each new user agent with its own bespoke experience? At some point, this starts to feel like a zero sum game. But how can we—and our designs—adapt?”
Thus was born the responsive, mobile-friendly experience. However, just because there has been a rise in popularity of mobile browsing, why does that cost business owners money if they don’t have a mobile-friendly website?
#1: Mobile Traffic Overtook Desktop Traffic in 2015
Just as Ethan Marcotte predicted back in 2010, Google announced that mobile searches outpaced desktop searches in January 2015 – and Google takes these sorts of trends seriously.
More and more Google has begun to show how much they favor mobile-friendly and mobile responsive websites. Their approach is the same as the one that we discussed before: go where the people are.
Mobile First Thinking
Google has essentially changed the way that it crawls the internet: they now index mobile sites first, then desktop sites. This can spell big trouble for websites that have a mobile version and a desktop version, especially if those two site versions differ from one another. It’s potentially even worse for desktops too.
Here’s an old-school way of looking at it: if you think of Google as the largest library ever created, indexing a site is similar to creating a listing in their card catalog. The listing is cross-referenced for every term and topic that it needs to be, and users can easily find that website because it’s listed.
So, since Google is prioritizing indexing mobile sites over desktop, that puts your mobile-unfriendly website at the back of the line for indexing and puts you behind your mobile responsive competitors.
Flat out, your Google rankings will improve simply by having a speedy, mobile-responsive website – end of story. Since the algorithm change around April 2015, Google has shown that they will favor mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive sites over desktop-only sites and will adjust the rankings to show the mobile sites first.
Google wants to give their users the best experience possible, and mobile responsive will do that – that is why they favor mobile-friendly sites over desktop. This too will cause your rankings to slip behind your competitors and lose more potential business.
In addition to how Google has changed the organic rankings, paid search now favors mobile as well. In addition to following Google’s guidelines for excellent quality scores, they also prefer bids and ads for mobile-friendly sites. If you’re running AdWords, but your site isn’t optimized for mobile, you could be throwing money away.
#2: User Experience is Key
Beyond getting Google to rank your site higher, you still need to consider your user – what will they make of your website? In the event that they actually find your desktop-only site despite how badly ranked it is, your site and its loading speed will have huge effects on how your users view your site.
When your site isn’t mobile-friendly, at the very least it makes it harder for your potential customers to navigate the site on their phones. “Pinching-to-zoom” and roll-over menus make it difficult to view anything or do even basic tasks on a site, let alone make an informed decision about whether or not to engage your services. Humans are flighty and make snap decisions – why take a chance that they’ll choose you over a better-optimized site?
Mobile-Friendly Sites Build Credibility
There’s a reason why you and business owners like you have spent money on your front end. Pretty uniforms, updated signage, and a modern website – these are all things you’ve invested in to make the best impressions to your customers.
Having a mobile site is similar: it shows that you “get it,” that your site is up-to-date and ready to serve your customers. It speaks to how good you are at what you do. When you have mobile-friendly website, not only is your site up-to-date, but that probably means that your practices or equipment are modern, that your knowledge and expertise are lengthy, and that you’ll do the best job for them.
A mobile-unfriendly site looks dated, like your business is stuck in 2010 – what else might you be behind the times on? Even if you’re better and more experienced than your competitors, you could lose business to them simply because the users find their site more trustworthy.
It’s Crucial for Ecommerce
Do you sell products online? All the trends are showing that it’s imperative that your ecommerce site caters to mobile users. 62% of smartphone users have made a purchase online with their phone in the past six months. During Black Friday 2016, 40% of the sales were made on mobile devices, instead of the traditional brick and mortar stores. Additionally, surveys show that at least 40% of mobile users will go to a competitor after having a bad experience on a different mobile site.
On top of that, it’s shown that nearly 80% of shoppers will use a smartphone to look up product reviews and price comparisons on the phone while they’re in the store. Regardless of whether your business is a mixture of brick and mortar and online, or exclusively one or the other, you will lose sales to competitors or to Amazon if your ecommerce experience turns off your customers.
#3: The Power of Social Media
Having a social media strategy is no longer just an option, it’s become a foundational aspect of your marketing. In addition to Google beginning to use social media as a value of SEO, social media is a basic way that your customers or client base will find you or interact with you.
The basic logic of sharing things shows us that people tend to trust recommendations from family, friends, and other acquaintances. Who else do you go to when looking for advice? Even when they share something from social media, it’s human nature to tend to trust it more because someone you know shared it. This is a power that cannot be understated when it comes to doing business.
Being able to share content, links, photos, or anything else online is crucial, and being able to do it quickly is essential. Even if your content or promotion is amazing that no one in their right mind would turn it down, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you could still be passed over for a lack of ability to share that content quickly.
Whether it’s the awkward functionality between switching from a desktop interface to a mobile one as they click “share” to being actually able to get to the “share” button, your social activity and ability to go viral plummet if you don’t have a mobile responsive site.
Speed is Not Relative
Speed may be the most important thing your website can provide. Remember when we talked about how terrible mobile sites used to be because of how long loading times were? Users are so fast to back out of a mobile site that doesn’t load quickly it could make your head spin.
Google has begun to realize this too – again, they do favor mobile over desktop – and have begun to roll out the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project. It is a Google-backed, open-source project helps sites load quickly on mobile. Google is so behind keeping your site speed fast they are actually promoting a way to do so.
What does this have to do with social media? Facebook is jumping on the bandwagon. They recently launched Facebook Instant Articles, a platform that allows publishers to upload and distribute articles to Facebook that load 10 times faster than the standard mobile web. They too know the power of creating the best experience for their users, and there may be no better platform for sharing social media articles than Facebook.
Your site’s speed and the load speed of your content are that split-second difference between a shareable, business generating post and a post that falls flat on its face.
Having a mobile responsive or mobile-friendly website isn’t just a nice option anymore – at this point, it’s become the ante just to play the game. Plugging your fingers in your ears and shouting, “But my data shows that all my users are desktop!” won’t change anything. Truthfully, those numbers probably mean you’re not even getting the large amount of traffic that you could be with a mobile site.
Mobile First isn’t a fad – this is one of those large trends that fundamentally changes how business is done. If you don’t catch up, it could spell disaster for your business.