Mobile-forward design: It’s what’s now and next

Scott Dubois / October 2, 2017

Mobile-forward design is the next evolution in digital experience. First, there were desktop and mobile experiences – a huge challenge with updates and management occurring on separate platforms. Then, responsive design became the norm, allowing the screen to scale based on any type of device. While responsive is certainly an acceptable way to design, mobile-forward design is the future.

Mobile search dominates

Globally, the breakdown across devices is this: 52.64% of searches are initiated via mobile, 42.75% on a desktop, and 4.62% by tablet. Consumers use mobile devices to interact with a brand, read content, open emails, engage on social media, and make purchases. While most websites have been mobile-friendly for some time, the “what’s next” is being mobile-forward. Users want fast, easy-to-navigate websites. It’s no longer just a nice thing to have; it’s a must. If your mobile user experience (UX) is bad, customers are unlikely to return. Google estimates that 61% of users will not return to a site they had trouble accessing on mobile, and 40% of users will then visit a competitor’s site instead.

What mobile-forward means to your brand

Mobile-forward is not responsive design. With mobile-forward design, the only website you need is a mobile one; there is no

reason to have separate desktop and mobile versions. In fact, this is what Google and other search engines expect. To be mobile-forward, the primary version of your site and how it’s designed focuses on the mobile experience. If a user later accesses your site on a desktop, it will provide the same experience, just a bit expanded.

App vs. mobile forward

Yes, there’s probably an app for that. But, do users want to download it? What benefit does the end-user get from downloading an app that takes up storage on their smart phone? The typical reason to download an app is for repeated tasks or actions, like banking or fitness, but beyond such repeatable actions, apps aren’t likely to be used. The 2015 US Mobile App Report finds that the number of mobile browser users is two times larger than app audiences. Why? The mobile website is easier to navigate, and the user doesn’t have to comb through a cluttered home screen to find it.

From a technical perspective, apps aren’t as easy to update as mobile websites, making mobile-forward websites much less expensive to maintain. Another major challenge that is often overlooked is the level of marketing and promotion required for an app to gain widespread adoption, which requires significant investments in time and resources.

And then, what? After all that work to bring an app to market, the overwhelming number of poorly designed apps, coupled with the limited capacity of smart phone memory, means that users download and engage with only a tiny fraction of those apps that make it to release.

So, do you really want to create another app destined for the recycle bin? Instead, create an app-like experience users love, with a really great mobile website. It’s an excellent way to drive returns and facilitate organic growth. A mobile design should allow a user to navigate and convert easily. When users enjoy a great experience, they’ll come back. As new features or updates become available, returning users will continue to appreciate such a seamless process.

Going all in: what it takes to be mobile forward

OK, so what’s it going to take to go mobile-forward? For starters, your site must load quickly. Speed is everything. Three seconds is about the threshold for mobile users before they become frustrated, so you’d better have this fine-tuned.

Your SEO and pay-per-click strategies must focus on mobile-forward. Google’s algorithm now prioritizes mobile-first sites and PPC campaigns. By using their mobile campaign options, your campaign is highly visible and more appealing to your audience.

One experience on all devices matters, because many first visits begin with a mobile search. Currently, almost 60% of all searches in the U.S. are initiated on mobile. The most sophisticated brands aren’t thinking mobile-first design – they’re thinking mobile only. Desktop experiences are an expanded version of mobile, not a different one.

If the mobile site offers a promotion or allows users to sort or filter results, then that same experience must transfer to the desktop. Users won’t tolerate “different” experiences across platforms – it’s confusing. This expectation gap, between what they thought they’d find on the site, and what they actually encountered, means you’ll let your customers down every time. And they’ll move on to another site.

One of the other great benefits to mobile-forward is the lower cost for development and coding. Because you’re creating a single experience, it takes fewer resources to update and improve the platform. New functionalities, campaigns, and capabilities become easier to execute.

Mobile-forward is customer-driven

Your customer is the driving force behind the functionality and experience of your mobile website. Take a close look at your specific data to understand sessions on mobile, versus those on desktop. Then, look closely at the differences between your mobile and desktop experiences. Determine how these disparate experiences can be merged to create a mobile-forward design approach. Be prepared and proactive in updating and upgrading your mobile experience. Your visitors will thank you.

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