Optimising the mobile experience has become an essential part of many digital businesses in today’s world. With a high percentage of websites now reporting mobile to be the single largest device type (for traffic at least), a desktop-first approach can no longer be a priority.
So if your business is one of the majorities that now sees mobile as the dominant device type, how should you go about improving your small-screen performance? What follows is a series of methods that you can apply to any website, regardless of industry, to bring the best possible experience to your mobile visitors. This post isn’t about telling you to make your buttons big and bold or to make your images tappable but looks at the heart of how you should design a mobile-first strategy for your site.
Step 1: The Visitor-Led View
The first step to optimising any experience is to consider who you are optimising for. So whether you are talking about an offline interaction with a potential customer, or an online visit via web or app, putting your visitors at the forefront of your efforts is the only firm basis upon which you can build your strategy. Remember that behind your real-time dashboard of visitors, your monthly sales figures or your basket abandonment summary are human beings and human beings can be influenced. So we need to consider what we already know about these visitors and from that, what needs we can reasonably assume that they have for their interaction.
Narrowing this to mobile specifically, we already know a key piece of information; they are viewing your site on a small screen. This, therefore, dictates that certain content present on the desktop version of the site may not be visible, and also that their interaction type is touch, rather than mouse or keyboard. Outside of just their device, you may also be able to add in additional pertinent data points such as country/city, language, day of the week, time of day or indeed any other factor that could be relevant to conversion.
So if we consider some of the examples above, we can start to make some assumptions on the likely needs of certain visitor types. Take the example of a train company website:
And once you have zeroed in on the needs of the various visitor types on mobile, then suddenly you know who you are actually trying to optimise the experience for and what requirements those visitors might have.
Step 2: Goal-Setting
One of the most common goals around mobile optimisation is “make mobile conversion match desktop conversion”, or similar aims that miss two fundamental points about optimising for specific device types:
- The choice of device, as outlined in the Visitor-Led View above, has itself an impact on the visitor and their needs — therefore if the visitor inputs are different, should you really be insisting on the same outputs?
- Optimising for a device is not itself the goal; the overarching goal should be to create an experience the drives genuine business benefit. To increase conversion rates to the desktop rate may well drive a benefit, but so could driving mobile visitors onto desktop devices later on in the day to complete their purchase — in the end, the business benefit is identical.
Now that may all seem slightly abstract, so let’s look at a real-life example of this holistic view in action and how setting the right goals is essential to being successful with mobile.
The Large Utility Company Example
This unnamed utility company had a sizeable digital team that had been tasked with “improving conversion on mobile” as an annual objective. But no matter what they tried to do, it was proving incredibly difficult to drive up mobile quote-to-sale conversion; visitors were happy to come in and get a quote for their energy supply on a small screen, but the stubborn majority refused to go ahead and confirm their switch to said utility company.
Enter the Visitor-Led View.
Using this model, it was identified that the visitor’s need on their mobile visit was to get a quote, whereas on desktop, it was initially to get a quote, and then go on to confirm their switch should the price be right. And in the current model, any visitor getting a quote on mobile then had to repeat the same process on desktop before they could switch.
So what was done?
The company was advised to stop thinking about “mobile conversion” and start thinking about “mobile contribution” to overall conversion. This resulted in the building of a very visible prompt on mobile for visitors to email their quote results to themselves, meaning they could pick up halfway through the process on a desktop at another point, rather than having to repeat themselves.
Well, of course, the team failed to “improve conversion on mobile”. But the mobile contribution to overall conversion went through the roof when record numbers of visitors started returning from their emailed quotes to complete their switches on desktop. So desktop conversion got a pretty sizeable boost while mobile conversion stayed flat, but the business benefit to them was substantial nonetheless.
So when you’re thinking about the setting of goals for your mobile visitors, you have to start by thinking about what benefits the business first, not what would improve your stats for the monthly Mobile Optimisation forum. And don’t beat yourself up about the fact that mobile conversion may not be matching desktop conversion; to deliver business value, there’s no requirement that it should.
NOTE: “Optimised” vs. “Responsive”
Common question: “Is your new website optimised for mobile?”
Common answer: “Yes, it’s totally responsive.”
But let’s be clear now — having a website that is responsive does not necessarily dictate that it is “optimised” for mobile. Creating a single-column, stacking version of your desktop site that fits perfectly onto a small screen does not constitute a mobile-optimised site.
Our first two steps have outlined how you should go about setting the foundations of your strategy for mobile optimisation, and the next two will go into more detail around the tangible outputs of your work.
Step 3: Mobile Specifics & Advantages
Often when we think about optimising for mobile, our first thoughts are of the restrictions that the smaller screen imposes on us. And not just the comparative lack of space, but also the lack of hover states or mouse-movement tracking or even a keyboard that doesn’t take up half of the visible screen. But in our rage at all of the restrictions, we can often forget that the mobile platform has some inherent advantages that desktop does not.
The Constant Companion
Our phones go with us everywhere. Or all but at least. So if your business has any ties to physical locations, whether permanent or promotional, you have to factor that into your mobile optimisation — you’ll almost certainly never have the same opportunity through your desktop site.
The One-Stop Trusted Shop
Software for desktop devices is downloaded from all over the place. Software (or “apps”) for the dominant mobile OSs are downloaded from a single source — either the Google Play store or the Apple App Store. And those marketplaces have become incredibly trusted sources of downloads and not subject to the same visitor scrutiny as downloads for desktop would be. So if you have any interest in that space, don’t forget to let your mobile web help your mobile app.
The Large Utility Company Example II
Yep, these guys again! But another fine example of drawing the different strands of the mobile optimisation experience together.
This time, the digital team were tasked with improving overall native app downloads which had been sluggish since launch. Their solution was to plaster banners all over the site (although primarily visible on desktop due to space) with CTAs to both Google Play & App Store. So lots of eyeballs were on those promotions, but there was little movement in actual downloads.
Enter the Visitor-Led View (again).
The problem was that they hadn’t started by thinking about the visitor and they’d just started with their business goal and applied the shotgun principle of spray the message everywhere and pray!
Taking the visitors’ view, however, it became immediately apparent that two things were required for a visitor to be considered a prospect for the app. First, they had to have a mobile phone, and second, they had to be an existing customer as the first thing the app asked for was login details. Now we’re starting to get a view of who we need to target here.
The assumption that most visitors had a mobile phone was probably fairly reasonable, but the real crunch was whether they were currently using it to access the site; if they weren’t, providing a direct CTA to download a mobile app wasn’t going to help anyone. Plus, presenting two CTAs for the two different app stores felt wrong; no person could use both as they are mutually exclusive, so every visitor was currently being presented with at least 50% of unusable content.
So what was done?
The first step was to target visitors by mobile OS; if they had an iOS device, they’d see the App Store CTA, and if they had an Android device, they’d see the Google Play CTA on the banner — that was the simple part.
The next part was a tad more tricky. As we know, mobile visitors tend to be very task-based, especially those who are logging into their utility accounts — we needed them to log in to verify that they were existing customers in order to complete that criterion for being offered the app. But no-one just logs into the utilities account for a browse, so we needed to make sure we didn’t interrupt their initial task. So we decided to target visitors on the logout page — couldn’t get there without logging in (and therefore confirmed as a customer) but clearly, their initial task was complete, so we weren’t interrupting anyone and cannibalising conversions.
Well, of course, app downloads went through the roof, despite dedicating substantially less real-estate over the whole site to the promotion of the new app. It’s not about how loudly you shout; it’s about who you shout to and when.
The Total Focus
One thing that is often overlooked when optimising for mobile is the clarity of focus that the small screen (can) provide. Sometimes, creating a linear passage through a mobile site can be far simpler than on desktop, as the larger screen often provides more opportunity to deviate from the “happy” path. On mobile, the lack of distractions that can be achieved by a slimmed-down UI can be hugely beneficial. So when you’re working on your mobile-optimised experience, try to include only what is absolutely essential, and you may even surprise yourself with how straightforward your site could be.
Step 4: The Visitor-Led View
It’s ok; it was also Step 1, you aren’t going mad. But now that we’ve considered our visitors, set business-focused goals and understood where mobile devices could be an advantage to your business, we now need to go back to considering our visitors again.
As you’ll no doubt have established by now, putting your visitors at the centre of your work is what makes a good optimiser. So now that you’ve created a much-improved mobile experience, you should now be considering breaking your visitor types down into ever-more specific categories in order to better serve their needs. And a big part of that is to stop looking at devices as visitors and start looking at humans as visitors.
The modern visitor is often characterised as a series of cookie values. And depending on the number of devices you own and the number of different browsers you use across those devices, you could be ten different visitors in the eyes of the businesses you transact with. So to bring mobile optimisation full-circle, start thinking about how you can stitch together your “mobile” visitors with their “desktop” counterparts, and start creating a view of a visitor, not of a device.
And if you can do this, your ability to set more business-changing goals will increase because your understanding of the Visitor-Led View has deepened substantially.
And your mobile optimisation process starts all over again.