Mobile web users deserve better

In 2010, online traffic from mobile was 3%, it’s now 52%. A staggering 1,600% increase in just four years. This growth shows no sign of slowing. If mobile users are not the majority of your online audience today they soon will be.

As more and more of us become reliant on our mobiles to run our busy lives, increasingly I ask why the mobile web experience continues to be so poor?

Will I go away feeling positive or completely frustrated? Sadly the latter is more often the case, trying to engage with many organisations using a mobile device is often bordering on painful. The experience extremely poor and very frustrating. Sites are often not accessible, pages slow to load, features don’t work, and don’t’ give the information I want quickly.

I know I am not alone. Speak to anyone that uses the internet on their mobile and we can share views on the poor experiences we have each and every day. Too often you will hear; such and such “has a really crappy site, I tried to call but phone number didn’t work, I wanted to buy something but it was too difficult to use …” aaaahhhh!!

When speaking to organisations about mobile the first questions I ask; what does your business’ online presence look like using a mobile, would you do business with the organisation based on that experience? Many just look very sheepish. Many either have not looked or are in complete denial of how poorly their organisation is presented.

This is concerning when you consider the potential impact. Almost two thirds of people start researching products and services on mobile and over 50% say that they are less likely to engage with a company that has a bad mobile experience. It is so important to deliver a great first impression. Google firmly state: “A good user experience is critical, yet many brands neglect it and lose customers”. Bounce rates are typically over 70% for a non optimised or poor mobile site. Think about the last time you visited a really bad mobile website – did you engage with the organisation or leave frustrated? Too many organisations are simply not placing enough focus on mobile.

Why is it going wrong?

Take Google. On a desktop computer go to Google and you know what to expect, the experience is understood. Click on a search result and you will be delivered to an organisation’s website that will work well and hopefully give you what you want.

Go to Google on your mobile and this is certainly not the case. Click on a search result and you have no idea what to expect; will I land on a desktop site, will the website work on my mobile, will I be able to find what I want? The experience is no longer reliable. Google is no longer delivering the ‘best user experience possible’ and they are not doing ‘one thing really, really well’ – Search.

Consider the business impact. Google mobile consumer insights study last year reported:

  • 40% will abandon a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load
  • 61% will leave a site if they don’t see what they are looking for right away
  • 66% of people have abandoned a shopping cart because of issues at checkout

When seemingly so committed to the user experience why do Google populate mobile search results with content and links to sites that are going to deliver such a random experience?

Way back in 2012 Google stated that it now considers itself a “mobile first” company more than a desktop search engine company. So why not look after the best interests of the mobile user and deliver the best user experience?

It should be perfectly possible to prioritise and present content to mobile users that is optimised to work really well on any mobile device, especially as Google has two distinct content crawlers; Googlebot and Googlebot-Mobile. So why not do this?

Google is run by engineers and not marketers. Driven by what is commercially best for them. There was not the mobile content back in 2012, that there is today, but they still had to fill search listings. They had no choice but to present results linking to desktop sites and suggest that organisations adapt content for mobile users.

If you read what the engineers say; they suggest Responsive Web Design (RWD) is their recommended approach, slight issue is the marketing team don’t necessarily agree. The engineers state “We recommend using responsive web design because it has many good aspects.”

Two of the reasons given:

  • Using a single URL for … the content helps Google’s algorithms assign the indexing properties for the content.
  • It saves resources for … Google’s crawlers. For responsive web design pages, any Googlebot user agents needs to crawl your pages once …

Fair enough RWD is easier for Google and its engineers, that is obvious. But when making the statement Google should have been more clear in its guidance.

The audience has gone mobile, organisations have not. A lack of clarity has seen organisations go down a path that is simply wrong. They still approach with a desktop mentality. Marketing teams drawn in by technology myths and hype or guided by agencies lacking understanding of the mobile environment.

radio vs TVThe reality is when we are using our mobile device to find information our needs are typically very different. What we need is likely to be highly circumstantial or situational, immediacy is often critical, our patience and tolerance far less, typically we want something and actionable is a pre-requisite. This demands a different approach.

Mobile is fundamentally different. You would not put a radio Ad on TV and expect it to deliver value. Similarly you should not put a desktop web experience in front of a mobile user and expect it to work. It won’t.

That is exactly what so many organisations are doing, building responsive web sites with a desktop mentality. Services are alienating their customers.

On mobile; every new click potentially gets in the way, loading new pages takes time, entering unnecessary information and excessive amounts of personal details is often painful and unwelcome. Features often are missing or don’t work. There are so many elements to mobile that are key to get right otherwise they simply cost in terms of lost customers.

Things may be changing …

A Google spokesperson recently stated; “Because at Google we are aiming to provide a great user experience on any device, we’re making a big push to ensure the search results we deliver reflect this principle. We want users to be able to enjoy the web wherever they are.”

Google spokesperson went on to say; “Mobile-friendly websites provide a much better user experience for the mobile users. According to our studies, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site that they had trouble accessing from their phone. That includes sites that use fonts which are illegible on mobile, or sites where users have to zoom in or pan around excessively. Mobile is a very important area; the mobile device penetration is over 50% in the USA and most users use their device for browsing websites.”

What do organisations need to do?

Organisations need to go back to Google’s statement in 2012. Think “mobile first”, deliver to the mobile user’s needs first. Optimise the experience for the mobile user and stop the desktop mind-set. They must think and act mobile. If they don’t it is going to have severe consequences in the future.

Services must be optimised for mobile. If wishing to adopt responsive web design, start from mobile and make it adapt to desktop, not the other way around.

For some a responsive web site that adapts from mobile to desktop may be appropriate, but for others it is not – especially retailers. For many a separate optimised mobile site will present the best strategic approach. Responsive design creates dependencies, making it very difficult to provide any effective targeting or segmentation and provides very little ability to be reactive in what is a very dynamic environment. It literally places handcuffs on marketing and can restrict business performance.

Go to a mobile expert …

A few years ago you would not have considered started your website development without using someone that had experience of creating websites, today you should really seek the advice of a mobile specialist if you don’t want to alienate your customers.

When you get it right, the results are dramatic! They are tangible and measurable.  The best thing is that a highly performing mobile optimised site will rapidly deliver significant ROI and happy customers.

Organisations need to wake up to the needs of the mobile user, start to take charge and deliver a decent experience. If they don’t it may start to impact their mobile rankings and business.

(Watch out may be Google has begun to flex their muscles! Google May Add Mobile User Experience To Their Ranking Algorithm).

Martin Wilson is a leading mobile specialist located in the UK. He can be found on Twitter @indigo102

If you are interested in uncovering the potential of mobile for your business, you can contact Martin martin@indigo102.com or +447912 688691.