Mobile first: mindset, not technology
Ensuring that a website is properly relevant to users of mobile devices isn’t just a ‘technical fix’, it’s also a change of attitude towards marketing and online content.
“Will my website also work on phones?” I hear this question from potential clients and see it in most invitations to tender. The answer is, “of course, all of our websites are responsive, designed to work on all devices” but the question itself highlights a mindset that really needs to change.
With around 90% of consumers owning a mobile phone and 30% owning a tablet (source: Steve French, global vice president at Amdocs' OpenMarket), it isn't difficult to see why people are concerned that their websites work well on something other than desktops and laptops.
But a website should not be thought of as something that works on mobiles as well – but rather something which is fundamentally designed for mobiles. This is what’s known as ‘mobile first’ design.
On many of the websites that we manage, around 20%–50% of traffic comes from mobile devices. This implies that mobile devices need at least equal design consideration – so why put ‘mobiles first’?
There are a couple of reasons. The first is that we’re designing your website for the future, not the past. The undeniable trend is that desktop devices are on the decline and mobile devices are on the rise. I’m sure the desktop will never die (or, at least a device with a large screen that we sit at to work) but their decline is fast and unabated. When Steve Jobs launched the iPad, he said we were entering a post-PC era; people laughed, but boy was he right.
The second reason is something that website analytics can’t tell us, but common sense can. Mobile devices are the ‘go-to’ device for the Web. By that, I mean that they are the things that we first reach for – mainly because we always have them with us.
According to Gartner, “mobile devices are increasingly becoming the go-to device for communications and content consumption. By 2018, more than 50% of users will go to a tablet or smartphone first for all online activities.”
The key word in that statement is ‘first’. Half of users will reach first for their tablet or smartphone.
‘Mobile first’ isn’t a technology, it’s an attitude. It’s about replacing the mindset that websites should ‘also’ work on mobiles with one which says that the special needs of mobile devices (and, of course, their users) should come first.
A simple example is an enquiry form. If someone’s out and about, filling in a dozen or so fields takes exponentially more time than if they’re sat at a desk. So, what’s the information you really need? Just the name, phone number and e-mail address is often enough – or even just the name and e-mail address, with tick-boxes for what the enquiry is about.
Another example is making sure that text sizes are easy to read on mobiles, without people having to pull the darned things right up to their faces.
But it runs deeper than that. The whole way your website is structured, the content that’s provided, the way it’s delivered – all of this should be taken into consideration. As I said, it’s not a technology, it’s an attitude.
Most decent website developers test that their websites work on multiple devices, often using third-party tools. But that’s a technical ‘does it fit?’ kind of test. The attitude for content, for usability, for engagement and for marketing is often stuck in the PC era. Mobile first isn’t just a question of ensuring that the design looks right on smartphones – it’s about whether your marketing and content is designed from the ground up to work really well for mobile users.
Responsive website design allows us to cater elegantly for different devices – enabling us to rearrange or change what’s displayed and how it works depending on the screen size. But that’s the easy part – it’s just a vessel into which we place content.
The hard part is creating marketing strategies and content strategies that properly and primarily encompass the unique needs of mobile users.