by Mark Hayes
July 18, 2015

Imagine a store, which didn’t leave the lights on because they expected people to know they were open for business. How many customers do you think they’d get?

You can laugh at the silliness of it, but did you know many online businesses are doing pretty much the same; simply by ignoring or delaying mobile optimization on their website.

Surely, this must be easy to fix. A few well-placed blogs on the merits should do the trick, right?

Unfortunately no.

Unlike SEO where people just need to be aware of the best practices, mobile optimization is being held back because business owners need to be convinced of its usefulness.

Right now, they’re busy walking around firmly believing their desktop website is more than enough to get them reach, impact and sales.

Mobile traffic has already overtaken desktop traffic

When the iPhone was first announced, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft confidently predicted, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

Let’s take a minute to shake our head. But this level of delusion also exists when it comes to mobile vs. desktop arguments.

There are still an alarming number of businesses that believe the mobile screen is only for inconsequential activities like social media, video and online dating.

But when it comes to serious purchase intent, people prefer the desktop. Let’s take another head-shaking minute. Here’s why.

In the summer of 2014 comScore’s report revealed that smartphones and tablets account for 60 percent of U.S. digital media time. 52 percent of that is mobile apps, which still leaves a sizable 8 percent from mobile web browsing.

Desktop surfing in the meantime accounted for the other 40 percent.

Millennials barely put their phones down

If you look at the data, you almost begin to imagine millennials using their phones every minute they don’t spend sleeping.

This may be an exaggeration but the sheer number of hours spent is still staggering. Research by Nielsen suggested that the average U.S. person spends 34 hours 21 minutes on their smartphone each month, while the average U.K. person spends 41 hours 42 minutes per month.

A much wider study of 24,000 18 – 34 year-olds or ‘Millennials’ in the U.S. picked up by The Wall Street Journal found that 77 percent owned a smartphone and they spent an average 14.5 hours a week texting, talking and on social media.

If you’re imagining this is merely a ‘boys-and-their-toys’ phenomenon, think again.

A recent study entitled “The invisible addiction: Cell-phone activities and addiction among male and female college students” found that female college students spend a staggering average of 10 hours per day using their smartphones, compared to 8 hours for male students.

Part of the reason for this is the ever expanding list of smartphone features. They are used as cameras, gaming devices, portable TVs, and radios, we use them for navigation, we read on them, we shop, and of course we communicate.

Online retail is already shifting screens

Wayne Gretzky, former championship ice hockey player was once asked the secret to his success. He replied, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Armed with this mindset, leading online retailers like Amazon are already making the move to mobile in a noticeable way. In this report from this Search Engine Watch article we find that almost 50 percent of traffic for Google and leading online retailer Amazon comes from mobile and that figure is rising.

News sites currently receive, on average, 35 to 40 percent of their traffic from mobile devices. And in the case of IFC.com, the engagement of mobile visitors is even greater than of those that came from desktops.

Even in the case of Food & Beverage websites, Chilis.com: The casual-dining chain which focuses on online ordering of food for delivery or pickup at a restaurant, saw a marked increase in mobile traffic over desktop traffic.

All this data signals that even if you have an app, your mobile website will continue to receive a significant amount of traffic.

Now, while it’s easy to assume from all this data that apps are the answer, it isn’t. When we looked at how people are spending time on mobile devices, we found that the results are heavily skewed by incredibly popular apps like Facebook and it’s really not easy to get users to download and use your app.

Smaller screens but bigger spends

We’ve all felt the impulse; while waiting for the bus, flicking through channels on the couch or even while sitting through a dull seminar.

That inexplicable urge to head to a shopping website on our phones and just ‘browse’. But while some are capable of superhuman feats of willpower and stop at just browsing, most of us cave in and end up clicking that ever-inviting ‘buy now’ button.

The good news is we’re not alone in caving in to impulse shopping via mobile. An IMRG Capgemini report found that 52 percent of traffic to retail websites in the UK comes from smartphones or tablets, and 36 percent of online sales are completed on mobile devices.

This sales figure rises to a staggering 40 percent for clothing and apparel merchants.

Adding to this, Tina Spooner, Chief Information Officer at IMRG, said “Considering that as recently as 2010 mobile visits to e-retail sites accounted for less than 3% of traffic, this latest milestone represents staggering growth of 2,000% over the past 4 years.

These results clearly demonstrate that retailers’ investment in mobile optimisation is encouraging consumers to adopt mobile devices as a shopping platform.”

The report also revealed that the total estimated online spend during Q2 (May to July) was £24.2bn, with £8.7bn spent via smartphones and tablet devices.

From rack hunting to app hopping

Shopping used to be a pretty straightforward experience – browse and buy. But as confirmed in Nielsen’s U.S. Digital Consumer Report, it’s a completely different story today.

Now before the salesperson starts their sales pitch, you’ve already turned to your phone for an ‘expert’ opinion.

From price comparisons, research on complimentary items, referring to lists, reading online reviews and using online coupons, you are light years ahead in the decision curve the minute you step into the store.

Adding to this, a Google executive said, “More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.”

Overall the company also acknowledged in Q4 2014, US mobile queries (tablets + smartphones) were roughly 29 percent of total search volumes across the entire industry.

Migrating our lives to a mobile screen

Shopping isn’t the only aspect of our lives to get transformed by mobile. Today, there are only a handful of activities, which don’t involve reaching into our pockets for our smartphones.

Online Publishers Association/ Frank N. Magid Associates have compiled a detailed report which demonstrates just how deeply entwined our daily lives have become with our mobile screens.

  • 5 percent access content/information
  • 1 access the Internet
  • 1 percent check email
  • 2 percent listen to music
  • 46 percent play games
  • 7 percent download and use apps
  • 15 percent make purchases
  • 15 percent read a book

Mobile lets you skip to the chase faster

It’s called impulse shopping for a reason. Because if the expereince takes longer than a few seconds to load, that ‘impulse’ fades and the reality of spending money kicks in – a feeling no one really wants to experience before buying something online.

Right now mobile visitors have a 9.56% higher bounce rate averaging 1.979 pages per visit. As the number of smartphones and tablets increase every day, more mobile traffic is a given.

But the key is keeping that traffic on your site long enough to take a meaningful action (share content, subscribe to content, or make a purchase).

This means even if your content looks great on a desktop, it might be unreadable on a mobile device. Visitors absolutely won’t stay on your site if they have to pinch and zoom or squint at illegible type, or worse yet if it runs flash or anything that requires add-ons to display in a browser.

You also need to make it as easy as possible to complete a purchase. Shopping cart abandonment rates are notoriously high, topping 70 percent according to Listrak.

But it’s worth remembering that for mobile, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost the sale because many consumers will complete it later on a desktop or in a retail store. Either way, you need to make the experience as easy and smooth as possible.

Your mobile presence dictates your brand perception

How often have you eagerly loaded a website of a new company you just heard of only to find they don’t have a mobile-friendly version of their site.

If you’re really keen, you might give the dreaded ‘pinch-to-zoom’ a go. But even the most patient lot will eventually shut the tab and move right back to something familiar and friendly, like Facebook.

Now, your brand would be somewhat lucky if it ended there. But chances are, once the user has a bad experience on your site via a mobile device, they’ll not only form a negative opinion about it. They’ll share it on social.

And if you think, people like these are just a select few…here’s a hard fact, mobile web adoption is growing at 8 times the pace of the 1990s.

This means more customers are discovering your brand on a mobile platform long before they come to a desktop platform. And for millions of users, the mobile platform is the only way they discover, identify and interact with your brand.

Here are three key ways in which the mobile experience is shaping brand perception:

#1 Mobile is blurring the line between in-store and online: If you imagine you can build a brand experience purely offline and use mobile to simply direct traffic to this wonderland of great products and service, stop now. The reality is consumers are more than happy to hop between a mobile and in-store experience till they find a buying cycle which works for them. For instance, 51 percent of consumers research online before buying in-store. Yet, 44 percent are perfectly content to research and buy online, without ever feeling the need to step foot into an offline store. And 32 percent even go as far as researching and trialing in store but ultimately making a purchase online.

#2 Your brand is judged on loading speeds: Right now, 88 percent feel owning a mobile device makes them more spontanous shoppers and more keen to discover new things, while 72 percent of tablet owners make a weekly purchase online via their device.

Yet, this loyalty comes at a price. Your brand will only be rewarded if your website loads fast enough. 57 percent of mobile users readily abandon your website if the page takes 3 seconds to load.

This timeframe comes down to just 2 seconds for those using a tablet. What’s worse, every 100ms increase in load time decreases sales by 1%.

This impatience extends into customers irrespective of your desktop website or in-store optimization. 71 percent expect mobile sites to load as fast, if not faster, than the desktop version. And 51 percent expect transactions on mobile to be easier than offline transactions.

That’s right, easier. But if you are willing to go the extra mile, there are scores of customers up for grabs. In the near future, as much as 63 percent of customers expect to shop more on mobile. In fact, ¼ of all online Black Friday shopping was done via mobile and tablets with Amazon making a whopping 1 billion in sales just from mobile platforms.

#3 Recommendations hinge on your mobile competence: The mobile audience is quick to disseminate news about your brand based on the experience they’ve just had a few seconds ago. In some ways, this is a good thing with 61 percent claiming they have a better brand opinion when presented with a good mobile experience.

However, this fickle approach can also go awry with 57 percent refusing to recommend a business if the mobile site was poor and a significant 41 percent immediately turning to the competition in the event of a bad mobile experience.

If you expect consumers to engage with your brand then you need to present a united front and deliver a good experience across the board.

Consumers shop through smartphones, PCs, tablets, laptops, and store visits. They expect to be able to switch between these options and find what they need.

A good experience on mobile won’t necessarily result in an immediate sale, but it could encourage the consumer to visit your website again on a PC, or come into a store.

Mobile can be all business too, even in B2B

B2B business owners have shied away from fully adopting a mobile-led approach to their websites and their business because ‘serious business’ apparently doesn’t involve a smartphone screen. (We spot a trend here – if you can’t understand why you should be doing something, explain why you won’t do it.)

Yet according to IDG Global Mobile Survey 2014, “Executives lead the way in mobile adoption, validating the theory that digital assets for a business or brand must serve target audiences 24/7, and not just during business hours.

Mobile is preferred over the desktop for executives conducting research during and after office hours.”

Some of the other key findings from the survey include:

  • 92 percent of executives own a smartphone used for business.
  • 77 percent of executives use their smartphone to research a product or service for their business.
  • 93 percent of executives will purchase that product via the Internet using a laptop or desktop.
  • 86 percent use their tablet and 72 percent of executives use their smartphone to conduct research for products or services for their business.

Take your mobile site for a health check

No one likes knowing they might be unwell and might have to get a checkup. The same thinking also kicks in when it comes to mobile optimization.

It can often be scary to deep dive into a new platform: especially if the consumer already has a head start. But if you give your website a simple mobile health check, you’ll quickly be able to identify where you’re lagging and catching up may not be as hard as you once imagined.

To start, pick up your smartphone, go to your website and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it load in less than three seconds? – As we discussed earlier, mobile customers give your page just 3 seconds to load before they navigate away. For tablet users, it’s just 2 seconds. Think of what you can eliminate from your homepage to cut down loading times to these Olympian speeds.
  • Does it draw your eye to your key selling points or message? – Unlike the desktop, mobile customers expect all the information they’re looking for right up front. In fact, 30 percent of mobile shoppers abandon transactions if the experience is not optimized.
  • Is the content easy to read? – While long copy might be great for SEO, it becomes a strain to navigate on a mobile screen. And if presented with too much information, or info that seems clunky to read, chances are an impatient mobile millennial won’t.
  • Is it easy to navigate? – You need to think of your mobile site in terms of three key decision points – what do they want? How much is it? Where can they buy it? If any one of these is missing, the mental path to purchase is interrupted and the customer simply moves away from the site.
  • Is it easy to recognize and activate the call to action? – Remember to keep your call to action clear, consistent and easy to access at all times because mobile customers are very impulse-driven. A well-placed call to action often closes the sale even before the customer reads through the entire page.
  • Does it provide a good user experience? – A good mobile site is more than just load times and calls to action. It stands as a representation of your brand in the online world. It is also the first point of contact for Millennials who see and judge brands based on their mobile user experience. With this in mind, you need to examine every aspect of your mobile site to ensure that consumers get a consistent and seamless experience every time, across the wide spectrum of mobile devices.
  • Is it a website you would spend time if it was not your own? – This may sound a bit philosophical, but if you think about it, each one of us is also a customer to a dozen businesses every day. So, as a customer, if you can objectively look at your mobile website, is it one you find easy to navigate? Does it make decisions easier? And most importantly, would you come back? If you answered “no” or even “maybe” to any of these questions, go back and reexamine what you can do to fix the problem.

Ready to optimize your content for mobile?

A mobile site isn’t just a Hobbit-sized version of your desktop site. There are several small yet key design elements you must keep in mind to simplify and increase the ease of user experience (UX). These include:

Simplify the content: It’s true that screen sizes are getting larger. But even the largest phone screens are still less than a quarter of the size of the average laptop screen. Provide content in short, easily digestible blocks instead of long paragraphs of text. Remember, most users are reading while on-the-go, so help them out by reducing the clutter and amount of content on your mobile site.

Understand the role of short-form content: How is your content meeting the needs of mobile readers? In particular, are you providing only long-form content (which is crucial for SEO), or short-form content that’s easily read ‘on the go’?

Are there ways you can serve up shorter content to meet the needs of your mobile users? Netflix is one company who’s taking this mandate seriously; they’re currently testing out 2-5 minute-long clips that mobile users can watch on the go.

Write with a focus on your mobile visitors: Providing short-form content alone isn’t enough. You also need to make sure your content (regardless of the length) is easily consumed on mobile by using:

  • Short, catchy and highly-relevant headlines
  • Eye-catching lead-ins that act as a powerful ‘hook’
  • Mobile-friendly content formatting: big fonts, visual elements, clean layout, bullets and lists for easy scan-ability
  • Succinct, clear content that matches the readability level of your audience

Incorporate your brand: Don’t pare down your content so much that you render your website unidentifiable. Incorporate elements of your brand into your mobile site by using the same fonts, color schemes and icons that would appear on your full site. And, of course, include your logo!

Keep text entry to a minimum: If you suffer from the proverbial Fat-Finger Syndrome, you know what a challenge it can be to type the correct letters on the tiny digital keyboard. Limit the amount of required text entries and opt for drop-down menu or checklist options instead.

Include your phone number: Most mobile users are searching your site on their phone with the intention of calling your business. They are searching on a phone, after all. Yet, many businesses forget to include their phone number on their mobile site or they make it too difficult to find. Place your phone number prominently or include a click to call button.

Link to full site: As great as your mobile site might be, sometimes your visitor may still need to access you full (desktop-version) website. Include a link to access the full site directly from the mobile version instead of making them type in your site address again.

Optimize for long-tail search: Long-tail keywords are increasingly important when it comes to SEO, and mobile-SEO in particular. Think about how your own searches differ between mobile and desktop. For instance, when you’re in the city looking for a good restaurant, do you search for “restaurant Seattle” or “where’s the closest restaurant?”

Identifying and targeting long-tail keywords means considering how and where users will search for your business, evaluating user intent and optimizing for natural-language search.

Don’t forget to optimize the distribution of your content too: Creating a mobile-first site, both in terms of design and content is only the first step. But while we’re getting better at it, we often lag when it comes to optimizing content distribution to a mobile audience.

Your email subscribers and social media followers are also accessing your content via mobile, so how are you optimizing these channels?

According to ExactTarget’s 2014 State of Marketing report, 42% of marketers ‘rarely or never’ used responsive design for their emails. This is a huge disconnect between what we know about subscriber behavior and what we actually do to meet their needs.

So, to get cracking on optimizing for email and social media, here are some quick tips:

  • Use responsive email design
  • Ensurie your email and social content is easily scannable
  • Know when your subscribers and followers are accessing your content and post at optimal times
  • Focus on eye-catching and relevant headlines
  • Ensure all links used are mobile-friendly

The mobile web is no longer a concept – it’s a mainstream reality that will impact any business aiming to communicate with target audiences online. Most leading industry analysts project that within a few short years, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common device to access the web worldwide.

Is your business prepared for the day when there is no more distiction between the ‘mobile web’ and the ‘desktop experience’?

Are you poised both physically and mentally to handle Millennials being razor-specific in ‘what’ they want and ‘how’ they want it? Because if you want your brand to be seen as innovative, you can’t wish your way into it.

You have to be smart, nimble and always rememeber to leave a light on.

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