Smartphones are now the primary way people access the internet. We use them for over 60% of our browsing and, since 2016, over half of the UK’s online shopping has been done on them. Their importance is such, that Google downranks websites that aren’t mobile-friendly and, since last year, uses mobile pages rather than desktop pages to rank sites in search results. These facts make it absolutely critical that when you create your website, you focus on the mobile version and in this post, we’ll look at some of the most important factors you should consider.
Responsive isn’t good enough
Google made the decision to downrank websites that didn’t render well on mobiles back in 2015. By that time, many websites were already responsive but the impact of Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’, as it became known, caused most of those that were lagging behind the times to follow suit.
That, however, was over three years ago and things have moved on since then. While responsive websites are an absolute must, today, they are the bare minimum of what you should do.
Speed is crucial
While a responsive website will adapt the content to fit mobile screens, it won’t help it load any faster. And loading times are highly important for mobiles because, when not connected by wi-fi to the high-speed broadband of the user’s home, they are often left with much slower connections, such as public wi-fi and patchy 3G and 4G networks. Sites that load slowly are much more likely to be abandoned by impatient users. Not only does this cause a loss in traffic and sales, it also produces negative analytics data (short session times, high bounce rates, etc.) that signals to Google that your site might not be worth ranking highly.
How do you counter this? There are a number of things you can do, which when done together can have an impact on page loading times. Moving to a faster hosting package, i.e., upgrading from shared hosting to VPS or using servers with SSD drives instead of HDD can ensure that data is processed and served more quickly.
Reducing the size of the data needed to load your site can also help. This can be done through compression, caching, image optimisation, script minification and the use of content delivery networks. If you have a site that relies on endless numbers of plugins or add-ons, getting rid of any unnecessary ones or using lighter versions can also help.
Designing for mobile use
To make your website truly mobile-friendly you need to think beyond how something looks on a mobile screen and consider how someone uses their phone to interact with your site. When using a desktop device, people generally use a keyboard and mousepad to interact and have both hands available to type, click and scroll. On a mobile, there is a much smaller touch screen that is operated using one hand and with interactions often done just by thumb. This invariably means that things which are easy to do on desktop devices are generally much more challenging on a mobile. If these things are too challenging, exasperated users will just go somewhere else.
The rule of thumb
Three-quarters of smartphone users do most of their mobile interactions with their thumb. When designing your page, you need to consider how easy you make it for the thumb to do things. Placing key touch elements, like menus, near the bottom can help make your site more friendly as the user won’t have to stretch their thumb as far or be inconvenienced by having to use another digit.
Another way to cater for how we hold a phone is to present content using cards. These rectangular layouts are simple to use with a thumb as they are easy to tap on or swipe. They also break up content into discrete, uncluttered sections that can be easily seen on a small screen.
Thumbs are not the most precise of digits for typing and tapping and when you have to do this on a small screen the result is a constant series of errors. Hence why auto-text and autocorrection can be so helpful. When creating a mobile page, therefore, take into consideration how you can make it easier to tap on afield, input information and click on links and buttons without making an error. This includes putting enough room between things so that users don’t accidentally click on the wrong one. How many times do people accidentally ‘like’ things when all they wanted to do is scroll down?
With smartphones becoming the predominant way to surf the internet, businesses need to go beyond responsive design to create the truly mobile-friendly sites that both users and search engines are asking for. This means creating sites which are super fast at loading no matter what kind of connection a phone has and designing the layout of the page to take into consideration how a user holds the phone and uses their hands to carry out tasks.
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