Mobile-first and your customer’s experience: where do they join?
Why is mobile first still discussed today? Mobile first has had an important progress for Google and for the industry. Mobile first sums up to developing something on the internet and making it suitable for smartphones. It is a design and web layout oriented to give priority to mobile devices visualization. Instead of designing a web for computers first and adapting its structure for smartphones and tablets afterwards, as it used to be done since smartphones were released, it is done the other way around. Since the first launch of the iPhone in 2007 (Wikipedia, n.d.), the mobile-screen has evolved in many ways, but the way we interact with it has been essentially the same: rectangular, big, without major changes beyond resolution.
With the launch of the iPhone, Apple introduced a new way to surf the web; and with it, it challenged developers and business leaders to present their content in a new format to those trend setters that pioneered with this new device. This would be the birth of a new standard in web design that changed everything. At first, smartphone usage for web browsing had a slow adoption compared to the current smartphone adoption. According to statcounter.com, it was not until 2012 that smartphone web browsing reached 15%. That is 5 years of maturity to reach 15% addoption. In the following years, however, things would speed up significantly. By the time another 5 years went by, mobile web-browsing would have surpassed desktop web-browsing with 51.6% of traffic being registered from smartphones only (Statcounter, 2016).
During this sudden growth, the importance of offering a proper user experience in mobile became more important. This brought the concept of mobile first to life. As the new trend sped up adoption, it was clear that soon a significant amount of web traffic would come from smartphones. Google contributed to Mobile first’s evolution by implementing algorithms that ranked up sites that offer content in mobile format, “[…] regardless of whether they have a responsive design or separate mobile and desktop sites” (Ingham, 2020). At the Mobile World Congress in 2010, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, put forward that designers should follow the “mobile first” rule in product design (Quality Devs, 2019) since over 50% of traffic was coming from these devices. They explained that all their content shown in a web in desktop format should be exactly the same as the one shown in a smartphone or tablet, since the user demands it.
Interestingly enough, there is not a parallel advance between the industry and Google’s mobile indexation demand. There is uncertainty regarding if this is because people relied heavily on apps for accessing their content — social networks and news — or because of other reasons. This uneven search for a swift transition to mobile has forced Google to postpone its decision to adjust algorithms to better support mobile first sites.
Nowadays, Google keeps extending mobile first indexation ultimatum. Lately, because of Coronavirus disease, the mobile first concept was challenged because more people access the internet through desktop, as they spend more time at home. This, and the fact that the industry is not advancing in consequence, mean the web’s ecosystem is not ready for Google to make sites index mobile views. This way, it works as an indicator: if Google does not do it and continues extending that ultimatum, there are important actors –brands and organizations– that are not ready. Why are they not prepared or they do not want this?
A possible answer may be the impact in their traffic. Silverback, for example, wrote an article on how mobile first affected this for them. After their site was subjected to mobile-first indexing, their keyword rankings for smartphone devices searches started to suffer. Then, their website’s daily mobile impressions dropped radically. They explained Google’s algorithms were not showing their website for mobile search results any longer. Logically, as their keyword rankings decreased and mobile impressions dropped, mobile traffic followed the same tendency. Overall, the website underwent a 70% decrease in mobile traffic (Ingham, 2020).
However, mobile traffic is not the only motive behind this. Another reason may be that some brands and organizations have mobile friendly sites, which does not translate to Google’s mobile first indexation. Some do not know the difference between mobile friendly or mobile optimized: Mobile-friendly means having a site that can be viewed on mobile devices. It is no indicator of the site’s quality or whether mobile user experience is up to par, it only means the existence of a mobile site. Instead, mobile optimization is true responsive mobile design (Patel, n.d.). Mobile first means going some steps forward, it does not only demand the possibility to view your site from smartphone devices but also that it proves a good mobile experience.
The foundations behind Google’s effort towards mobile-first rely on its importance, which concerns you and your relationship with your clients as well as their experience with your company. The latter means your customer’s experience will be negatively affected when they have to interact with your site if this is not responsive. Entering a site that has been only thought for desktop, where everything looks small and one has to constantly zoom in, the content does not fit the screen and some functions do not work, is the same thing as entering a store where everything is untidy on the floor, in the wrong shelves, the workers do not talk to you and the payment method is broken. Google (and businesses should too) understands that people are more and more frequently accessing sites from their mobile devices rather than from desktop, that lives have changed and that users nowadays cannot always access sites from a computer. You must be prepared towards this reality. In today’s lives your customers are more likely to access your site from their smartphones, and on many occasions because they have no other choice. And even if they do, sometimes the mobile phone is a faster and easier way to check something, solve a problem, visit a site or find information. According to Datareportal, 66.6% of the population are mobile phone users, which equals 5.22 billion people (Kemp, 2021).
Would you know how to answer these questions about your site?
– How does Google index mobile or desktop?
– What bounce rate does it have on mobile?
Mobile first is not only about thinking about the mobile version of your site first instead of adapting it from its desktop version. Mobile first is about knowing the importance of giving a positive experience to your customers and understanding its relationship with your business sales, positioning, problems, and pain points. Is the mobile version of your site the best it could be? Are you ready for Google’s mobile indexation? How will Google continue proceeding with mobile first?
Mobile and tablet internet usage exceeds desktop for first time worldwide. (2016). StatCounter Global Stats. https://gs.statcounter.com/press/mobile-and-tablet-internet-usage-exceeds-desktop-for-first-time-worldwide
Devs, Q. (2019, 9 september). Qué es Mobile First y por qué es importante. Recovered april 28, 2021, from https://www.qualitydevs.com/2019/02/07/que-es-mobile-first-y-por-que-es-importante/
Kemp, S. (2021, 19 april). Digital 2021: Global Overview Report. Recovered on may 4th 2021, from https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-global-overview-report
Ingham, M. (2021, 5 February). How Mobile-First Indexing Devastated One Website’s Traffic. Recovered on May 10, 2021, from https://www.silverbackstrategies.com/blog/seo/how-mobile-first-indexing-devastated-one-websites-traffic/
Patel, N. (2020, 23 january). How to Prepare Yourself for Google’s Mobile-First Algorithm. Recovered from https://neilpatel.com/blog/prepare-googles-mobile-first-algorithm/
Phan, D. (2016, 4 november). Mobile-first indexing | Google Search Central Blog |. Recovered from https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2016/11/mobile-first-indexing
Wu, Y. (2020, 22 july). Prepare for mobile-first indexing (with a little extra time). Recovered from https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2020/07/prepare-for-mobile-first-indexing-with