Our own statistics, averaged out from the 400 or so Google Analytics accounts we track for our clients, show that in 2014 the proportion of their search traffic coming from mobile devices increased on average 50%. Fifty per cent.
Of course there’s selection bias there – a lot of these guys had mobile sites built for the first time – but even so, as an indicator that sort of growth of ANYTHING online cannot be ignored.
Looking to more scientific studies gives a similar picture:
- A recent study by Morgan Stanley Research shows that in 2014 for the first time mobile Internet users overtook desktop Internet users.
- Shopify’s statistics last month showed that across 100,000 Shopify stores, mobile devices accounted for 50.3% of all traffic.
Mobile Usage for E-Commerce
One of the most common objections by e-com business owners to embrace the mobile trend is to claim that while Internet users might do their research on mobile, they still revert back to desktop for the all-important purchase. Not so, according to a study by Business Insider. They found that mobile e-commerce purchases in the States grew 48% YOY in Q2 2014.
Shopify found that 1/3 of sales to its stores are happening on mobile devices, proving that it’s not just browsing but purchasing that is happening online.
So that’s the trend, but what does this really mean for us as business owners relying on the web to generate customers?
How Poor Mobile User Experience Is Costing You
It’s no surprise that users of smartphones find browsing online on non-mobile friendly sites frustrating. Anyone who has tried pinching and zooming to read tiny text, navigating dropdown menus or filling in forms on their smart phone appreciates that the user-experience of a mobile-unfriendly site is usually very painful. But our evidence shows that in fact this experience is so bad that now many users aren’t even bothering.
While most desktop sites can expect a bounce rate somewhere between 40 and 45%, we’re seeing bounce rate on mobile devices being between 65-75% if the site isn’t mobile friendly. This means these businesses are losing as much as 3/4 of their traffic before these visitors even click on anything.
Bounce rate is not only a measure of a site’s usability. It’s also a key metric used by Google to decide all sorts of things, from Adwords CPC to search ranking. A site that instantly turns off that many visitors is not the sort of site Google wants to give exposure to, so it’ll see much poorer ranking and much more expensive advertising clicks.
Two Classes Emerge
The danger here is that we start to see a class divide online. It’s no secret that larger traditional stores have seen the move to mobile as a chance to catch up on ground lost to smaller businesses that adopted the Internet faster. With larger marketing budgets these larger stores have taken to mobile and are capitalising on being first. As they make more money from mobile clicks and attract more exposure, they are able to continue investing whilst the non-mobile friendly sites begin to fall behind.
Then, this year Google stepped in…
What Google’s “Fix mobile usability issues found on…” Message Really Means
This message is important for two reasons:
- It marks the first time that Google has identified non-mobile friendly sites as problematic: “critical mobile usability errors”. In the past, mobile-friendly sites were seen as the positive exception and it wasn’t an expectation. No more – ignorance will no longer save you. You can’t just leave this and hope that mobiles go away because Google thinks your site is broken if it doesn’t adapt for mobile users.
- The last sentence in the first paragraph reads “… and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.” Yes, that means your site will be ranking worse for mobile visitors than desktop. If your market is one of those that sees greater search traffic from mobile than desktop, this should have you on the phone to your dev team immediately.
Last year we saw Google start to add the ‘Mobile Friendly’ tag in search results, which increases click-through-rate (CTR) which will over time lead to better ranking. Now, they’ve come straight out and explained that this will affect ranking. Big deal.
But we don’t think it’ll stop there…
Google uses various quality signals to decide ranking of sites, and many of them are tied to usability. If a site is updated more frequently, this is seen as a sign that it’s likely to be a better quality site. Is it too far to assume that if a site is mobile friendly, it’s also likely to be a better site? We think not, and we’re going to stick our necks out and say that mobile usability will be a significant ranking factor across all devices by the end of 2015.
Think of it like a penalty: is your site going to be penalised by the mobile ranking update?
Different Mobile Options
So let’s assume that you’re going to take the leap into mobile friendliness. What are your choices?
A Separate Mobile Website
The first option is an entirely separate mobile website. This sits in parallel to your regular site on your server, and when a mobile visitor enters, they are shown the mobile site.
This approach works well for businesses for which mobile and desktop intent is very different. It’s something that we see a lot of banks doing for example (frustratingly), limiting mobile usage to basic functions, sending money with friends and finding a local branch etc. It can also be a good approach for E-commerce sites that have been built carefully with desktop functionality in mind, where building in ‘responsive’ behaviour isn’t an attractive alternative. By clearly separating mobile and desktop you can precisely engineer the experience on both, without either compromising the other.
The downsides of a separate mobile site are many:
- You now have two websites to maintain, keep up to date and populate with new content.
- You have lots of forwarding to set up between mobile and desktop pages so that if a mobile user clicks a desktop link to a deep page, they are shown the correct page on the mobile site. Seeing a 404 in this case is something that Google frowns upon.
- It can be tough to keep user experience consistent across both mobile and desktop versions.
The more modern approach is now usually a responsive website.
Responsive sites ‘respond’ to the size of the device they are viewed on. The code of the site alters the layout to make sure that text is readable, content only scrolls down and not across, and that the site elements stack vertically to make browsing easier. Buttons are much larger and menus become more user-friendly.
Responsive behaviour is common across all good quality new websites, and should be built in as standard by any web development company as standard. It’s something we’ve been doing for over a year now, and clients love responsive sites for a number of reasons:
- There’s only one site to maintain.
- Changes made on the site are immediately shown across all devices.
- There’s only one set of Analytics to look at.
- ‘In between size’ device (iPhone 6+ and other phablets for example) users have a good experience when a mobile site will look a bit basic to them.
Whichever option you choose, there are some important considerations to keep in mind:
How Mobile and Desktop Traffic Differs
Mobile searchers and desktop searchers can have quite different goals and usage habits. Mobile searchers are often more impulsive browsers and buyers, particularly if they’re sat watching TV when a product comes on or something triggers them in that moment. In this situation, it’s imperative that they can find the information or products that they need, as quickly as possible with minimum disruption or distraction.
For local businesses, mobile searches often have a location-slant. Whether it’s someone out and about looking for a postcode to stick in the sat nav, trying to find a click-to-call phone number or wanting to submit a ‘Call me back’ contact form, again getting out of the way of these conversion goals is important. Keep in mind that mobile clicks from Google+ listings mean that the visitor already knows that the business is local, whereas clicks from regular organic results might not have this understanding. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to make your location prominent somewhere on your main landing pages – and not only in the footer, as it often requires a lot of scrolling to get to the footer on a responsive mobile site.
Desktop users are more frequently multi-tab browsing, which means that lead generation and contact captures are important because the amount of time that you have the user’s attention can be very short. On both devices, descriptive value statements that explain what the business does and who it’s for are very important and often neglected.
Contact forms are a good bet for both mobile and desktop sites. For mobile visitors in particular, it makes submitting an enquiry or requesting a call back much more reliable when their email account might not be set up properly on the device. It also means that you can run conversion tracking pixels on the contact form thank you page, allowing much more detailed analysis of your site’s performance.
What’s the Timeline for Mobile Adoption?
If you’re still not mobile-friendly, our advice is to make it your goal to get this sorted in the first half of 2015. With ranking being harmed already, this is something that will increase and mobile usage trends in 2015 are likely to accelerate as device users continue to upgrade their devices and networks upgrade their data speeds.
You do not want to be on the wrong side of a tsunami and mobile is now a must for businesses that want to grow and prosper online.