Mobile is here to stay.
Almost 80% of the worldwide population has a smartphone. Across the globe, people are using them to browse the web, check their emails and engage with apps. That makes mobile trendy — and it’s easy to get caught up in the fervor.
Does every website have to be mobile first?
Why Make Your Website Mobile-First?
There are some very good reasons to focus on building a mobile-first website.
The elephant in the room is Google.
Google changed to mobile-first indexing in 2020, and in 2021 mobile-first became mobile-only. The search engine giant now considers that version of the site canonical, meaning it’s the one that gets indexed and used to determine your placement on the SERP.
This is the primary reason you would move to mobile-first yourself. Sites with flexible, mobile-friendly content and design will get better results on Google.
Mobile devices are used with different intent to desktop devices. They’re often on the move.
Phones are used for directions, quick facts or entertainment. Being mobile-first will help you with map visibility. This is particularly important for businesses that are location-based — restaurants, theaters and shops, for example.
Mobile-first search will put map listings for local businesses near the top because of audience intent. Depending on the search, Google can also tell if there are other content options that might better fit the user’s intent, including images or videos. A site optimized for mobile will make sure your image or video is easily found.
Sites that aren’t responsive on mobile devices can seem out of date. Perception matters, particularly for some audiences. Younger people may back out of sites that aren’t easy to use on their smartphones. Audiences that prize innovation and forward thinking might be turned off as well. Mobile-first design matters for them.
Ease of Use
Sites and content that aren’t optimized for mobile are harder to use on smartphones and tablets, and that can turn off customers.
Last week I broke a part on my lawn tractor. I did what most people would do: pull out my smartphone and search the model number online to try to find the part. It was 10 minutes of frustration before I decided to just search it on my desktop computer — PDF manuals aren’t designed for easy use on mobile, and most of the sites that stocked parts weren’t exactly mobile friendly.
If I hadn’t had access to my desktop computer, I would have just walked away. That’s never good for your web traffic.
Should Your Site Be Mobile First?
There are a number of reasons you should design your site for mobile first. But are they actually worth it for you?
As we covered above, if you’re a local business, mobile is going to be critical. People are going to be looking for your business, either specifically or by your industry. Search intent matters. If it’s something that someone would be doing while they’re out and about, your site needs to be friendly to smartphones. Companies that do most of their business online don’t need to worry about local intent the same way.
Figure out how your audience is using your content. Menu for a restaurant? Mobile matters. Manual for a car? Chances are users will be browsing on something with a bigger screen. Look at your back-end stats to see how many people access your site via mobile versus desktop. If your content will mostly be used on mobile, your site needs to support it. If you deal mostly in heavy, detailed content or highly technical data, desktop will probably be your primary audience.
Take a site like JSTOR, for example. JSTOR is a “digital library for the intellectually curious” and the site ranks well on Google. The site is at least somewhat responsive, but the research journals you can access are not mobile-friendly. The audience for research papers isn’t likely to be browsing them on a smartphone. Your audience may be similar — find out.
Google likes mobile-friendly sites, but what it likes the most is relevant content. Not every site is going to fit easily into a mobile content model. Whether your site is beautiful on an iPhone or not, if it gives people the information they want in the way they want it, it’ll rank. Google can catch up.
What Do You Need to Be Mobile-First?
Mobile-first matters for a lot of businesses, but you should decide based on your audience and your content. Here’s what you need to consider.
Responsive Site Design
Most modern web platforms support responsiveness in web design. Font sizes will change; page widths will narrow; images will adjust. Automatic adjustments don’t always consider the human eye, though. There are manual settings in the code that you can use to set guidelines if something looks odd.
Take a walk through your site on a couple of different screen sizes and make sure nothing looks awry. Plan to do this regularly as you add content.
Good mobile SEO starts with good SEO; the best practices for your content are similar to what they’ve always been. Multimedia matters more than it ever has, though. Mobile search will serve users pictures or video at the top of the SERP if they’re relevant, but even the best search engines can’t index non-text content perfectly. They rely on the text around it. Make sure your text content follows best practices — take a look at this guide for help.
People are still willing to read longer articles, but if they’re reading on smaller screens, you need to adjust. Shorten your paragraphs — PRSA recommends only one or two sentences for online paragraphs, with perhaps three to four for longer paragraphs.
Getting Outside the Browser
If you really want to step outside the box, you could turn your site into a progressive web app (PWA). It’s a hybrid between a traditional app and a web page. Users download and install the PWA just like they would another app, and it appears on the home screen even though it’s basically a portal to your website. It’s a great way to get onto the home screen of your audience’s phones without the time and resource investment of a regular application.
How Mobile Should Your Site Be?
Mobile is important, but how important should it be to your site?
It depends. Look at your audience and your content, then decide how hard you want to lean into mobile. And if you want a responsive solution, consider Rainmaker Platform. We can help you build a great web presence for your customers, whether they’re using a smartphone or a desktop. Just drop us a line, anytime.
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