For Pete’s sake, stop ignoring mobile

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Like any Golden Child, I help my mom out with her tech questions. Once, she was trying to look up something on her phone and asked “Why is the website all zoomed out, tiny and weird on my phone right now?” I sighed a heavy web dev sigh and said “Because, my dear sweet mother, that company still hasn’t bothered to update their website for mobile.”

Many years ago, having a website changed from good-to-have to a business necessity. The same is true for having a good mobile experience for your site.

We’ve brought this up in the past a few times, but it’s still astonishing to me when I run into a website that isn’t mobile-friendly. Sometimes worse is a mobile-specific site. You can spot these strange creatures when you’re searching the web on your phone and the URL for the site you tapped gives you a prefix or suffix such as “mobile” or sometimes even just “m”. Oftentimes, you’re given limited functionality compared to the desktop website, which may or may not be accessible via a link that says something like “View Desktop Site” at the bottom.

This is a problem compared to the expectations from most consumers. Considering that mobile usage surpassed desktop usage worldwide for the first time in late 2016, the number of people who are finding your site for the first time on a phone or tablet and immediately giving up is going to keep rising. Not only that, but if you’re an e-commerce site the chances are customers dissatisfied with your site on mobile won’t be coming back for a repeat purchase. At this point, continuing to ignore mobile will lead your business down a dark path of destruction and chaos.

Maybe that’s a lil’ over dramatic, but in case those statistics don’t convince you to do something, here’s some high-level insights to why everything will eventually catch fire if you keep ignoring mobile.

Desktop sites take longer to load on mobile

Modern computers and laptops have a lot more room for processing power than a smartphone or tablet. That’s not to say mobile devices are all inherently slow with what they do; it just means a website built with no regards to mobile takes longer for a device to offer it up for a consumer to view. When you consider that mobile devices contain apps that allow for changing the thermostat in your house, it can be pretty frustrating to wait a while to make reservations at a local restaurant on their website.

The average website weighs in at around 2 to 3MB, which is the size of the original Doom game for PC, if you need a 90’s point of reference. The speed at which a site this large loads is going to depend on a variety of factors, but the two most important are what device you’re using and the connection you have. That hefty website will load faster for me on my work laptop when I’m tethered into our sweet fiber connection than it will for a potential, hurried customer whose phone has dropped to a 3G connection during their commute.

We all have the attention span of fish now

I mentioned earlier about how a customer is more likely to give up on your site and not come back after a bad mobile experience. Part of this is unfortunately due to the decreased attention span of people in general. A study found in 2015 that the average human attention span had dropped to 8.25 seconds, finally below that of a goldfish. This is a significant drop from the attention span of 12 seconds as measured in 2000. Granted, this is generally based on the concept of attention spans applied to someone seeking to complete a simple task.

This isn’t the only time-based factor working against an already unfavorable mobile experience. Time as a concept is divided into two types: objective and psychological. Objective is what the clock actually measures, whereas psychological is how the human mind perceives time. Psychological time perception is even more complicated based on if the person is in an active state or a passive state, as waiting is seen as slower for a person in a passive state. Recently, more sites make a point of loading non-unique portions of a website or app to assist with this time perception. The unique content might still be loading, but quickly fetching unchanging elements like the site menu makes time appear to be going faster than a blank, empty screen.

A mobile-specific site gives you more work

So I complained a bit about mobile-specific sites earlier and that is a bit of a personal opinion to have. Truthfully, having some form of mobile optimization is better than nothing and depending on your business’s goals it might actually be enough for you.

However, if you don’t have any mobile experience, consider the extra work involved if you were to have a mobile-specific site instead of a single responsive site.

  • There’s extra work involved in the form of URL redirects so that search engines aren’t confused.
  • Maintaining two different sites gives you the overhead of two different sets of content, code, and media assets to manage.
  • If it’s obvious to a user that this is a mobile-specific site, there’s a good chance they’ll wonder if they’re actually getting all of the information and functionality they need.
  • All those bothersome young folks will judge you.

Hopefully by now, I’ve made a good case for why you shouldn’t ignore mobile anymore. Or, if you do have an approach to mobile, maybe I’ve helped you consider reviewing your strategy for possible improvements. Either way, make the change now so we don’t have to have this talk again in 2018.

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