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Decoding Today’s IT Trends

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Increase Your Competitive Advantage With a Mobile-First Strategy

6 Dec 2016 by Tahlea Jankoski

As internet users spend more time browsing the web on smartphones and tablets, small and medium companies are finding that a mobile-first strategy can be more profitable for business. Instead of dealing with the cost of developing both a desktop and a mobile website, it’s simple, efficient and cost-effective to put mobility first when creating and upgrading a company website. Some businesses have even completely abandoned the idea of building a website for desktop and solely devote their attention to a mobile presence.

But is that a good idea? What are the competitive advantages of prioritizing mobility, and can it give an edge to a midsize business?

Going where there is more demand

The reality is that internet search behavior has shifted from using desktop and laptop computers to using Android, iPhone and iPad devices — and the mobile device trend won’t slow down anytime soon. According to comScore, in 2014, desktop-only internet users were still at a higher percentage (19.1%) when compared to mobile-only users (10.8%).

These numbers have changed rapidly as more than half of Google searches now occur on mobile devices, meaning trillions of browsing sessions are made through smartphones or tablets. By 2019, eMarketer expects 63.4% of internet users worldwide to employ mobile browsing.1 (See Figure 1.)

Graph depicting mobile phone internet user penetration worldwide from 2014 to 2019. 2014: 48.8% mobile phone users; 2015: 52.7%; 2016: 56.1%; 2017: 58.9%; 2018: 61.2%; 2019: 63.4%.

Figure 1

Although applications on mobile devices are in high demand and have greater engagement than users searching websites, another report by comScore found it’s actually website searches that are driving mobile audience growth. Why? Mobile users are more likely to search for information or purchase products through the web rather than going to the apps store to find what they need.

Improving the mobile experience

Over the years, Google has put more emphasis on enhancing the mobile user experience and compelled many companies to optimize their websites. According to Google, more than 85% of web pages are mobile-friendly. Google is now removing the “mobile-friendly” label that indicates a website is easy to browse.2

Mobile-friendly design is key to keeping users on a site as they expect to navigate quickly through web pages. Companies that neglect updating their mobile presence risk a negative backlash as users hastily abandon those pages. A majority of companies have diligently recreated their websites with responsive design, quick-loading pages and updated ads, and it is imperative to jump on the bandwagon to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.

As mobile devices continue to be the primary platform for internet browsing, Google is ramping up its own mobile strategy by meeting consumers’ needs with sharpened e-commerce tools for AdWords. Google knows user experience is crucial to small and large businesses. And successful mobility relies on tracking performance and user behavior to continually enhance the product and improve the experience.

Following Google’s example in user experience trends can improve your company’s customer base and build its competitive advantage.

Google is also improving the mobile experience by punishing sites that display annoying popup ads. These ads generally display on screen as you start browsing through a page, making it difficult to navigate or read the selected content.

Mobile-first design is more efficient.

Traditionally, web designers and their clients have focused on building an online presence for desktop and then integrating mobile design at a later date. It takes extra time and energy to shrink a website’s robust layout to fit a smaller mobile space. Today, standard desktop websites are being scaled back by removing content and features that won’t work for a smaller platform, a process called “graceful degradation.”

As the attempt to pare down a website becomes more of an issue, designers have started to realize graceful degradation can be replaced with progressive enhancement. This means a designer starts with the smallest platform first, where functions and layout are most limited, in order to create the best user experience. Then, larger platforms are built off this form and enhanced as needed for a more robust layout.

A mobile-first strategy gives designers a chance to tackle the most difficult channel — the smallest space — first, which saves on development costs and avoids double work. Taking this approach, designers can start with a super lean, impressive site that accommodates the increasing demand for mobile viewing. This strategy also helps web designers and businesses determine what content is imperative as limited screen space delivers a more streamlined user experience. And, leading with mobile-first design planning is becoming the best solution for midsize businesses that don’t have a lot of capital to work with.

More startups lead the way with mobile first.

While companies of all sizes are now integrating mobile strategies, startups have the greatest advantage in starting off with mobile. Established companies have relied on desktop sites for their online presence, but as mobile use expands, more businesses need to modify infrastructure and change traditional mindsets to optimize their websites for mobile traffic. In contrast, startups can kick off a mobile site to build their online presence in the direction of progressive enhancement.

How can a startup business build the customer journey through a mobility focus? First, concentrate on the benefits of your product or service, and then share your brand message. Mobile sites have a few short seconds to offer the mobile user something worthwhile, and there’s minimal space to work with. Don’t display features or give fancy welcome messages, but be straightforward and to the point. Fast load time and simple marketing messages can do wonders for sales. Startups should get to know their growing mobile audience and keep it in mind as they design the mobile site.

Mobile strategy is all about the customer.

Putting mobility first is more effectively bringing in a targeted audience, increasing traffic and building exponential revenue growth. This is because companies that prioritize mobility are focusing their efforts on the customer first.

For example, Savings.com, an online coupons and deals website, integrated a mobile-first approach after recognizing its customers were more likely to access coupon-related searches on tablets and smartphones. By directing its strategy toward mobile traffic, the company increased search revenue through these platforms by 1,000%.

Loren Bendele, president and co-founder of Savings.com, explained to Think With Google, “The Savings.com mobile-first strategy is really a consumer-first strategy. Understanding the needs of the constantly connected consumer is much more significant than implementing a multichannel marketing plan. Competitive advantage is the ability to use analytics to engage your consumer at just the right moment, with just the right content and information. This realization is transforming our entire business.”

Converting brick-and-mortar to digital retail

Brick-and-mortar retail stores have experienced large profit declines by not keeping up with the demand for online shopping. By 2020, e-commerce sales are expected to reach $684 billion in the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal article. (See Figure 2.) This especially affects small and medium retailers that haven’t built their mobile web presence.

Chart depiction of retail e-commerce sales in the United States from 2013 to 2020 (in billion U.S. dollars). 2013: 260.67 billion dollars; 2014: 298.26 billion dollars; 2015: 342.96 billion dollars; 2016: 392.72 billion dollars; 2017: 457.02 billion dollars; 2018: 524.66 billion dollars; 2019: 600.21 billion dollars; 2020: 684.24 billion dollars

Figure 2

As consumers continue turning to online purchases, brick-and-mortar retailers need to put more emphasis on their mobile strategies. Even companies that relied heavily on catalog production for direct sales have shifted their attention to mobility to increase profits.

One such company, Shop Direct, a multibrand retailer based in the U.K., stopped catalog production in January 2015 and implemented a mobile-first strategy. The result? Sales increased 4.3%.

On the retail floor, employees are using mobile devices to quickly scan and locate items, help customers place orders and complete purchases to make the buying process easier. Some retailers are taking it a step further and giving customers an opportunity to use their mobile devices to locate products in real time. Providing a brick-and-mortar shopping experience enhanced with mobile technology is building greater customer engagement and loyalty.

Don’t reject desktop just yet.

Just because society is shifting to more mobile business doesn’t mean you should destroy the desktop experience for your customers. Although more emphasis is being placed on mobile web design, desktops will not disappear anytime soon. We rely heavily on desktop and laptop computers for daily work and complex tasks. And people still use desktop internet browsing and shopping when they’re at home or at their desks, where they have ready access to their usual computers.

Mobile-first strategy going into the future

Keeping up with ever-changing technology and trends is a complex process, yet midsize businesses can simplify web development by taking a mobile-first approach.

As user behavior continues to gravitate toward mobile sites, companies should be ready to expand and optimize their mobile-based services to give users the experience they’re looking for. Web designers, marketers and business owners recognize that keeping and improving their competitive edge means a mobile-first strategy is a necessary component that will improve business growth.

This article originally appeared in Volume 1, Issue 1 of <theScript> Quarterly digital magazine.

1 eMarketer. (2016). eMarketer Roundup: Media Usage Around the World. eMarketer.com.
2 Edge of the Web. (2016, Aug. 23). ‘Mobile-Friendly’ Label to Be Removed From Google’s Search Results. Edgeofthewebradio.com.