Why Mobile Friendly Isn’t Enough for a Great Mobile Experience
Mobile devices are more popular than ever, and seem to grow in popularity with each passing day. Some analysts have anticipated the complete death of traditional desktop-based online experiences, but regardless of whether that minority ever truly dies out, the necessity remains to please the masses who access the Internet almost exclusively through mobile devices.
Google made its position clear back in April when it released the so-called “Mobilegeddon” update. Intended to make the web more “mobile friendly,” the update penalized any site that didn’t appear properly on mobile devices. Though the update was made out to be more significant than it actually was, millions of business owners breathed a sigh of relief when they realized their sites weren’t hit.
But unfortunately, that sigh of relief has led to a degree of complacency. Because they survived the Mobilegeddon update, they believe their site to offer a great mobile user experience. However, this is a product of a misconception: that being “mobile friendly” in Google’s eyes means you’ve essentially won the battle for mobile supremacy. Unfortunately, this correlation doesn’t exist.
How Google Defines Mobile Friendly
People feared Mobilegeddon as some massive, unpredictable, and subjective algorithm with the potential to crush their sites. But Google was open and honest about its intentions and its standards since it announced the update nearly two months before its rollout.
There are only a handful of standards that Google holds for mobile sites:
- Loading and display. The page should be accessible to mobile devices, and without any technologies that aren’t compatible with mobile devices, like Flash. Horizontal scrolling is not acceptable.
- Content availability. Words should be readable without zooming and images should load properly.
- Touchable links. Links should be spaced so that users can tap them easily.
And if you’re ever in doubt, Google offers a convenient testing tool you can use to determine whether any page on your site is or isn’t mobile friendly.
All this seems relatively simple and straightforward, but it isn’t all that matters to give your users a great user experience.
Mobile Internet speeds are generally slower than connected ones, and users are as impatient as ever. If your site takes more than a few seconds to load for a mobile device, a user is far more likely to bounce and never come back. It’s possible to have an aggravating site loading speed but still pass Google’s mobile friendly test, so if you want to offer the best possible mobile experience, you need to reduce those loading times by optimizing your site and eliminating unnecessary material.
“Aesthetic appeal” is a subjective feature, but it’s also an important one. Good design features of a desktop site don’t always apply to a mobile site. For example, mobile devices tend to sport a “stacked” vertical look far better than a desktop site. Responsive sites add convenience for developers, but can also result in awkward-looking pages on a mobile display. Your main navigation can also appear strange if not designed and implemented properly. There are very few objectively “right” or “wrong” ways to design your site, so put it to the test with user experience trials to see what people actually think.
Removing all the images and videos on your site is not the best solution to reducing site loading times. People still love seeing visual content, and it’s going to help take your site to the next level. Being judicious about the format and placement of these pieces of content is vital to ensuring the best possible experience.
Mobile users should have the “full” experience that your desktop users have. For example, if your desktop site has an e-commerce platform and a checkout process, your mobile users should be able to access it. Adding those extra functions can be tricky if you’re hosting separate versions of your site, but it’s necessary if you want to create a seamless experience.
Humans or Search Engines?
Making your site mobile friendly will stop you from getting penalized or ranked harshly in Google’s search, but as I’ve demonstrated, that isn’t enough to stay competitive in the mobile arena. But is optimizing your mobile user experience going to help your rankings or is it all about making your visitors happy?
The short answer is, improving the user experience can increase your ranks peripherally. You’ll have lower bounce rates, people will recognize your brand more, they’ll want to link to you more, and you’ll see a host of other benefits, all of which can incidentally increase your rank. As far as we know, there are no direct “bonus points” you can win from Google by having a “mobile friendlier” site as opposed to an average “mobile friendly” one.
That being said, your users are why you exist. Making them happy should always be your primary objective. Forget for a moment that mobile usability is a ranking factor in Google at all—if you could make your users happier by making a simple tweak to your site, wouldn’t you still?
It’s in your best interest to offer your mobile users the best possible experience you can. As new technologies like the Apple Watch and Google Glass start to herald an era of wearable technology, an adaptive mobile experience will become even more important. Figure out what your users need to be happy, and do your best to give it to them.
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