We live on our mobile devices. The convenience of having the internet in your hand makes it no surprise that many use their mobile device as their primary access to the web. According to Statcounter GlobalStats, 59.4% of all web traffic is through mobile devices. And it is also no surprise that Google uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. To gain more visibility in search and ensure users have a great website experience, you need to integrate mobile first design principles into your web development process.
What is mobile first design?
When someone lands on your website from their phone, does it give them the user experience they expect? Or was your website built for the desktop first and then made to work on the mobile device? If the latter is true, you have two options:
- Thoroughly test your current site on mobile and retrofit it with mobile first design concepts
- Consider developing your website using mobile first design best practices.
Mobile first design refers to creating your website for the mobile device before designing for larger screens. Most websites have taken the opposite approach – design for the desktop first then (hopefully!) test and fix the site for mobile. While that may work in many cases, if you can redesign your website using mobile first best practices, that is ideal.
Taking a mobile first approach requires that you prioritize mobile visitors and ensure they have a quality experience. Once you have ensured that mobile experience, you then scale the design up to larger screens.
Mobile-friendly vs. mobile first
Mobile-friendly and mobile first have some similarities. Both are ways to make your website work seamlessly on different devices. They are both better for SEO than having separate websites for desktop and mobile.
But most websites that claim to be mobile first are actually mobile-friendly. This means the website is responsive and renders properly on a mobile device, but was built for desktop browsers first and then tested on mobile devices. In many cases this may work just fine, but the user experience may not be the best it could be.
Ideally, you should use a responsive WordPress theme as your base and design your site using mobile first best practices. That way you will have the same website for all devices, which helps your SEO, but it will be designed with mobile users first.
Best practices for building a mobile first website
Design the website around the content
Many web designers create a lovely design and then try to fit the content into it. It is far better and easier to design your website around the content. Planning the content before your design will help you lay it out so that it easy to find and consume.
Write your content for mobile users first. This will make your content clear regardless of the device they are using. Determine what content is important to include since screen space is at a minimum. Eliminate content that doesn’t add value or requires unnecessary clicks. Remember mobile users want content quickly with little to no fuss. You might find that this also helps you clarify your messages and make your site more effective across all devices.
Make the navigation structure intuitive
When using a mobile device, users should be able to quickly find the information they need. If your users struggle with the navigation structure and can’t find the important information on your website, they will go elsewhere. Since you design the website around the content, make sure your content is organized to fit easily into a simple navigation structure.
Organizing your content properly can help you create a simple and intuitive navigation, which will help all users, not just those on mobile devices.
Keep the website design simple
Flashy website design can make your site look dated. A clean, minimalist design helps focus the user’s attention on the important information. Sometimes it is hard to part with something you really like, but don’t get attached to various elements. Keep what you need and eliminate anything that does not add value like pop-ups, ads and content that is overly complicated.
To simplify your website, minimize the number of links in your navigation, keep the layout clean with white space and ensure you size your typography properly for mobile devices.
Place call to action (CTA) buttons for easy access
When designing your website for mobile, keep in mind that your users are using their fingers. Ensure that visitors can easily read and click your CTAs by using larger fonts or highly visible buttons. Make them bold and position them at the bottom of the screen for easy access with one hand.
Take advantage of responsive web design
A responsive design means that your design works beautifully on all devices, including desktops, smartphones, and tablets. When you choose a WordPress theme, be sure it supports responsive design. Also make sure your theme provides views of your design on desktop, tablet and mobile so you can test all devices and adjust during development.
Design in the mobile view first. Then switch to desktop. Take advantage of the Block Visibility WordPress plugin that allows you to conditionally make blocks visible or invisible on various devices.
Avoid unnecessary and intrusive design elements
Being on a smaller screen doesn’t provide much space for large graphics, intrusive ads or annoying pop-ups. Anything that blocks your view of the content you are Having these elements take over your mobile screen will annoy the visitor and result in a negative experience.
Test on real devices
Before you publish, test your mobile site thoroughly. Browsers have responsive design modes so you can simulate various devices. But also test on real devices as much as you can to understand how your user will experience your site. Try it on different screen sizes and devices to catch any variances between them.
Benefits of mobile first design
Better user experience
Mobile-first design assures your users that no matter which device they visit your website from, they can expect a quality user experience. Approaching design this way simplifies and compresses your information into manageable chunks
Creating an optimized and more well-thought-out user experience across all devices will result more conversions. A website that is optimized for mobile devices will encourage those users who use their phones to visit the site more often. The more times a visitor sees your content, the more likely they will take some action.
If you design a site for mobile use, it should have better performance, not only on the mobile device, but across all devices. Designed with fewer elements and more focused content, the pages will load faster.
Remember that mobile devices have constraints in bandwidth and CPU and a website that looks great and performs well on a desktop may not give that same experience on mobile. That great design may load slowly and be annoying to try and use.
Better search engine visibility
As of September 2020, Google now primarily crawls and indexes pages using a mobile first approach, affecting your search engine visibility. This is why a responsive website designed using mobile first best practices is important. If your website still does not support mobile devices or the experience is less than quality, you will experience a loss in search engine visibility.
Google prefers that your mobile site has the same content as desktop so when it indexes your site, the user gets the same content regardless of whether they are on a mobile device or a larger screen. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the Block Visibility plugin to hide some content on the mobile device where it makes sense. But since Google is indexing your website pages looking at the mobile version of the page, you should make those types of decisions base on what is best for the user and what the search engines want to see.
Embracing mobile-first design means that users can expect a quality user experience regardless of what device they are using. In addition, by providing this quality experience, you increase engagement and are more likely to convert a visitor into a lead.
Remember that people on mobile devices have specific intentions or moments:
Your visitor is interested in a quick response, but your website design makes it impossible to quickly find what they are looking for. You lose the chance at building a solid reputation and having them take some action.
Does your website need some mobile first enhancements?
By taking the mobile first approach, you design for smaller screens and the expand to larger devices. The mobile first approach ensures that we prioritize usability for desktop users and mobile users simultaneously. When your website is designed with straightforward content that leads to conversions, it reinforces the fact that you website is worthless if they don’t help you achieve your goals.