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BLOG: Mobile First is not for everybody

Phil Blything, Managing Director of Glow Internet.
 

Hamburger menus.

No, not Whopper vs. Big King.

These things:

You’ve been seeing them around. The underlying reason for that is the “Mobile First” strategy.

Quite simply, this means that so many users only ever access the web from a mobile device that these devices should be the main consideration when designing a website.

Typically, the main navigation user interface elements (or “main nav” as us eccentric web types like to call them) get hidden behind said hamburger icon.

The user interface in general is stripped back, simplified and streamlined to suit a one column layout, for a smaller screen.

Without doubt, there are benefits. If you’re a consumer brand, if the website purpose is simplistic, if the user experience you want to deliver is fairly linear, this can be a good approach.

Here’s a great example: http://rediscoveryourbrand.com/

Mainly what makes this website stand out, though, is minimalism. Its (sparse) content is emphasised by the lack of… everything else. We’re forced to consider the photographs, because there is nothing else in view. It works fantastically well at keeping our choice simple: Would you like the podcast, or the blog?

That simplicity of purpose has allowed a website with few if any compromises. As tools go, this is a pencil, not a swiss army knife.

If I want to read a blog, or listen to a podcast, it’s a pleasure to use this website.

But what if your message is more complex? What if your users need is less predictable or your offer more complex?

Merely being a consumer facing brand is not justification for mobile first as an overall strategy.

Even if more than 50% of your user sessions originate from mobile devices, the real cost of mobile first is the exclusion of those users who are on desktop and laptop. Who usually have more complex needs.

A great example might be your online banking experience. There’s (usually) a fundamental difference in purpose when a user accesses from a phone, rather than from a desktop. Checking a balance or making a quick transfer on the go has improved beyond measure in the last 10 years. Ideally a secure, quick native mobile app is the way to go, but a mobile responsive experience can deliver something almost as convenient. It can even tell me to download the correct native app for my device.

The key is not to force that shortened trivialised experience on me, on a Sunday, when I’m balancing my account.

Natwest do this well. The web experience is responsive, tailoring the UI to my device without me having to specify. The app has consistently led best practice for mobile banking.

Whatever strategy you choose, bear in mind that not all sessions are equal -  forcing a trivialised UI on a user is simply bad manners.

Here are three things you can do, right now to understand how this issue affects you:

  1. Log in to your Google Analytics Account. Navigate to   Audience > Mobile > Overview. This will tell you what proportion of sessions arise from Mobile, Tablet and Desktop. Remember to pay attention to session length. Shorter sessions are common on mobile.

  2. If you can, dial the date range back a few years. How has your proportion of mobile to desktop visitors changed?

  3. Look at 5 of your favourite websites from your desktop and drag the window size from small to large. Load them at the same time on your mobile. See if you can tell which platform strategy they are observing.

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