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Google popularized the concept of ‘the toothbrush test’. Before allocating capital to an acquisition or a new development, they ask the question: “Is this something people will want to use daily and does it solve a problem?”
Mobile devices pass the toothbrush test quite literally. Not only are they used daily but, according to Ian Carrington, mobile and social advertising sales director at Google, there are now more people on earth with access to a mobile phone than access to a toothbrush. Add the fact that smartphones and tablets now represent 60% of online devices, having overtaken desktop computers and laptops, and it seems pretty obvious that mobile search is incredibly important to any business with an online presence.
It’s no longer enough to have a conventional website that can also be accessed by mobile devices. Mobile users have high expectations and they increasingly expect the sites that they access to be optimized for the smaller screens and interfaces of their phones and tablets.
Keep it simple
The most important aspect of designing a mobile-optimized website is to keep things simple. You still want your site to look attractive, but for mobile users functionality is usually more important. A recent survey found that two-thirds of smartphone users cited slow to load web pages as one of their biggest frustrations. This can mean reducing or ditching extensive graphics, autoplay videos and audio, which can all lead to slower loading times. Avoid Flash altogether as this is not supported by Apple, whose market share is almost a fifth of the smartphone market.
Mobile users tend not to want to scroll from side to side in order to find what they want, so a single column that fits the width of the screen is often the best format. You should also consider your color scheme. Plain white backgrounds are often avoided on conventional websites but can be perfect for mobile. Whichever color scheme you choose, it should be clean and clear.
You should also consider how much of your content is really essential. You might want to include a complete business of your history and a detailed mission statement on your regular website but it probably shouldn’t be cluttering up your mobile-optimized site.
Make navigation easy
Only 33% of mobile users make it past the first page of a mobile site so it’s important to present the most important information prominently on the landing page.
Of course there will be times when they need to navigate further into your site, especially if they are searching for specific products. Using an in-site search box is a great way to allow them to do this. Make sure it is both clearly marked and in a prominent position, and use an auto-complete feature that provides relevant suggestions based on the first few letters they enter. Place a search box on subsequent pages too, so users do not have to click back to the landing page in order to search again.
The interface on most mobile devices is usually a human finger and this is less precise than a mouse cursor. Coupled with the smaller size of the screen, this means you should probably avoid small ‘hot spots’, clickable images and embedded text links in favour of large, clearly marked buttons.
Consider your users
You should also consider what information users are actually looking for from your mobile site. Mobile users are more often looking to complete a specific task online rather than browsing or surfing as might be the case on desktop. According to Google 74% of those looking for retail sites wanted directions or opening hours, while 64% wanted store contact information and 61% wanted product information. Identify and prioritize your most important information, placing it prominently on the first page or at the very least making sure it is easily reachable.
Optimise with localized information
One great opportunity that smartphones provide is to make use of GPS technology. The satellite positioning facility of most smartphones allows you to offer localized information, such as the location of your nearest store. You can also make use of facilities like Google Maps to allow users to find you more easily.
Mobile internet users have different usage patterns and expectations than when using desktop PCs and laptops. It’s up to you to provide websites that meet these expectations but, with mobile search still on the rise, the rewards can be worth all the time and resources you expend.