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June 8, 2015 // 8:00 AM

Beyond Responsive Design: How to Optimize Your Website for Mobile Users

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You’ve weathered Mobileggedon. You’re confident that your website and blog will look great on mobile devices and that Google’s algorithm change won’t hurt your search listings.

Congrats! You’ve survived this skirmish ... but it's not going to be the last. 

The algorithm change is evidence Google knows it has to surface websites that painlessly get users what they need at the time that they need it. Google doesn't want to send mobile users to websites that provide a frustrating browsing experience -- that would damage Google’s promise to its users to always deliver helpful, relevant content. 

But this algorithm change is not what marketers should be reacting to. It’s a signal of a much larger shift that’s afoot. It’s the canary emerging from the mine shouting, “Consumer behavior is changing! We must adapt!”

Building a mobile-friendly website is step one, but tweaking your website will not keep you ahead of consumers’ changing behavior and expectations. In short, you have to infuse your marketing strategy with a “mobile mindset.” Here's how.

Map a Customer Journey Full of Interruptions, Detours, and Multiple Devices 

Imagine the experience of Sally, a young marketer who has just moved to Chicago. While out for a walk, Sally passes by a hair salon and realizes she needs a haircut. She pulls out her phone a search for hairstylists in Chicago who specialize in curls and color. Her Google search pops up Joann’s Stylez. She flips through the website quickly and wants to research more but it’s too hard while on the move -- so she emails herself a link. When she gets home, she uses her tablet to quickly check Yelp reviews, examine her calendar, and then book an appointment using the simple form on the Joann’s website.

When Sally loads up her laptop later that night to check her email, she discovers an email from Joann’s that confirms her appointment and gives her the option to add it to her calendar. The next day, 30 minutes before her appointment, she receives a push notification on her work computer reminding her of the appointment. The next day Sally receives an email asking for feedback on the cut and offering to set up a recurring appointment at a discounted rate. She’s sold.

Sally’s experience is illustrative of the cross-device journey that many customers now make as they move through the marketing funnel: 75% of US online adults use 2+ devices connected to the internet, and 67% have switched devices while completing common tasks, according to Forrester.

Consumers now expect this type of experience from all of their digital interactions. They want to be able to accomplish whatever fits their fancy on whatever device is at hand. This means that simply adapting your site to look nice on different devices is not enough. As a marketer, you must dig deeper into your customers’ and prospects’ lives.

For example, at HubSpot, we know that a visitor on a mobile device is very unlikely to fill out a long form on one of our landing pages. So we started using Smart Content to automatically shorten the form when a mobile viewer is looking at it. By doing this our mobile prospects increased by 5X

Seize Intent-Rich Micro-Moments, but Avoid Stripped-Down Solutions

You’ve likely already developed a strong set of buyer personas. You’ve conducted user research and testing to understand which content and CTAs to present to each persona as they move down the funnel. You must now go a step further. You must understand both the rhythm and rhyme to when, why, with what, and from where people are interacting with your website and content.

Google encourages marketers to identify the “micro-moments” in a customer's journey: 

Micro-moments occur when people reflexively turn to a device -- increasingly a smartphone -- to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something. They are intent-rich moments when decisions are made and preferences shaped.” 

A number of brands have figured out how to anticipate and capitalize on these mico-moments. Apple Passbook loads up your Starbucks card when you’re near a coffee shop. Hertz sends you an email when your plane lands to let your know that your car is ready. Starwood allows you to check in and open your hotel room with your smartphone. 

Consumers are increasingly becoming acclimated to companies offering such intimately responsive experiences. Already, 62% of US online adults expect a mobile-friendly website and 23% expect their mobile experience to change based on location, according to Forrester’s US Mobile Mind Shift Online Survey.

How can you figure out these micro-moments and design your content to meet prospects’ intent? Tap into your data. Here are three analyses you should start with:

  1. Search: Which queries, ads and keywords are bringing users on different devices to your website and landing pages? Once they land on your site, what types of searches are users on different devices performing?
  2. Content: Examine the content that users access by stage in the funnel and by device. Is there a trend around what prospects on their phones are downloading? Sharing?
  3. Flow: Dig into a flow analysis segmented by device. What is the path mobile-using prospects follow? What is the path tablet-using customers follow? From what sites and sources are these visitors arriving?

After building your trove of micro-moments, it would be easy to think: “Okay, we just need to strip our website down to the specific things our visitors will mostly likely want to access on the go.” But mobile users are not limited to completing short, simple tasks. Device does not directly imply location or intent.

A busy professional may use her commute time to conduct in-depth industry research on her phone, process her email inbox on her tablet while watching a movie with her family, and browse the websites of potential contractors while flying across the country. Confirming this intuition, the Pew Research Center’s study of U.S. smartphone use in 2015 found that 99% of smartphone owners use their phone at home, 82% use their phones while in transit, and 69% use their phone at work each week.

People don't want a stripped down set of content. Instead, they want quick and easy access to the materials they need on whatever device they happen to be using. Thus, while you want to optimize your site, landing pages, emails, etc. for micro-moments, you do not want to force visitors into a box from which they cannot escape.

Reconsider Your Metrics

The metrics you established in the desktop-centric days may not seamlessly translate to our new multi-device, micro-moment world. For example, you might have fought tirelessly to find ways to increase visitors’ time on your site, recognizing that more time means higher engagement, which translates to higher conversion.

The micro-moments you identify for mobile visitors, however, might suggest that you want a lower time-on-site. A prospect visiting the website of a consulting firm may be looking for:

  • An infographic they want to show a coworker
  • The bio of a partner with whom they are about to meet
  • A case study to read while traveling

In order to meet this prospect's expectations for their mobile experience, you must design your website to quickly and intuitively help them find the specific piece of information for which they are looking. If their mobile visit is distracting, frustrating, or too time consuming, you’ve damaged their perception of your brand.

Embrace the Intimacy of Mobile

For better or worse, I go to bed with my phone (reviewing tomorrow’s schedule and reading a nighttime meditation) and I wake up with my phone (silencing the alarm and checking the weather). I communicate with my fiancé and my best friends everyday -- all through my phone. When my MBA classmate sends a GIF of Tyra Banks being sassy, I turn my phone to the person next to me and we have a good laugh together.

Day-in and day-out, these interactions create an intimate connection between my phone and me. And I’m not alone: Most consumers imbue their mobile experiences with more intimacy than desktop experiences. The Pew Research Center found that Americans view their smartphones as freeing, connecting, and helpful, and associate their phones with feelings of happiness and productivity.

These associations can inspire greater engagement with and interest in content. Google has found that individuals watching video content on their phones are 1.6X as likely as TV viewers to talk about what there watching with peers and 2X as likely to feel a sense of personal connection to brands that show video content.

As marketers, we should take advantage of these trends and consider how to make our prospects’ mobile experience more personal and social. Perhaps change your website to increase the proportion of social CTAs you display when someone arrives on mobile.

Remember the Basics and Think Multiple Steps Ahead

Overall, embracing the mobile mindset means ensuring that the entire customer journey is responsive, relevant, actionable, and frictionless. As a marketer, you want to help consumers quickly and easily find what they want to find and do what they want to do. Again, this means thinking ahead, understanding when, with what device, and from where your prospects will interact with your content.

This can seem daunting, but mostly it means diligently applying the basics across channels. For example, since over half of all emails are opened on mobile, ensure your emails are mobile optimized. Litmus recommends doing the following:

  1. Use large, easy-to-read text.
  2. Use large, clear images.
  3. Keep layouts simple.
  4. Use large, mobile-friendly calls-to-action.

Recognizing the personal associations people have with their phones, you’ll want to ensure that the “From” name is familiar and that the preview text is inviting. And think ahead: Don’t email a link to a form or an event registration landing page that is not mobile friendly.

Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to living the mobile mindset and weathering the change in consumers’ digital behavior. Forrester predicts that the vast majority of companies will underinvest in mobile in 2015. Move quickly and your organization could be at the head of the pack.

Image credit: Placeit

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