Mobile has taken over the digital landscape, and brands should be aware. In 2016, the switch occurred: For the first time, more people accessed the internet using mobile devices than they did using desktops. Overall usage is up, as are ad revenues, and this puts the mobile user experience front and center when it comes to digital marketing.
New Google Study Highlights the Importance of the Mobile User Experience
How does the mobile user experience affect brand image? Google recently got together with a research firm called Purchase to answer that very question. The result was a study of more than 2,000 smartphone owners who engaged in over 17,000 brand experiences.
By the end of the study, researchers walked away with a better picture of how the mobile landscape affects brand perception. The results are clear: a positive mobile experience inspires recommendations, boosts sales, and engenders loyalty. A negative experience does just the opposite.
But what is a good mobile experience? According to the study, it’s easy, it’s helpful, and it’s convenient. On the other end of the spectrum are neutral, interruptive, and predictive experiences. Those kinds of interactions kill satisfaction, discourage recommendations, and drive away potential sales. With stakes that high, businesses can’t afford to get it wrong.
Google’s Mobile UX Study at a Glance
- 89 percent of people say they would be happy to recommend a brand if they enjoyed the user experience.
- On the flipside, 46 percent of people say they would no longer shop with a brand after having a bad mobile experience.
- Impress users with your mobile site or app, and nine times out of 10 they say they’ll purchase from you in the future.
- Helpful interactions raise the likelihood of a purchase by 1.5 times.
- People who searched for something on their phones were 2.3 times more likely to make an in-store purchase than people who used other devices.
The Mobile Future Has Arrived
The study leaves little doubt: Mobile interaction is now a central part of the customer experience. Perhaps that’s why Google has worked so hard to prioritize mobile-friendly sites in search results. Back in 2016, the tech giant announced its intention to split its index between desktop and mobile devices. The new arrangement, which is still in the works, seeks to tip the scales in favor of mobile sites without punishing non-mobile sites.
Essentially, Google doesn’t want the growing legions of smartphone users to have an inferior user experience, so they’ve been busy formulating an index that rewards mobile-friendly sites. No one knows when the new index will hit the web, although insiders have set their sights on early 2018 at the earliest. It’s also unclear how exactly the new index will work. Aside from prioritizing mobile content, it may downgrade mobile sites that are overly simplified—sites that shed important content to improve mobile load times. If true, that could create entirely new problems for brands.
In a Mobile World, The Fast Loader Gets the Prize
In the lightning speed world of digital consumption, the hare always beats the tortoise. People no longer have the patience to wait as fancy Flash graphics load and elaborate ads pop up. That’s why Google now punishes sites that include such sluggish elements.
The bottom line? Create a content-rich site that works well for mobile users, and it will appear higher in the search results. Create a site that’s clunky, slow, or stripped down, and your numbers will suffer.
But how do you create a site that loads fast without stripping it of valuable (and searchable) content? How do you improve load time while satisfying the demands of the modern smartphone user, which includes an insatiable appetite for images and videos? How do you build sites that appeal to the growing numbers of mobile users, while still meeting the needs of desktop users?
The most obvious solution is to create a responsive or adaptive design—sites that change their layout based on the device being used. A few years ago, adaptability was optional. Now it’s non-negotiable. It’s no surprise then that most brands have already rushed to adopt the new responsive format.
From Mobile-Friendly to Mobile-Only?
As more and more people, particularly millennials, ditch desktops and laptops for smartphones and tablets, some are wondering whether responsive designs will cut it in the future. People who choose mobile devices as their main portal to the web are more discerning than ever when it comes to the kind of experience they want.
Brands that want to stay ahead of the curve will have to spend even more time perfecting their mobile sites. Responsive designs, which straddle a sort of middle ground, may slowly give way to mobile-only versions that are built specifically for the new world of digital marketing.
May is the operative word. Many people still use desktops. Ignoring them isn’t an option, and building two separate sites may be cost-prohibitive for some businesses. Not only that, but Google executives say a fully mobile-first index may still be five years away. Still, brands should keep an eye on upcoming trends and be prepared to invest in mobile-only sites.
The Google-Supported, Open-Source Alternative
There’s another option. It’s a Google-backed project called AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages. The open framework, which has been around since late 2015, allows brands to build lightweight web pages for a better, faster experience.
It’s not yet clear whether Google will someday reward AMPs with better search visibility, but at least the search engine doesn’t punish brands that create a simplified AMP site. In fact, some major publishers have already made the transition.
But it’s not for everyone. AMP sites are simpler, choices are fewer, and multimedia is somewhat limited. Still, mobile sites that feature digestible bits of information may consider moving to Google’s open-source format for better load time and solid SEO results.
Never Forget the Basics
The mobile environment may be different than the desktop environment, but the goal is the same. Success means getting your name out there, and that means rising to the top of the SERPs (search engine results page). You could build the most user-friendly site in the world, but unless it pops up in the first page of search results, it won’t do your brand much good.
The task is twofold: create a site that ranks high in Google’s new mobile search index and then offer an incredible experience that encourages one-time visitors to become loyal buyers. Need help getting there? A digital marketing agency can help you find and hold onto customers, no matter what device they prefer.
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