What Does “Mobile First” Mean Anyway?

mobile first

Laptops Are So 2016 — It’s All Mobile First Now

We’ve seen “mobile first” everywhere lately, and while it sounds obvious (Mobile! First! Not second!), we wanted to dive into what it really means for your website because it’s pretty important to how you hook your audience.

Mobile-first design is focused around creating your website for mobile devices before anything else. So, yes, in a sense it is obvious, but it’s not just a trend.

Let’s take a step back in time to November 2016. This was when our good friend Google announced that they had plans to give sites designed for mobile preference in search results. This gave people time to prepare, and naturally, freak out.

Why? Search engines parting favor to mobile sites isn’t new. (You may remember the very fun, and not stressful at all, “Mobilegeddon” update in 2015.)

The first official mobile first Google update came out in March, nowhere near the scale of Mobilegeddon. Instead, Google’s goal with this update is to crawl and index the mobile side of sites first and then the desktop side.

Essentially, what this means is if you have a mobile version of your site, it will be shown higher than a desktop version. If you don’t have one, your desktop site is crawled, and then your ranking is determined. Hence, mobile first design was born.

What’s Mobile First Design All About?

Before viewing any content or pictures of your product or service, when someone lands on your site — whether on mobile or desktop — they’re going to decide if they want to stay in just a few seconds. If your site doesn’t load, they’re gone. If it looks bad, see ya. And if they’re on their phone and they can’t find anything or figure out how to scroll — they’re clicking the back arrow.

While fun, flashy design looks great, your visitors honestly care about functionality, and if they can’t find your products tab because it’s hidden by giant photos and flashy image changes, they’re not going to stick around to search for it.

Deep in their subconscious, visitors only care about what you do and why it matters to them. If your site doesn’t offer an easy way to get there, you’ve earned yourself a bounce. The basics aren’t much different from the design of a desktop site. You’re just making sure it works on a smaller screen.

Is it really that important? If Google caring about mobile isn’t enough to sway you, consider that over half of all web pages accessed in 2017 were on a mobile device. Everyone is on their phone constantly, so it makes sense that website design is following along.

Think about how often you use your phone to look things up versus your computer. Let’s say you found a product you like, but there are several options. The company offers a quick quiz to find out which one is right for you, but when you try to take it, the screen doesn’t fit your phone, and you have to pinch and expand everything to zoom and click the right button. It’s painful! You’re focused more on the actual act of taking the quiz instead of thinking about how the product is going to work for you. It ruins the entire experience, and you’re less likely to be engaged enough to purchase it when you get to the end — if you even make it that far.

Before you get all stressed about the way your site is built, let’s be clear. Mobile first doesn’t mean that mobile is the only thing that matters. You just need to ensure that your site can be as seamless on a phone as it is on a desktop. This also doesn’t mean you need two websites. When you build your website, a mobile version is included in the design but isn’t separate from your desktop site.

Is Mobile First Design the Same as Responsive Design?

You’ve probably heard of responsive design. If you have this style as part of your website, you’re already ahead of the game! Before mobile first indexing was rolled out, responsive design was how websites were created to fit on any screen. You can see how this works by grabbing the corner of a window on a desktop and shrinking it down — watch how the elements on the page rearrange to fit the new size.

Google will look at a responsive site the same way as one that’s designed for mobile, so you don’t need to worry about changing anything. The difference lies in essentially the path you take to building or rebuilding your site. Responsive design is a step included as part of the desktop design process. Mobile first design is a step on top of that, your mobile design is created first, and that is carried down into the responsiveness of your desktop site.

If you have a responsive design you will, however, want to pay attention to how your pages load on mobile. Page speed and load time are crucial to ranking higher on Google as well as keeping people on your site, whether you have a mobile first design or not.

So, what’s the bottom line? Your site needs to be mobile friendly! Whether it’s built with mobile first design in mind, or already has existing responsive design best practices, your site should be easily accessed and optimized at the mobile level. If you don’t, mobile-friendly sites will potentially be ranked higher than you, and your audience is going to end up with a bad experience. If you don’t do it for the SEO benefits, do it for your audience. They’re likely coming to you from their phone.

Alyssa Nieset

Alyssa Nieset

Alyssa was a marketing coordinator at NgageContent for three years, keeping her pulse on insights and stories related to inbound marketing.

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