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Be Mobile-First: 4 Tips for Optimizing on Phones and Tablets

Whether your mobile product is new or established in the market, it’s best practice to adopt a mobile-first design to give users an optimal experience on their phones and tablets. A product with mobile-first design can fulfill all of its core functionalities on a mobile device, guiding mobile users on a journey optimized for their devices.

It’s never too late or too early to start thinking mobile-first. It’s best to be early, of course, as this reduces the number of users who may be discouraged from exploring your site and converting after a suboptimal experience. But even late in the product life cycle, adopting a mobile-first mentality can strengthen your offering, exposing it to lots of new potential customers and setting it up for future success.

Want to be mobile-first? In this post I highlight four tips for optimizing customer experience away from the desktop.

1. Evaluate Dropoff

One common issue with mobile products is users can sometimes be unwilling to go through the whole sales funnel. This usually happens when products deliver a bad mobile experience, which frustrates people so much they either start the checkout process over on desktop or abandon the process together, not even bothering to switch platforms.

If and when users abandon the funnel, companies have to discover the cause. A good starting point is site or application analytics, which can reveal dropoff points. When the most common dropoff points come before the confirmation page, you should consider building a more mobile-friendly design to improve customer experience from start to finish.

Retail is an interesting sector when it comes to analyzing dropoff in a mobile sales funnel. While all industries are impacted by the rise of mobile marketing, retail is one of the few in which two oppositional segments are driving innovation: millennials and baby boomers. Millennials have lots of technical savvy but little spending power, and baby boomers lack technical knowhow but have much more disposable income. Retailers have the unique challenge of optimizing mobile for two very different customer groups at the same time.

2. Focus On Core Functionalities

Software engineers (like me) know this well: Just because the desktop version of a website or application delivers x, y, and z doesn’t mean the mobile version has to deliver x, y, and z, even in a mobile-friendly form. Desktop customer experiences are by nature more expansive, and there are natural differences between desktop and mobile companies and developers must simply accept and account for. (We’ve highlighted a few here.) Not every desktop feature will translate well to mobile. Some won’t translate at all. Since phones and tablets have smaller screens than desktops, you’ll have to determine the core functionalities of your website or application and focus most on bringing those over to mobile.

Say, for example, a developer built a hotel application. He or she would probably think its primary function is to help users find and book rooms. To achieve this primary function, some data is vital for the app to convey, like price, location, and user reviews. But other features, like digital hotel tours or travel tips, are extraneous—nice to include, but not essential to building a functional mobile product. The developer should consider leaving these features out to reduce clutter, which will help users engage more with the mobile offering.

How can marketers keep the clutter down in their mobile products? The key is to give core functionalities top priority—and this is true whether companies are building a mobile-first product from scratch or translating it over from a desktop version. Secondary and tertiary features can be added later if optimization testing proves they have value.

3. Test Your Elements: Desktop vs. Mobile

To better understand what desktop elements will work well on mobile, I recommend running an A/B test. Version A, the control, can have only primary features, and Version B, the challenger, can have a new feature translated over to mobile from desktop. If this new feature tests well enough against your goals and doesn’t detract from user engagement, feel free to include it in your mobile product.

Also, watch out for core functionalities that get higher engagement on desktop than mobile. This may indicate the functionalities need to be retooled to be mobile-first.

4. Determine What to Consider Mobile

Are tablets mobile devices? Ever since the first Microsoft Tablet PCs were released in 2002, businesses, analysts, and even consumers have been unsure how to categorize them. Though most people consider tablets mobile, their screen size is often large enough to optimally show the desktop version of a customer experience. But on the other hand, tablets don’t come with mice or trackpads, and desktop navigation can include elements only mice and trackpads can interact with, such as flyout menus and button hover events.

To optimize for tablet users, split traffic between your desktop and mobile versions to see what functionalities work best on each. Since tablet screen size can be similar to desktop, you may not have to adjust site layout too much to be mobile-first on tablets. Just be sure to avoid elements that only work for desktop users.

As you become a mobile-first marketer, remember the four main tips above: know your dropoff points, include the most important features, test potential new features, and account for tablets. For years to come, your product will be ready for anything.

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