Several years ago, Jeremy Smith wrote, “Traditional optimization is dead, and in its place is arising a brave new world of mobile conversion optimization.”
I have to disagree. Is mobile conversion optimization a “brave new world”? Yes. Is traditional optimization “dead”? Not by a long shot.
Traditional (i.e. web) optimization and mobile optimization are two separate practices, requiring two separate strategies. One is not replacing the other. Instead, optimizers must learn to master both.
What’s the current state of mobile?
It won’t surprise anyone to learn that the number of global mobile users is growing rapidly. It might not even surprise you to learn that the number of global mobile users has surpassed the number of global desktop users.
Back in 2014, the number of mobile users became higher than the number of desktop users:
In global markets, mobile users consume more than twice as many minutes as desktop users…
There’s no denying that mobile use is on the rise, but are mobile users converting?
An older study found that 70% of mobile searches lead to action on websites within one hour. Mobile users were engaging with retail sites and taking steps towards conversion.
But when it comes down to it, the data shows that mobile users just don’t convert the way desktop users do—even in 2019.
So, why the discrepancy? Despite the fact that mobile has been “on the rise” for years now, optimizers still haven’t mastered mobile optimization.
A while back, Econsultancy conducted mobile UX research to find some common issues with mobile optimization…
Optimizers still have a long way to go, it seems. Joel Harvey of Conversion Sciences agrees, adding some controversial statements (read: wake up calls)…
Why doesn’t mobile convert?
There is no one reason why mobile users don’t convert as often as desktop users. A smaller screen, connectivity issues, distraction, etc. cannot be blindly blamed for low conversion rates.
This is as close as it gets to a universal statement: Mobile users are more susceptible to friction.
Why? Because of the nature of mobile. They want what they want when they want it. They want to be able to checkout or signup for a free trial with one hand while they’re shopping for groceries or talking about the weather with their Uber driver.
Mark John Hiemstra defined the two types of mobile friction on the Unbounce blog…
Perceived friction means that if your mobile site looks hard to navigate, it is. Even if it really isn’t. (Still with me?) Real friction means that your mobile site is actually hard to navigate… Something (often multiple things) prevents your visitors from converting.
Michael Mace, VP Mobile at UserTesting, wrote two in-depth articles on common mistakes mobile eCommerce sites make, How to Make Mobile Convert: The Most Common Mobile Store Mistakes and How to Make Mobile eCommerce Convert: What’s Effect in Mobile Design Right Now. To identify potential points of friction on your site, I suggest reading those articles thoroughly.
Good example: Schuh
A while ago, I found this example of a mobile funnel with limited friction. Here’s what the homepage looked like on mobile…
Note the large buttons, the concise copy, the clearly marked search function, the condensed navigation, etc. I decided to dive in and click the red “Sale Final Reductions” banner…
I was able to select my size upfront so that I don’t waste time looking at shoes they don’t have in my size. I was also able to filter the 266 results even further if I wanted to…
Some visitors will want to filter extensively or search to find exactly what they’re looking for. Some will want to browse around. Schuh does a good job of pointing users in the right direction, but allowing both options.
Here’s what displays once I’ve selected a shoe…
My one critique here would be that since I had already indicated that I wanted size 6, I shouldn’t have to select my shoe size again.
However, notice the size of the “Please select a size” menu. It’s optimized for mobile. Everything you need to know about the product is displayed. The small screen size isn’t even an issue.
Here’s what the basket looks like…
Pretty straightforward, but take a look at the checkout process…
Schuh uses screen space incredibly well. There’s a lot of information here, but none of it seems overwhelming or cluttered.
Here’s step one…
And step two…
Note that you don’t have to write out your full address manually, but you can if you want to. A few years ago, my building was a new construction in a new neighbourhood. My address didn’t exist yet according to most online maps. Do what you can to speed up the process, but don’t assume your time-saving tactics will work for everyone.
Again, notice the simplicity and size of key page elements.
The process was completely pain-free. This is one of the best mobile conversion funnels I’ve ever seen. Remember, we went through nine steps just now, but if you notice at the top of the screenshots, it didn’t even take five minutes.
Less taps isn’t always better. Less unnecessary and redundant taps is always better.
It is possible to over-simplify…
How is mobile traffic different than desktop traffic?
Mobile traffic is very different from desktop traffic. Here’s Talia Wolf of GetUplift.co to explain why…
The differences between mobile traffic and desktop traffic are endless. However, they do fit nicely into three categories: intent, level of distraction, and behavior.
Mobile users tend to have stronger intent, which is why mobile optimization can be such a high value effort. Think about it. Desktop users are sitting at home or the office with time to spare. They’re browsing, they’re checking Facebook, they’re listening to music. Mobile users are on-the-go. They don’t have the luxury of time.
Have you ever thought about buying something, looked it up online, taken one look at their mobile site and thought, “Yeah, I’ll just wait until I get home”? It happens to me all the time. However, if the site were better optimized, I would’ve bought it right then and there. The perceived friction was too high.
2. Level of distraction
Here’s Raphael Paulin-Daigle to explain why mobile users are often more distracted than desktop users…
Attention spans on mobile are even shorter than attention spans on desktop. The impact here is two-fold…
- Eliminating distractions on your mobile site is paramount.
- Getting mobile users to the “reward” as quickly as possible is your primary goal.
Of course, there is a compromise. In simplifying and reducing copy / chrome (i.e. design elements), you run the risk of over-simplifying. Your mobile site can’t be a call to action. You have to find the balance between intuitive and restrictive. It’s a surprisingly thin line.
Dive into your Google Analytics data quickly. Create a segment for mobile users and a segment for desktop users. Go through each section of your dashboard and tell me what you see. I’m willing to bet you see two very different types of behavior.
Document those differences. Understand how mobile users are currently navigating your site. Chances are, they don’t stay long, they bounce more frequently, they visit fewer pages, they stick to one to three pages, and so on.
They don’t behave the same way because their environment and intent is vastly different. Why try to convert them the same way?
But, I have a responsive design…
When asked about responsive design, Talia and Raphael had very similar responses…
Take special note of the last line: “Responsive design makes the desktop experience look great on mobile, but it doesn’t address the specific needs of mobile visitors.” Talia hit the nail on the head here. Responsive design is more about the way a mobile site looks than the actual user experience.
Raphael adds that while the basics are nice, they are, well, basic….
Responsive design doesn’t equal great UX. You can’t make your design responsive and declare that your mobile site is optimized. That just doesn’t make sense.
Have you tried signing into Slack on your phone yet? Here’s a little preview…
Slack knows that typing a password, especially a long or complex one, on a phone can be frustrating. So, instead, you can have a “magic link” sent to your email, which will sign you in. Now that’s great mobile UX.
Mobile site vs. responsive site
When talking about responsive design, it’s hard to ignore the debate of mobile site vs. responsive site. Should you create a dedicated mobile site or use a responsive design? It’s a question experts are divided on.
Raluca Budiu of Nielsen Norman Group offers an interesting opinion…
So, to summarize…
- No one cares if you have a dedicated mobile site or a responsive design.
- All users care about is an intuitive experience.
- There are misconceptions out there about what a responsive design is and what a dedicated mobile site is.
- There is no right answer, no definitive winner. What matters is that you follow good mobile design practices.
Case study: Marketing Experiments
Marketing Experiments asked an interesting question: Will a responsive or unresponsive design generate more free trial signups?
For most people (including myself), the answer is a responsive site. Is it true?
Take a look at the unresponsive control…
And now here’s the responsive treatment…
Here are the results…
So, it seems that responsive design did, in fact, increase conversions. But let’s take a closer look at the results…
When you break the results down by device, you’ll notice that the results for tablet and mobile users are not significant. Only the results for desktop were able to reach significance. Kind of backwards, right?
Marketing Experiments hypothesized that the reason for this is that the responsive desktop treatment did not appear like a popup, which it does in the unresponsive desktop control.
The lesson here is not that responsive design is useless and never works. This is just one test. The lesson is that responsive design does not work 100% of the time. It might work for you, it might not. But if you think your mobile site is optimized because you have a responsive design, you’re missing out.
4 mobile optimization mistakes marketers are still making
The concept of mobile optimization is not new. Nor is the idea that responsive design and mobile optimization are synonymous. Due to that misconception, optimizers are still making some fairly basic mistakes when it comes to mobile.
1. Fighting mobile weaknesses vs. embracing mobile strengths
If you’ve learned anything so far, it’s that mobile is different and deserves to be treated as such. Unfortunately, that’s an inconvenient truth. Crafting a new strategy for mobile and addressing it separately is a lot of work.
So, instead, some optimizers try to make desktop tactics work on mobile. Instead of embracing mobile’s strengths, they try to fight against mobile’s weaknesses.
- Small screen size – Don’t try to cram everything from your website into your mobile site. Prioritize your messaging and cut chrome in favor of essential copy.
- Easily distracted visitors – Don’t try to hold visitors hostage on your site. Make it easy for them to return instead. Allow them to save history, send their progress to themselves, etc.
2. Poor tracking
Are you familiar with the concept of cross-device shopping? We’ve already discussed it loosely. Essentially, cross-device shopping is when a single buying experience takes place across multiple devices. So, for example, you find and read about the product on your iPhone. Then, later that night, you buy it on your laptop.
According to research from comScore, this cross-device shopping trend isn’t going anywhere…
As a result, mobile web analytics can get quite complex. Investing in solid analytics software is definitely worth it.
Here are some suggestions…
3. Mobile copy is a different beast
The opportunity cost of mobile copy is much higher than web copy. Due to the nature of mobile, you’ll need to cut copy to streamline your funnel. But what does it mean for the user if you leave out A in favor of B?
Raluca offers a solution…
4. Navigation is too complex
Filtration options are often vast and granular. On desktop, that’s an asset. On mobile, it’s a hassle. The same way you must prioritize your messaging, you must prioritize your menu items and filtration.
Conduct qualitative research to find out how people like to filter their searches.
Navigations and menus have problems of their own. Raluca explains…
It’s a brave new world, indeed.
The rise of mobile has presented a whole new set of optimization issues, many of which we’re still uncovering the answers to.
Here’s what we do know: Creating a responsive design and calling your site “optimized for mobile” is a cop-out. [Tweet it!]
Instead, follow these steps to get started:
- Setup your mobile web analytics software of choice.
- Conduct qualitative and quantitative research to better understand the wants, anxieties, points of friction, and motivations of mobile users.
- Prioritize the messaging, calls to action, and chrome on your website.
- Systematically reduce (or layer) the messaging, calls to action, and chrome to suit your mobile audience.
- Evaluate your mobile site from a UX perspective and design a custom mobile conversion funnel.
- Begin running tests to improve your mobile conversion funnel.