Editor's note: The following is a guest post from Marcus Howling, SEO strategist at Amuse Digital.
The proliferation of mobile devices has dramatically and permanently altered the online landscape. According to Smart Insights, users in the U.S. search from mobile platforms 70% of the time and devote 87 hours to browsing on smartphones every month. Mobile web design is no longer optional. If a website doesn't capture that mobile traffic, potential market share could likely be lost.
Smart marketers already know this, but many struggle to turn that knowledge into action. There are many different ways to deliver mobile content, and determining which options are best for a given business can be daunting. In this article, we'll look at three approaches to mobile-friendly design and when to use them.
Option 1: Responsive design
After Google’s major mobile-friendly update named "Mobilegeddon," most marketers turned to responsive websites. The first responsive site used web design principles that allows content to adjust to any size screen. Both a desktop user and a smartphone user will visit the same URL and receive the same content, but that content will be adapted to display clearly and correctly on either screen. This approach usually focused first on desktop users and shrank content to fit mobile devices.
Because responsive pages use the same address, there was no loss of link equity when pages were shared from a mobile browser. Responsive design is appropriate for many different categories of websites including blogs, online stores and branded business pages. They're also good for brands that need a mobile presence but can't invest in mobile-first web design. Mobile responsive designs do have some drawbacks. Chief among them is that they aren't always the best way to render mobile-specific content types, and they often cause certain pages to be inaccessible on mobile devices. Because of this, mobile-first designs that also respond to desktop users is recommended to fit consumers' shifting habits.
Option 2: Mobile-first responsive design
Because nearly 70% of online traffic in the U.S. is from a mobile device, it's important that those people receive an optimized user experience. Mobile-first sites feature minimal design with limited scripts, no background images and fewer images in general. Mobile sites are also streamlined to promote faster loading and more efficient data usage. They're designed to look flawless and work optimally on all mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets. Mobile-first designs also rank better and show up more often in search engines. Implementing a mobile-first strategy gives brands a better chance to win in a new era of mobile search.
The main advantage of mobile-first design is its ability to look and function better on mobile platforms and rank higher in mobile search results. However, drawbacks include the potential loss of design creativity from added restrictions like smaller screen dimensions and a vertical format. Despite this, the reality is that more users search from their smart devices, so marketers should understand the importance of mobile-first design over its responsive counterpart. The design also allows for faster loading, easy readability and an overall better user experience across the most popular devices.
Option 3: Mobile app
A mobile app version of a website uses platform-specific software to deliver web content to mobile platforms. Mobile apps have the advantage of being tailored to a user's preferred device, and it allows for the inclusion of mobile-specific features. Apps perform better, are less cluttered and add to the brand's appeal because they can be easily downloaded and used anywhere.
Downsides to mobile apps are that they're expensive and tricky to implement. You need a different app for each platform, raising costs even further. They're also less flexible and can negatively impact web marketing if not implemented appropriately. Apps also require users to voluntarily downloaded it, which could deter some users.
One of the biggest motivators to develop an app is when the goal of a business is to connect with consumers offline. Apps make more sense for music platforms, interactive gaming and other things a person may want to use on a regular basis. Apps are also better for native functionality and projects that require access to the user's camera.
In practice, the right approach varies depending on a company's needs and budget. Before deciding on an approach, marketers should outline clear business goals and priorities. Is the business looking for a way to interact with thousands of subscribers offline on a daily basis? Create an app! Is the budget low but the majority of customers still search from their mobile device? Build a mobile-first website that also responds to desktop users. The target audience, goals and user experience intentions dictate the design. Just because the budget for an app is there doesn't mean the target audience will want to engage with it. Do the research and avoid creating something no one bothers to download. This will save the business time and money in the long run.