For quite a while we’ve been told responsive web design is the way to go; however, things are changing in the web universe. The newest strategy, as put out by Google, is to make sites mobile-first. OK, but what does this really mean? What is the difference between a responsive design and mobile-first?
Why Does It Matter?
More and more Internet traffic is coming from mobile devices. In other words, many of us are using smartphones and tablets to access websites. According to Statista, 52.5% of all website traffic worldwide was generated via mobile phone in 2018. And that’s just the stats on mobile phone use! Desktops are the dinosaurs of the tech world. Mobile is where users are and where your site needs to be. This is why it matters if your site is built mobile-first or responsive.
The sheer numbers of site visitors will be accessing your website via their mobile devices. In order to maintain good graces and ranking with search engines, especially Google, you’ll need to make your site mobile-first friendly. There’s no way around it.
What’s the Difference Between Responsive Design and Mobile-First?
Let’s start with responsive design. This design technique makes the website’s design automatically adjust to the size of the user’s screen. A site’s layout and content match the width of the browser.
With responsive design, any website works on any device—from desktops to laptops, smartphones and beyond. And you only need one website, where it used to be you needed two versions of the site.
Responsive design was also based on the assumption most site visitors would visit via their desktop. While that may have been true in the earlier days of the Internet, the advent of smartphones and other mobile devices has made this type of thinking obsolete.
Mobile-first design is similar, and you don’t have to choose between responsive or mobile-friendly. In fact, responsive design is actually technical, whereas mobile-first is more like a strategy for site design. With mobile-first design, the site is created first for mobile devices. This design technique ensures the user’s mobile experience is fast, smooth and easy.
How to Decide Between Responsive or Mobile-First Site Design?
This where site analytics comes in to play. You’ll need to get data on how visitor’s use your site, the devices they’re using and more. It’s also possible to set up a test site just to gain insight into your taraget audience, the devices they’re using to access the site and more.
If you see a split, with more users visiting the site with mobile devices, it will become clear that you need to use mobile-friendly design on your website.
Design Strategies to Make Your Site Mobile-First
When it comes to content, think less. Why? Mobile users look at your site from a small screen. Longer, more in-depth posts are more difficult to read. In fact, some people may just become frustrated and leave your site all together.
Concise content: Keep content concise and to the point to meet the needs of your site visitors. It’s also helpful to use white space to help break content into manageable chunks. Single-sentence paragraphs also make content easier and faster to read on a small screen.
Minimal content: next, keep your content simple—think minimal. Humans love simplicity—this is part of human nature. Keep your site simple and easy to navigate, which has the effect of reducing anxiety while improving clarity. The overall effect is making your site users happier and less stressed as they navigate the site for the information they need. Graphics should include vivid colors, strong typographical elements, contrasts between light and dark colors and much more. Bold shapes, clean lines and colors all make it easier to navigate a mobile-first site.
Offer a simple call to action (CTA): another way to make it easier for your visitors is to keep the call to action simple. Make the landing page and the CTA mobile-first. Be sure to test all links and make use of other features such as SMS and live chats. Your visitors will be very happy!
Mobile-friendly communication: while we’re on the topic of conversation, be sure your site communication preference match that of your target audience. Most people are happy to text and do live chat—they’re rather avoid the hassle of calling. Consider adding a help desk software, which makes it easy for your site users to access the information they need 24/7, not only when you’re open during business hours. Make it easy for them to communicate with you, and your site will be successful.
Keep your site fast: slow sites make visitors and Google unhappy! To keep your site loading fast, compression images, use lazy load (site elements load separately, but visitors can see the content), and switch to HHTPS, which is not only faster, but also more secure.
Test: test and test your site again. Technology is changing at lightning speed these days. It’s difficult to keep up to date with the newest technology available on smartphones and other devices. As a result, you’ll need to test your site more often to make sure it’s working as it should. Regular testing also shows you were it may be necessary to tweak features, etc.
Is a Mobile-Friendly Site Right for You?
While this is the prevailing trend in web design, you need to make the decision on whether or not a mobile-friendly design is right for your site. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does my target audience use mobile devices to access my site?
- Does my preferred audience lean more toward desktop computers to browse online?
- Would more people visit your site if it was mobile-friendly?
Again, this is where analytics can be helpful and using a test site can help you find the answers you need. And it doesn’t hurt to ask your site visitors what they prefer. You could use a poll or survey, for instance, to learn how visitors use your site and whether or not they access the site via a mobile device, etc.
It’s important to understand that most users will not be able to tell the difference between responsive design and mobile-first design. Site visitors are looking for an easy, smooth user experience, which includes easy navigation, etc. What they prefer may help you make the decision on whether or not to move to mobile-first design.
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.