Build Different Things – Why You’re Not Done When Your Website is Responsive

There’s a common objection that comes up among marketers when we talk about the incredible rate at which mobile is eating the world. Many say that these trends are all well and good, but they don’t actually change the tactics of web marketing beyond the need to make your website mobile-friendly.

For a long time, we’ve felt strongly that there was more to it than this, and that there was a real answer to this question, but we’ve struggled to lay it out clearly.

What is “mobile first” thinking?

At its simplest, “mobile-first” is a design philosophy that seeks to build a great experience on mobile devices and then considers ways to make it work well on larger screens, rather than the other way around. Dr. Pete did a great job of outlining the external signs of Google search going mobile-first.

If you’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to the thinking within many tech giants in recent times, you’ll have heard a lot about this approach. Google and Facebook have embraced it particularly strongly – Facebook largely through opportunity and Google largely through necessity.

Although we can argue about which is the chicken and which is the egg, it’s easy to see why this is such a focus when building a website.

Mobile is an opportunity and a threat for Google.

Source: Mitrah Technology

The upside story is similar for Google – there is a huge opportunity to make money from existing mobile usage, a fantastic growth rate in mobile, and the whole of the developing world coming online via mobile (and, largely, through Android).

There’s also a risk, however, as mobile search begins to cannibalize desktop in developed markets (read: those with high AdWords spends). If Google can’t monetize searches as well on mobile as they can on desktop, the growth of mobile may not be sufficient to keep their cash cow growing.

Should all website marketers be thinking mobile first all the time?

If you aren’t operating as an effective monopoly, reliant on developing market growth, or seeing your core market saturated, you may still have significant upside on the desktop. Couple this with the (typically) lower conversion rates and monetization potential on mobile, and it’s easy to see why mobile-first isn’t a panacea for all businesses.

On the other hand, the growth of mobile in email and social in particular means that there is one area of your business where you probably should be thinking mobile-first – and that is in creative content.

Depending on the exact channels you use to promote your content, you could well be seeing >50% of visitors to your most creative content coming from mobile (even if mobile use is way lower on the rest of your website). Crucially, if you’re not seeing this, you are likely to be missing a trick – because it means your content isn’t being shared enough via these mobile-first channels. Here are some stats from a B2B client of UM showing the low mobile usage of the main website and the entirely different story on a successful creative piece:

What does content look like “mobile first”?

Once again, we may encounter the argument that as long as our core website template is responsive, “mobile-first content” just looks like regular content. We think, however, that this leads us down the wrong path.

Don’t build things differently, build different things

So, building content mobile-first is easier if your core website template is responsive, but it’s not a case of just publishing the same content you would have published previously in a different template.

Don’t be fooled by your website analytics

There’s another common objection to this story: “but mobile is only 10-20% of my traffic, and even less of my revenue, why would I design anything for mobile users first?”

We can partially address this in showing the common difference in traffic breakdown between creative content and the rest of the website, but some webmasters are still seeing relatively low mobile traffic even for their more creative work.

This is where we do want to invoke the chicken and egg – we believe that in the majority of cases, those website owners are missing out on potential visitors because of their poor mobile experience.

The short version of the argument is: people who may share your content are disproportionately likely to encounter it on mobile

Much of the actual sharing will happen on mobile

Source: ActiveMedia

When something is shared via a mobile channel (email, Facebook) it is disproportionately likely to be received on mobile as well. This loop accelerates when it works well and decelerates when the content performs poorly on mobile

What happens to viral loops when website content works poorly on mobile

Imagine a simplified viral loop where, on average: For every 10 people who see the piece, 2 share it. Each share reaches 30 more people. 20% of these click through. This means 12 new people see it. Because 12 is greater than 10 (which we started with) this means the viral coefficient, k is greater than one (1.2 in this case) – this is key to anything spreading virally.

Now, let’s look at what happens to the same simplified loop when a piece of non-mobile-friendly content is shared on a platform like Facebook where (let’s say, conservatively) 50% of users are on mobile:

10 people see it and 2 still share it – but this time they share it on Facebook. Each share reaches 30 more people. 20% of these click through. 50% of these get a poor experience and navigate away without considering it. This means 6 new people really see it. This time, 6 is less than 10 (which we started with) meaning that k < 1 and the piece will not spread virally.

The upshot of this simplified example is that a lack of mobile-friendliness coupled with the mobile-centricity of key networks can cause an otherwise great piece of content to fail to go viral.

This means: The risk is not losing 10-20% of visitors (based on your site’s average mobile usage). Nor even losing 50% of visitors (based on Facebook/email usage). You could be losing 90+% of potential visitors by breaking the viral loop

How do you make creative content mobile first?

Source: Iterable

How to make creative content is a big topic – too big for this post – but it is something we think and talk about a lot at Distilled.

Much of the framework is built around the made to stick idea of telling simple, unexpected, credible, concrete, suitable stories

In other words, right at the conception phase, you should be asking yourself if this story is suitable for telling in the medium and via the channels you are planning. Of course, to implement this in the real world takes a myriad of skills and activities across design, development, and QA but that’ll have to be the topic of another post.

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