If you only listen to Web marketers you will quickly realize that everyone needs a mobile-friendly site and a mobile app. No one searches on the desktop any more. No one wants to use their desktop computer for anything but playing games. The “all Web traffic is mobile” propaganda has become almost the sole talking point for many conversations about search engine optimization, Web marketing in general, and related topics.
A few years back Google began preaching the value of converting all Websites to use HTTPS and become mobile-friendly. The Web marketing community dutifully fell in line and passed on the advice. I’ve written my share of “how to make your site mobile-friendly” articles. And if you look at the address bar in your browser right now you’ll see that this site is served via HTTPS. I would have preferred NOT to make either conversion a priority.
Web Marketers Share Myths without Doing Proper Research
HTTPS doesn’t protect very much. Yes, it encrypts the traffic sent between your browser and whatever server you connect to but hackers steal most user financial data from Web servers. And if you’ve ever used a hotel’s Wi-Fi network chances are good that you were using a compromised HTTPS connection.
Security experts grudgingly acknowledge that HTTPS man-in-the-middle attacks are common in VPNs (the VPN is the “man in the middle”), business networks (your company is the MiTM), and free Wi-Fi hotspots. HTTPS isn’t protecting you from connecting to the Internet through proxy services. Much of your “secure browsing” is less secure than you have been led to believe it is.
And the same is true for all these “you must have a mobile-friendly site” arguments. If you come to me and ask whether you should have a mobile-friendly site, the first question I will ask you in return is where do your online customers come from. It’s true that many consumers do research on their smartphones and then convert on their desktops. But even there you’re not facing disaster if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site or app.
Statistics show that mobile users are less likely to stay on Websites that are slow to load or hard to read. Statistics also show that most people will never visit your site or walk on the moon. As with most things statistical, there is more to the story than the pundits tell you.
The real question is, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site or app, is every mobile user abandoning your site? Here are several reasons why they may NOT be.
Smartphones Still Enable “Pinch and Zoom”
Sooner or later people cite statistics showing that X% of users leave a desktop page on their smartphones rather than pinch and zoom.
And yet many of us stay.
Here it is 2019 and I still pinch and zoom on a desktop page at least once a week. Why? Because I’m interested in the page enough to want to read it. Pinch and zoom gives me, the visitor, flexibility in my mobile browsing experience. Many people still pinch and zoom.
If you need people to click on ads or calls to action then forcing them to pinch-and-zoom is sub-optimal at best. But if you’re just capturing someone early in their purchase cycle it’s more important to provide them with the information they need (and to create brand awareness for your Website).
Google Chrome Sometimes Makes Pages Mobile-friendly
When you first land on a desktop page in your smartphone browser, chances are good it will offer to make the page mobile-friendly. If you accept the offer the browser ignores that page’s styling and reformats it so the text fits your screen without pinch and zoom.
The browser also strips images, videos, and complex link navigation (in my experience). You can revert to the native format by clicking on the BACK button on your phone.
The “make this page mobile-friendly” browser feature is a tacit acknowledgement that there is, indeed, valuable and interesting information on the Web that isn’t formatted for smartphones.
You can embed calls to action as text links in your copy to ensure that people using this option see them:
Of course, you’re reading this post on a responsive Website but that link will appear about the same way to everyone regardless of the device they are using.
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages Create a Mobile-friendly Site for You
If you don’t publish a responsive site but you publish “/amp” pages then you do have a mobile-friendly site. Some people complain that AMP competes with their own Websites. The initial implementation of AMP was simpler than it is today. Google has upgraded the service so now many sites can collect proper analytics data, embed images and videos, integrate navigation, display their own domain names, display ads, and more.
AMP isn’t perfect but if it’s easier for you to set up AMP than to redesign your site it’s worth considering.
Not every AMP configuration works, though. I’ve often landed on AMP pages that were broken. You need to monitor your AMP performance and visit (at least a sampling of) your site’s AMP pages from a smartphone.
Some “Old School” Desktop Sites Look Okay on Mobile Phones
I see fewer of these sites than I used to. Usually I have to turn the phone 90 degrees to see the page in wide view, and as statistics citers will tell you, some people don’t like to do this. Then again, if people are turning their phones to watch videos they may be more willing to turn their phones to read desktop content.
The fewer images you use, the fewer WIDE images you use, and the more generic your page layout is then the easier it is for someone to read your desktop page on a smartphone.
You’ve probably chosen a design for your desktop site that doesn’t look good on mobile but the less cluttered a desktop page is the more likely it can be viewed on a smartphone without much inconvenience.
One way you can compromise between desktop and mobile design, especially for sitewide images, is to use the HTML Picture Tag. This is a bit of wrapper code that allows the browser to choose the image that best fits its screen size and resolution. It doesn’t make a site mobile-friendly but it may help in some cases.
Local Businesses May Already Have Mobile-friendly Business Listings
If you submit your company to Bing places for business and Google My Business they will create directory listings for you. The directory listings are used in their Map and Search results. While not every company needs to be listed with these services, those directory listings display critical information to searchers in a mobile-friendly format.
How Do You Know If You Really Need to Make a Site Mobile-friendly?
With a bit of detective work you can identify which of your visitors are most important to you. If you compare your analytics data to these browser market share statistics you can get a better idea of who is really interested in your site.
While there is no single authoritative source of browser data for the entire Web, Statcounter’s reports are very good in my opinion. I recommend them to clients all the time. You can drill down to look at the “Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet Market Share Worldwide” report. Scroll down the page and you’ll see links for breaking up the data by continent (and a few important countries).
In the United States of America report more people are browsing via desktop browsers than mobile browsers for the period June 2018-June 2019. Only in June 2019 do the trend lines converge.
Only a small percentage of people browse the Web exclusively by either desktop computer or mobile phone. In my opinion there is sufficient overlap in the data to justify making a business Website useful and attractive on desktop computers.
It’s an unfortunate trend among many newer companies (“startups”) that they create Websites only for mobile users, or else their desktop sites encourage visitors to download apps. If your business model is built on the app that makes sense. Most of the “download our app” sites I visit make no sense. As a desktop user interested in whatever products or services these companies have to offer, I have no intention or desire to install their apps on my phone.
By ignoring the substantial desktop market these companies are denying themselves potential future customers. That’s a business decision but you should make that choice in full awareness of who really is browsing the Web.
The Web is not all about the mobile browsing experience. Most likely it will never come to that. In fact, smartphones create a terrible user experience in most applications. Every app I install on my phones has deficiencies, and that includes banking apps, shopping apps, and even my email and messaging apps.
When we can interact with Augmented Reality interfaces the way Tony Stark does in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, smartphones may finally supplant the desktop. Of course it will look strange to see people walking around jabbing their hands in the air. But assuming that day comes we may all start moving gradually away from traditional desktop and laptop computers. They’ll probably transition to roles as backbone servers for home networks. Many businesses already have such servers.
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