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Why Mobile-First Web Design More Important Than Ever

By March 16, 2017July 6th, 2023Digital Marketing, SEO Strategy

This blog post is part of “The Ultimate Guide to Web Development” and “The Ultimate Guide to SEO” blog series.

Mobile-first has been a mantra in online marketing for several years. The call for a mobile-first approach has been especially strong when it comes to website design. Because more searches are conducted on mobile devices than on computers, and because mobile search continues to grow faster than desktop or laptop search, it is imperative that websites not just replicate the desktop experience on mobile devices, but instead are optimized from the start for a remarkable mobile experience.

Mobile Search Growth

Google confirmed that mobile search surpassed desktop search in 2015. “More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan,” the company said. “This presents a tremendous opportunity for marketers to reach people throughout all the new touch points of a consumer’s path to purchase.”

This means that websites must not just accommodate mobile users, but delight them. “Consumers, particularly on mobile devices, now have higher expectations than ever before – they want everything right, and they want everything right away.”

Design and Technical Issues

According to Ott Niggulis of e-commerce service provider Shopify, “There are two essential discussions that fall into the ‘mobile first’ conversation; design philosophy and technical implementation. It’s important we treat these as two distinct conversations, as there can often be confusion when terms like ‘mobile responsive’ start coming into the mix.”

“From a design philosophy perspective,” Ott notes, “historically web designers have always worked from the biggest screen down to the smallest – meaning that the first and ‘main’ design would be for the full desktop view with that having the most functionality.” This makes sense because most web design takes place on desktop computers, so that is where the work begins.

But this may no longer be the best approach. “Many of design elements and functionality that look and work great on desktop simply does not translate at best to a good mobile experience and at worst it makes the whole site unusable or at the very least extremely hard to use and navigate.”

Smallest to Largest

Ben Gremillion of UXPin says this about the technical aspect of the mobile-first mandate. “It is the ideology that mobile design, as the hardest, should be done first. Once the mobile design questions are answered, designing for other devices will be easier. What it boils down to is that, the smallest of the designs will have only the essential features, so right away you have designed the heart of your UX.”

“The mobile-first approach organically leads to a design that’s more content-focused, and therefore user-focused,” Ben says.  “The heart of the site is content — that’s what the users are there for.”

Google has made it clear that the mobile experience is a growing factor in its ranking criteria for web pages and content. First, there was “mobilegeddon” in 2015 when the company made the mobile experience a ranking criteria. The company announced in 2016 that, “Beginning in May, we’ll start rolling out an update to mobile search results that increases the effect of the ranking signal to help our users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly.”

Stakes are High

Responsive web design, where websites adapt to the size of the screen of the device being used, has been a web design imperative even before mobilegeddon, but the stakes are higher now. With the majority of searches taking place on mobile devices, websites that are not dialed into the mobile experience will lose ground to those that are.

Google is a company built on intent and immediacy,” the company says. “Our mission has always been to connect people with what they are looking for in the exact moment they are looking. These are moments that matter to consumers, to marketers and to us at Google because they are when decisions are being made and preferences shaped.” These moments should matter to marketers and web designers as well.

This blog post is part of “The Ultimate Guide to Web Development” blog series.