The number of mobile users is still rising, but the rate at which jewelers are intentionally deploying mobile websites is slowing. In the month of June 2014, I tracked 43.12% of visitors to jewelry websites using either a smartphone or a tablet. This is up from the 39.88% I reported in April 2014.
This mobile usage level during the recent slow summer months is now higher than the mobile usage spike of 42.29% measured in December 2013. Google's Think website
( http://www.google.com/think ) has statistics showing how other industries have already reached the 50% threshold.
As I said, I've noticed that the rate of jewelry website owners who are launching mobile websites is leveling off. More specifically, what I'm now seeing is that website programming companies are advertising their "responsive websites" services that are supposed to automatically work on mobile devices. This sounds like a good idea, except that many responsive websites fail to do what's expected.
The idea of a responsive website is that it will redisplay itself to fit any size screen, from the largest computer to the smallest smartphone. Google currently recommends this as the correct method of mobile design, but this Inside AdWords blog post on April 24, 2014 hints that maybe responsive is not that good after all.
That blog post leads you through 25 specific points explaining how a mobile website should work. After reading those 25 points I realized that their suggestions are so technical that it's much easier to implement them on a dedicated mobile site than a responsive website.
Website programmers have been heavily advertising mobile and responsive website design for more than 4 years. Some retail jewelers have deployed mobile sites with conscious effort to satisfy customer expectations, but most have taken shortcuts to launching mobile. Those shortcuts include purchased website template designs for WordPress (or some other CMS) or the responsive services provided by their programmer.
Here are my thoughts on mobile websites of the near future...
- Users will expect an easier level of use from mobile websites. Customer expectations will be greatly influenced by what Google and Amazon are doing on their mobile sites. Users will avoid mobile websites that are not easy to use.
- Website owners will continue to read about responsive website design, and how easy it is to set up now. These easy, low cost, responsive websites will continue to lull website owners into a false sense of mobile website usability.
- Website programmers and analysts will be watching the expectations of users through sophisticated tracking, but matching those expectations will cost more money for ongoing programming.
- All new websites will automatically include mobile websites according to the level of mobile skill and experience of the programmer they hire. Hiring less experienced, and less expensive programmers will continue the trend of poorly functioning mobile websites, which in turn will lead to lower search engine ranking, and then lower sales.
That last point might be the harshest reality check of them all. I've worked with jewelers who have tried to create their website on their own to save money, and jewelers who have hired less expensive/experienced programmers. In each case, I've found that the immediate cost savings translated into longer term lower ranking and then a drop in sales.
To be honest, it's impossible to know if the lower drop in sales was a direct result of the lower search engine ranking, but the correlation was there.
Of the 25 mobile usability points that Google outlined, here's the few I felt were most important:
- Your mobile home page needs to be different than your desktop version. A few days ago, I explained how you could walk a mile in your customer's shoes. The home page of mobile and desktop need to be different because your customers' intent is completely different than yours. Tactically, this is why responsive websites are really bad.
- Mobile navigation menus are always tricky. I hate the hamburger menu icon that has become popular on mobile apps and mobile websites. It usually blends in with the app design so well that it hides in plain sight. It also forces you to tap it before you can see additional navigation options. Google recommends simply including your navigation below the fold on the mobile page.
- Optimize your entire site for mobile--every page. The optimized site should be easier to use than the desktop version. Once optimized you can remove the "Full Site" link that you probably have in the footer of every page. That "Full Site" link makes the users feel like they are missing something, so go ahead and remove it if you are certain they aren't.
We're going to continue to see major mobile website improvements and recommendations as mobile device technology improves. The same thing happened 10 years ago when websites and desktop computer technology were pushing each other to the limits. Customer expectation will continue to increase as the technology increases, and that translates to your need to continually redesign your mobile website.
How often should you redesign your mobile website? Perhaps every time a new iPhone, Samsung, and Nexus is released.