Big Screen, Little Screen: How Mobile and Desktop Viewers See Your Site Differently

Published April 15th, 2014 by Michael Farin

Ladies and gentlemen: The “mobile explosion” is a thing. In 2008, around 1% of Internet traffic came from mobile devices like smartphones. (Probably because, you know, smartphones weren’t everywhere back in those days.) Fast-forward 5 years, and suddenly mobile devices account for 15% of total Internet traffic. What’s going to happen in the next decade or two? You can bet that those numbers will keep going up until mobile Internet users match, and then outnumber, desktop users. So it’s a good idea to get a handle on this mobile thing now – and see just how the explosion of mobile viewers affects your site.

Mobile users act differently from desktop computer users. It’s like they’re a different breed of animal. Here are the top 6 behaviors that distinguish mobile Internet viewers – and some suggestions for incorporating these preferences into your own business website.

#1: Mobile users like big buttons, and they cannot lie. It’s really easy to type the wrong thing, or hit the wrong link, on a tiny smartphone screen. (Desktops have a lot more built-in accuracy.) So mobile versions of websites should have a simple layout and LARGE navigation buttons that are easy to access and click. There’s not much screen space on a mobile device, so use it wisely.

#2: Mobile users want instant gratification. Now. When mobile users need information, their first instinct is to pull out their phone. They’re “always on,” and they expect to be able to get their questions answered 24/7/365. Plus, they have very, very, very short attention spans. If a site doesn’t deliver immediately, they scroll away to the next option. Don’t design a slow, tough-to-navigate mobile site. Build one that loads with the speed of lightning.

#3: Mobile users love apps. That whole instant gratification thing? A slick, easily downloadable app gives mobile users instant access to your site – and they’ll love you for it. The average mobile Internet user spends 82% of their mobile media time using apps,, so clearly, you’ve got a reason to create your own application. Do some research and figure out your frequent site visitors’ platform of choice (Apple or Android?) and then design an app that they’ll snap right up.

#4: Mobile users check emails on mobile...obsessively. According to a 2013 study from Experian, mobile browsers use a full 23% of that time to check email. Every time that seductive little “ping!” hits the mail app, they’re eagerly checking to see what’s in the inbox. That means you need to optimize your business emails for mobile, pronto. There’s nothing more annoying than opening an email on the phone, only to discover that it’s full of empty white space, “click to show image” links, and text that’s twice as wide as the screen.

The email marketing experts at Emma say you should do five things to optimize your emails for mobile:

  • Simplify your header (it should be only 50-100 pixels high).
  • Streamline your layout to a single column.
  • If you must link to other sites, make sure they’re mobile-friendly.
  • Choose bold, simple images.
  • Emphasize the text! Use big, big buttons!

#5: Mobile users are social animals. Mobile viewers spend sixteen minutes out of every hour – over ¼ of their total online time – trolling their social media sites. If you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter page, now is the time to get one.

#6: Mobile users shop, and research purchases, online. A lot. Here are the numbers. According to this study, half of the surveyed consumers did pre-purchase research exclusively on their mobile devices. 77% of those people make the decision to purchase while doing online product research in a store. And 30% of smartphone and 25% of tablet shoppers research, shop, decide and purchase within one hour. (More instant gratification.)

In the end, all this data means one thing: Mobile use is on the rise, and it’s just going to keep rising. According to the CISCO global forecast, mobile traffic will increase by a factor of 13 over the next 5 years. So we need to stay flexible, move with it, and create great, mobile-friendly sites that will attract the new generation of smartphone and tablet users.

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