10 Things NOT To Do With Your Mobile Visitors

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of mobile best practice tips with Bridget!

...After my last couple posts (here and here), which were quite technical-heavy, I thought we’d mix things up a bit with a list of my top 10 pet peeves when it comes to the way various sites treat mobile visitors. These are some common mobile mistakes which can wreak havoc with any mobile strategy.

Doing any of these things will put you on my bad list, whether I’m visiting your site as an SEO or just a regular mobile user:

1) Absolutely Nothing.

This is very possibly the worst thing you can do.

It might sound obvious that you should make sure that your site is mobile-friendly, but according to a study by Mongoose Metrics, less than 10% of the Quantcast 'Top Million' websites were 'mobile ready' at the start of 2012. As smartphones, tablets, and ever-increasing numbers of other non-traditional web devices proliferate, the failure to provide for these visitors will mean that you risk alienating a significant portion of your target market, regardless of your service or product.

2) Rely solely on a native mobile app as your “mobile strategy”.

With articles like this one from Econsultancy, which claims that 85% of consumers favour apps over mobile websites, it might be tempting to skip the mobile site altogether. But this is a big mistake.

Native mobile apps can be a fantastic way to engage with your mobile visitors, and they allow users to access your service direct from their device’s main screen, bypassing the search process altogether.

However, native apps should not be used as a standalone mobile strategy, because:

  • they will not help you get visitors in the first place (or at least, not as many as traditional search).
  • new visitors will almost always land on your (non-mobile-friendly) website. And upon arriving at a site which is not mobile-friendly, 61% of customers are likely to go to a competitor's site.
  • some mobile devices may not be able to use your app (for example, a user on a Windows Phone or Blackberry can’t use it if you’ve only created versions for Android and iOS)...
  • ...and every separate device for which you create an app will increase your development time/cost, both for the actual build and also in updates and maintenance.
  • if the visitor is not planning to use your service or website frequently, they may not want to download an app and have it taking up space on their device.
  • and finally, for some businesses, especially SMEs, having an app might not make sense.
If you’re wondering whether your business should have an app, remember that form should follow function. What purpose is going to be served by your app? Why would a customer download it? And, if you have a limited budget, how will the potential benefits outweigh the cost of development and maintenance? (you may need to do some further research on this one). If you don’t have a good answer to all of these questions, you shouldn’t make an app.

3) Assume their behaviour is the same as (or completely different than) desktop visitors.

Don’t make assumptions about mobile user behaviour. Although we often hear statistics about mobile users being ‘on the move’, and 40% of mobile search having local intent, nevertheless it’s not as simple as that. For instance, a recent study by Google showed that 77% of mobile searches actually occur at home or at work, making portability less of a factor.

Test, test, test. And track, track, track. Make sure that all of your decisions about how to treat mobile visitors are based on actual data (and not just instinct, or vanity metrics).

Some areas in which you should look for similarities/differences in user behaviour based on device:

  • keywords
  • internal site search
  • conversion flow
  • time on site
  • visitors
  • bounce rate
  • traffic sources
  • landing pages
  • where possible, offline behaviour (e.g. are your mobile visitors primarily at home, at work, or on the move? do they research on mobile before buying on desktop or in-store? etc.)
I wrote a whole post on tracking mobile visitors with Google Analytics.

4) Track mobile users simply as part of overall traffic (or fail to track a separate mobile site).

Following on from the previous point: you can’t figure out how your mobile visitors are behaving if you don’t track them separately from desktop visitors. You need to segment out the mobile visit data in order to make informed decisions.

For instance, here are two mistakes people often make when using Google Analytics for mobile friendly sites:

  • Responsive site: failing to create a separate profile for traffic from mobile devices. Because all of your traffic lands on the same URL, you’ll need to create a separate profile based on user agent/device type.
  • Separate URL site: failing to implement the tracking code properly on the mobile-specific pages, including crossdomain tracking (so that subdomain traffic, e.g. m.domain.com, is treated as traffic to the same website as www.domain.com).
For more information, see my previously-mentioned post on tracking mobile traffic in Google Analytics.

5) Cut out ‘extra’ desktop content.

When content strategist Karen McGrane tried to find some information about the United Airlines airport lounge, she was unable to access a mobile-friendly version. This is because United Airlines had assumed that mobile visitors were only interested in things like online check-in and live flight information. For the full story, see McGrane’s article here.

Although United Airlines had created a good mobile site, they had followed the common recommendation to cut out ‘extra’ desktop content in favour of providing only the most popular content in a mobile-friendly format.

Past conventional wisdom has sometimes recommended treating a mobile site as a ‘pared-down’ version of the desktop site, and providing a link to the desktop version for those who want to ‘View Full Site’. There is usually no real need to do this, however, and it is frustrating to a user who is attempting to reach a less popular page or piece of information.

A better approach is to provide all the same content, but rework the navigation and site architecture or hide extra components on load in order to avoid a cluttered or overly-long page.

For more ideas on how to rearrange a desktop site for mobile, see our best practice Guide to Creating a Mobile-Friendly Site.

6) Use interstitial popups.

Many companies like to interrupt visitors to their mobile site with an ‘interstitial popup’ advertising their app. You know the type:

The problem with this is two-fold:

  1. It irritates the visitor and interrupts the flow.
  2. Depending on the implementation, it can cause indexation problems for search engine crawlers.
There are other ways to make sure that your visitors know that you have an app. The Daily Mail, for example, have recently replaced their interstitial pop-up with a little notification at the top of the screen (although they’re still guilty of not having a mobile-friendly site):

You can also feature it prominently on your mobile site, in your email marketing, etc. If you want to optimise your app for search in the app store(s), check out this great article from Ian Sefferman on the Moz blog.

7) Prioritise layout over content.

Although responsive design is a fantastic first step toward a more accessible mobile web, it’s not something you can implement and then forget about. This is because responsive design makes your website’s layout mobile-friendly, but this doesn’t necessarily carry over to different types of content.

Just make sure that the rules you implement for the various elements on your responsive page don’t lead to issues like Starbucks has with their BUY button:

Desktop Version:

Responsive Mobile Version:

This type of issue can be avoided in the design phase by ensuring that you prioritise your content placement according to its function and meaning.

For more on this topic, check out Sara Wachtter-Boettcher’s book, Content Everywhere, or get the shorter version with the slides from a presentation I gave recently at our London meetup.

8) Redirect all desktop pages to mobile homepage.

This also seems like an obvious one, but it happens frequently enough that Google is becoming less tolerant of these sorts of user experience issues.

Remember, if you have a mobile site on separate URLs, you need to redirect mobile visitors to the most relevant page, not just to the mobile site homepage. If you don’t have a (near-)duplicate version of a particular desktop page available for mobile, you should consider whether you have any mobile-friendly content which is still (significantly) relevant to that desktop page.

If so, redirect mobile users there (and make sure they have the option to view the desktop site!).

If not, you should either create a mobile-friendly version (assuming you have the budget and resources to do so), or, if that’s not an option, then don’t redirect them at all. Rather, let them access the desktop version of the content they want.

9) Expect them to checkout like desktop visitors.

If you want mobile visitors to be able to convert on your ecommerce site, you need to make it easy for them. One of the worst CRO mistakes you can make is to treat them like a desktop user when it comes to checkout.

Mobile checkout processes need to be as minimal as possible, and reflect mobile-specific features, such as the fact that mobile users are typing on a touchscreen. Make each step of the form a separate page, make buttons extra big, make sure the correct keyboard is displayed for each entry field, and so on.

For more on this topic, see this article by Derek Nelson over on Smashing Magazine.

10) Assume that conversions are single-channel.

Finally, just because you’re not seeing a significant number of mobile conversions in your analytics, don’t assume that mobile visitors aren’t converting.

The internet is increasingly becoming a multiscreen world, and consumers are starting to use their various web-compatible devices more interchangeably. A recent study by Google, as mentioned above, showed surprisingly that 77% of mobile searches occurred at home or at work; indicating that those users were actively choosing to use a mobile device over an available desktop device. The same study found that 90% of these users used multiple screens sequentially to accomplish a task:

[image from Creating Your Mobile Friendly Site: The Distilled Best-Practice Guide]

This is why analytics products like the new Universal Analytics from Google Analytics are so important for moving forward. We need to be able to track and understand our visitors’ behaviour across devices.

If you are seeing a significant amount of traffic from mobile devices, but proportionally few conversions, you may want to consider implementing Universal Analytics or a similar solution on your site.

For more information about Universal Analytics, check out this article from Econsultancy.


Well there you have it, my top 10 things NOT to do with your mobile visitors.

Now it’s over to you. Have you seen these mistakes in the wild? What would you add to this list?

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