A year and a half ago, I worked with Bridget Randolph to put together a guide to building a mobile site. It takes you through the process of creating a mobile-friendly site, from design to development to analytics. Needless to say, we did a lot of research into mobile site creation. We spent so much time on it, it's stayed fresh in my mind through, well, a year and a half.
As 2015 is kicking off, I thought it’d be good to go through our trusty guide and see what needed updating. I was comforted to see that the core is really still the same: webmasters still choose between responsive, dynamic, and separate mobile sites; the code is still the same, and devices are approximately the same size.
The changes were more nuances. Mobile web development was an industry in its childhood in 2013, and now we’ve solidly passed puberty. We’ve got some standards figured out, and there’s a lot more accessible support than there used to be. Google has been a big part of this, of course, but designers have learned a lot from each other as well.
How many of you built your mobile site in 2013 or 2014? Check the updates below to see if your site is up to date.
Google's mobile-friendly label
By now, I think we’ve all seen evidence that Google promotes or demotes results based on how mobile friendly they are. Google recently started to label results it sees as mobile friendly to help searchers select pages that will give them a more pleasant browsing experience. To make sure that your site is displaying the label, you can take Google’s Mobile Friendly Test. (Of course, you can always just search for your site on your phone, but then you don’t get Google’s feedback.)
Trends in web design
I haven’t found anything happening in mobile web design that was unheard of 1.5 years ago, but there are a lot more standards now.
Most companies prefer responsive or dynamically served sites
In 2013, most companies used separate mobile sites, with a few adventurous companies dipping into responsive or dynamically served sites. Now, most companies that have a lot of money to put into online content either choose responsive or dynamically served design, not separate mobile sites.
It makes sense: the primary benefit of a separate mobile site is that you can build out content into different pages, but if you want to take advantage of the inbound links to your desktop site, it's better to directly match each mobile page to the desktop page with the same content. And if you're going to have the exact same pages on mobile, why mess with two URLs?
Most mobile sites use the same navigation symbols
Our original guide had an entire section on navigation options. You could have a drop down. You could list links at the bottom of the page. You could selectively list links at the top of the page. We did credit Bridgestone for using a clever method of minimizing navigation into three lines at the top of each mobile page, which could be expanded into a full navigational menu.
Now, that's pretty much the standard across the web. Most mobile sites have a top bar that links back to their homepage, has a magnifying glass for search, and three lines to indicate a menu drop down. That's a relief - a big part of our original guide was how to pare down your navigational offerings. This way, no need to limit visitors' options!
(You may note that Distilled doesn't do this: rather than three lines and a magnifying glass, we use a downward arrow and a search bar within the navigation box. We're mavericks.)
Google’s also makings its resources more user friendly
I don’t think this was meant for mobile specifically, but Google’s been putting a lot more effort into its design, notably fixing up a couple of mini sites that are important for mobile:
(Thanks to the Wayback Machine for this screenshot.)
Whew, is that a nice design change! What was once a boring, developer-focused few pages is now a robust portal that pretty much anyone can understand. Hopefully this helps those of you looking to convince your bosses that a certain type of mobile site is doable.
Google’s really invested in its Think with Google platform, putting out some of the best research in the business on users’ interactions with search on different platforms. This was around a year and a half ago, but it was in beta; now it’s been up and running for a while, and it’s got some great information available.
In short: things have changed
I would argue that it's easier for new webmasters now, but the constantly changing environment can be tough to keep up with once you've got a mobile site live. Double check that you've optimized your site for mobile visitors by (re-)reading through our Mobile Guide.
What else have you noticed changing in mobile online marketing and SEO? Let me know in the comments below!