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Why mobile-first design is absolutely essential

Desktop-only design just won’t cut it anymore, so here’s what you need to know.

While mobile compatibility was once a ‘nice-to-have,’ that all changed in 2015 when it essentially become a necessity for a number of specific reasons.

For one thing, that was the year that Google decided to start giving search engine ranking priority to websites that were optimized for mobile use. More importantly, Google's change was in response to an important benchmark, as that year mobile searches surpassed those conducted on a desktop. While the statistics used by Google are international, eMarketer confirms that the findings are consistent with Canadian search habits as well. 

Mobile surpasses desktop

Beyond just searches, mobile Internet browsing actually surpassed Internet usage on desktop devices in 2016, as reported by the Guardian.

That year, mobile searches comprised nearly 60 per cent of all search queries — though the numbers range between industries, with some industries being significantly affected by mobile searches more than others. For example, according to a 2016 report by Hitwise, percentages of online searches that are initiated on a mobile device by industry were determined as follows:

  • Food and beverage industry (72 per cent)
  • Health and sports (68 per cent)
  • News and media (64 per cent)
  • Lifestyle and automotive (62 per cent)
  • Retail (56 per cent)
  • Travel (52 per cent)
  • Real estate (48 per cent)
  • Entertainment (42 per cent)
  • Banking (39 per cent)

Having a mobile-friendly website has also become a competitive necessity for small businesses in particular, as research has found that 79 per cent of SMB websites are optimized for mobile platforms. That means that the remaining 21 per cent are losing an increasing amount of traffic to competitors, especially as the proportion of mobile searches continues to skyrocket.

Location, location

One of the greatest benefits of a mobile device, from a marketing perspective, is that it can provide location-based search results, a feature that users are increasingly taking advantage of. For example, while a desktop search might inquire about a “plumber in downtown Winnipeg,” a mobile search is more likely to ask for a “plumber near me.” In fact, 30 per cent of mobile searches in 2016 were related to a specific location, according to Google.

That is in part what makes smartphones such great tools for discovery — they can provide information based on location, rather than brand names or specific destinations. In fact, 51 per cent of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product while conducting searches on their smartphone, according to a 2015 Google study. As a result, those businesses that are most visible on mobile platforms are most likely to be discovered by prospective customers.

A business imperative

All of this research points to the fact that having a mobile-optimized website is no longer a nice ‘extra feature,’ but a business imperative. With a majority of searches conducted on mobile platforms, not being visible in mobile search or delivering a poor mobile experience can mean the difference between a customer walking through your door or moving along to your competitor’s. 

Not sure if your website is optimized for mobile platforms? Try Google’s free mobile-friendly web page tool that can test how mobile-friendly your website really is.

Up Next: Mobile devices are continuing to transform the way we do business.

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Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, covering a variety of topics, including technology, careers, entrepreneurship, politics and music. His work regularly appears in major publications in Canada, the United States and around the world, including the Globe and Mail, Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, Rolling Stone, Politico, the Guardian and more.

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