Mobile web makes strides – is your site optimised?


Mobile web makes strides – is your site optimised?

It’s now been almost a full year since Google announced that more of its searches are made on mobile devices than desktop computers, and this move towards internet on-the-go rather than at the desk shows no signs of slowing down.

By the end of this year, smartphones and tablets are expected to account for 90% of the “device shipment” market, with the traditional PC that once dominated households, workplaces and schools likely to make up just one in ten shipments.

So it’s of little surprise that Google, ever tuned-in to the changing shape of the internet and how we use it, is set for an algorithm tweak this May that will place even greater importance on having a mobile-friendly, fully-responsive website.

Making mobile matter

It isn’t news that Google is prioritising mobile-friendly sites in its rankings. April 21st 2015 was dubbed ‘Mobilegeddon’ after the search engine giant announced it was going to make sure that mobile compatibility was having a “significant impact” on the results it returns.

Google’s algorithms are not arbitrary – they’re designed to give the searcher exactly what they want. In many ways, the main reason to optimise your site for mobile devices shouldn’t be to improve your Google ranking, but to offer your site’s visitors the best possible experience regardless of the device they’re using. If you don’t, a poor Google ranking is merely a symptom of a site that is languishing in the past.

How do I know whether my site is mobile optimised?

The easiest way to check is simply to view your site on a mobile device. If you’re in any doubt, or if you don’t think your site is mobile-friendly but can’t put your finger on why, Google has a tool you can use to that will give you a quick yes or no. If not, it will give you a few pointers, with small text being a common problem. Little, fiddly links are another – remember that links designed to be clicked by a mouse are often more difficult to tap with human fingers, especially if they’re close together.

The death of the left-hand navigation?

Perhaps the main bugbear of the mobile-using web surfer is the left-hand side navigation column. When we first started getting used to the internet in the 1990s and even early 2000s, this was a staple of many websites, and it made perfect sense. After all, we read from left to right, and our computer screens are ‘landscape’ (wider than they are tall), so there was plenty of horizontal space to play with. Why not put all the tabs in one neat column on the left, clearly set aside from the main body of the site?

It worked in the ‘desktop only’ days, but on a mobile the left-hand column is a nuisance. That’s because our screens are the wrong shape, or more accurately our hands are the wrong shape. We can tilt the screen so that it displays in landscape format rather than portrait, but it’s not a natural way to grip the phone.

Mobile ergonomics

Try holding your phone in a normal way and observing the position of your hand. You’ll probably find that four of your fingers are touching the back of the phone, with your index finger near the top and the other three nearer the bottom, leaving your thumb free for scrolling. You might find that the bottom right corner (or bottom left if you’re left handed) is resting against the ball of your thumb. All in all, you have a comfortable and secure grip on the phone.

Now try to hold your phone in landscape format, and you’ll likely find that things become much more cumbersome. Your fingers might barely be long enough to grip the phone at its top and base. Another option is to grip the phone by its sides by forming a back-to-front ‘C’ shape with your thumb and middle finger, but this also feels like a flimsy hold on the device. With either grip, scrolling with your thumb becomes much more difficult, and your wrists will probably become strained after a while as well.

The mechanics of mobile web simply reflect the ergonomics of our hands, and this is why left-to-right scrolling should be a no-no on mobile devices and, consequentially, why a navigation bar across the top of the site or dropping top-to-bottom is infinitely preferable to a left-hand column.

In many ways, the human body has not evolved to be optimised for the technology we use today, with our ‘portrait’ hands and eyes that start to ache if we look at screens for too long. It might take thousands of years of evolution to sort that out, but for now, there’s no time to waste in making sure your site works as well on a mobile device as it does on a desktop. For some companies, that may mean the opportunity to create and update their website to an entirely new design, but for many a few simple tweaks will allow their existing website to tick the mobile-friendly box for its users.

Talk to us at Engage Web and see how our web team can help your business move forward on mobile.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray

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