5 Reasons Web Design Starts with Mobile

mobile first design

When I started developing websites professionally 16 years ago, I only had to worry about a couple of screen sizes. Most monitors came in roughly the same size and we didn’t have to even think about phones.

Now, we have so many devices to plan for that when you develop a website you’re managing multiple breakpoints.

But if you haven’t made the switch to mobile-first design yet, you’re at the risk of being behind a pretty big curve.

What Does Mobile First Mean

Mobile-First means you design the mobile interface of a website before you ever think of the tablet, laptop, or desktop screens. Most websites should be developed to be responsive – meaning they respond to the screen size of the device being used – and I know a lot of web designers that struggle to think mobile first.

Designing mobile first isn’t just about following the industry’s trends, either. Let me walk you through five big reasons why you should be designing and developing websites mobile-first.

1. It’s Easier to Scale Up a Design

This reason informs a lot of the ones below, but it’s always easier to scale up than to scale down. The nature of the real estate you have on mobile (or really, the lack thereof) means that you’re a bit more limited in what you can do.

Elements will stack instead of sit in the same row, you have less space for more complex design pieces, and the connectivity speeds of a mobile device means you’ll want to focus on fast page speed.

Making those decisions on mobile up front, of what you will and won’t include in a website design, helps you to get all the pieces that you need in the site without the fluff. It also means that you’re not staring at a beautiful desktop design wondering how you’re going to pare that down to work well on a screen.

2. Users Want to Find the Same Information on Mobile and Desktop

Remember I mentioned that you need to get all the pieces into the mobile design? This is why. Your target audience is likely going to interact with a website in a variety of ways. Maybe the first time they view it, they’re coming from a Facebook ad while they’re second screening (watching TV and scrolling, it’s totally a technical term I swear!). They may have liked what they saw, but want to investigate further the next day or two when they’re on their laptop or desktop computer.

They need to be able to find the exact same information on the mobile version as they do on any other, larger device. The experience should be pretty similar too (minus some flourishes you can add on bigger screens). This way, they can navigate and find what they’re looking for when they come back to research the second, third, tenth time.

Building mobile first will ensure that you get everything in the website you need to. Building responsively means that you only have one version to update, because you aren’t developing a separate mobile and desktop version.

3. Your Website Should be Simple and Easy to Use

I’m not going to lie to you guys. I’ve argued this point with designers many times. But when you start with a desktop or larger screen size, web designers can get a bit carried away. They want to add things that frankly, do nothing to enhance the user experience or the conversions.

Designing mobile first, however, lets you strip out the unnecessary fluff and get to the things the site actually needs. And because you’re dealing with typically slower internet and a lot less real estate, it helps you keep your websites simple and easy to use.

Any website you design and develop has to be built for literally your dumbest user. Yes, that sounds harsh, but bear with me. Even if your client’s target audience only includes millennials, I’ve met plenty of millennials who can barely work a computer. You have to design websites for those people in mind, not the ones who are super tech savvy.

Because mobile is so stripped down, designing mobile first helps you build with those dumbest users in mind. Keeping your websites easy and simple for anyone to use.

4. Mobile Search is 60%+ of Searches

And now we get to the meat of it. Let’s be frank – mobile search is king and has been for years. In fact, mobile accounts for around 60% of global searches currently. Mobile search officially crossed the 50% mark in 2016 and it’s not going anywhere.

That’s 5 years where most of your users are finding your websites via their phones.

5 years of you potentially being behind in providing those users the best possible experience with the websites you build.

Your clients’ analytics may show that they have a majority desktop search on their own website (that’s something you can dig into within Google Analytics), but that doesn’t change the worldwide trend.

Even B2B businesses can see huge traffic margins on mobile. Frankly, in a post-2020 world, we do everything differently now.

5. Google Indexes Your Website on Mobile First (and It Impacts Your SEO)

And the king of all the reasons – Google looks first at the mobile version of your websites and ranks accordingly. I’d say the majority of my clients were switched to mobile-first indexing at the latest a couple years ago.

If you’re not offering the same experience (and content) on your mobile site as you are your desktop site, it’s going to impact your on-page SEO. There used to be a trend of hiding content blocks on mobile, but if you do that now, you can get penalized because frankly, Google doesn’t like that. And why don’t they like that? Because it’s a bad user experience.

And remember how searches are 60% mobile? Google takes that into account. If Google doesn’t detect you offer a good mobile experience with your website, it will affect your rankings and has for awhile. After all, they don’t want to show you on their app and in their mobile website if it’s going to lead to a website with a bad mobile experience. That’s not great customer service on Google’s part.

Designing and developing mobile first helps you to get ahead of that game, ensuring that you’re always providing the best possible experience on mobile, but also any device someone may be viewing your websites on.

Mobile First is Your Best Practice

If you’re still arguing with web designers to give you a mobile design first before they do the desktop, let them read this. If you’re still struggling to start with a mobile design before you think about the desktop, maybe go back and read this again.

Designing mobile first is so imperative to not only provide the best user experience you can, but also to safeguard your client’s SEO and rankings. It’s not really an option anymore. At least as of August 2021, it’s pretty imperative.

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