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What is a mobile friendly website – and why it’s the new normal


South Africans spend about 3 hours online every day on a mobile device, and 71% of total web pages in the country are viewed on mobile phones.


We don’t need to tell you that, globally, 77% of mobile searches happen at home or work (we’re not sure if that stat includes looking at your phone on the toilet), while three out of every five searches are done on a mobile device.


Marketing guru Neil Patel says that ‘mobile is the new normal’, and we agree 100%.


The world’s biggest search engine, Google, is also pushing hard for mobile – in fact, websites are now ranked based on how mobile-friendly they are.


On 1 July 2019, Google made mobile-first indexing the default for all new website domains. This was because more people were using mobile devices to access the web, so the Google People decreed that the search engine was to change the way it indexed – or ranked – websites.


Prior to July 2019, Google had been indexing websites based on their desktop versions. The change meant that websites wouldn’t need to be optimised for desktop only – instead, they needed to be mobile-friendly, first and foremost, in order to be indexed.


Basically, if your business’s website isn’t mobile friendly, your Google rankings will tank. On the flip-side, if your site works like a bomb on mobile it could get better rankings – even for desktop searches.





Mobile-friendly versus responsive. What’s the diffs?


To quote Neil Patel again: all responsive sites are mobile-friendly, but not all mobile-friendly sites are responsive. To explain further, we present Ian, Firewater’s studio manager.


Ian is tall and gangly and he insists on regularly queuing Slipknot on the studio’s Spotify. He’s the office prankster and we’re dreading the first week of April – aka Prank Week – purely because of him. One of the job requirements at Firewater is ‘must not startle easily’: again, this is because of Ian. Along with pulling pranks, Ian’s area of expertise lies in web development.



“Mobile-friendly means that the website is easy to use on a mobile device – it’s designed with the mobile user in mind,” he explains.



“For example, we often talk about designing for the ‘fat finger’ – so incorporating big buttons, easy-to-see links, and straightforward navigation is all mobile-friendly.”


Ian adds that a mobile-friendly website is fast, there are no counterproductive pop-ups or ads covering content, and content is also optimised for mobile viewing.


“Responsive, on the other hand, looks at snapping points – in other words, depending on what mobile device you’re using, whether it’s an iPhone or a laptop, the screen size will be based on different resolutions,” he says.


“With a responsive design, the screen size is scalable and you can easily zoom in on your mobile device, while mobile-friendly is generally at one set width. A responsive design changes, depending on what screen you’re viewing a website on.”


Mobile-friendly also has SEO elements, like page speed and mobile content optimisation, adds Ian. (Want to know more about SEO, and why it might not be working on your website? Go here).




50 milliseconds – that’s how long it takes for users to form an opinion about your website


“A website has to have a good user experience, that's number one on my list and Google's list. If it's not good for the user, it's not good for Google,” says Ian.


Here’s a sobering stat: it takes 50 milliseconds for users to form an opinion about your website – and this determines whether they’ll stay on your site, or close the tab.


A big part of this comes down to whether your website is mobile-friendly or not (as we’ve already mentioned, most people are browsing the web on mobile devices). Studies show that 57% of users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site, and 42% of customers will leave a website if the images are taking too much time to load.


You need a mobile-first mindset

“Mobile-first means that a website has been designed first for mobile, then the design is translated to desktop,” says Ian. “A lot of people think that a website just needs to be made smaller for it to be a mobile design, but it doesn’t work that way.”


Ian adds that, when designing a mobile-first website, you need to consider things like:


  • Who is going to be using your services?
  • How are they going to be looking at your website?


In other words, what will they be using your website for, and will they be viewing it on a basic feature phone or an iPad? All of this will affect how it’s designed.


Your content also needs to be mobile-first – think smaller ‘chunks’ of information broken up by bullet points and sub-heads, as well as a mix of audio and mobile-optimised video.




Ian’s quick & dirty mobile-friendly website tips 


Having a mobile-friendly website in 2020 is non-negotiable – and a lot of it comes down to how fast a site and its pages are. Here are Ian’s three easy ways to speed things up…


  • Make sure that all page images are optimised (‘crunched’); if you have a Wordpress site the SMUSH plugin does this for you.
  • Try this tool to specifically test your site’s mobile performance.
  • Seen that little lightning bolt when you do a Google news search on mobile? If you’re a publisher, AMP optimisation (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is a must.


If your site’s mobile experience sucks – if it’s not designed with the user in mind, or it takes too long to load – you will lose customers. Fact. You’ll even lose out on Google rankings. Having a mobile-friendly website is no longer a nice to have – it’s business-critical.


Want to make sure your business’s website works like a bomb on mobile? Contact us, we’ll get your website up to speed and in line with the new normal.


Why not drop us a message?