What Is Mobile-first Website Development


Is your website optimized for mobile platforms?

We live in an ever-changing world, and mobile-first developments are only the beginning. The fact is the majority of people now use their mobile devices for internet browsing. For websites worldwide, utilizing a mobile-first design approach is now critical.

Mobile-first means exactly as the name implies. It involves designing and reformatting websites for mobile users as the default. It’s a stark difference from previous models, but this change is necessary.

Companies that haven’t yet taken a mobile-first approach are doing so as fast as they can. Unfortunately, those that don’t are being left behind. Read on for everything you need to know about the tenets of mobile-first website development and how to design good mobile sites.

Defining Mobile-First Design

Let’s start by defining what mobile-first design is. Is your website going to be a mobile website or a desktop one?

Of course, you should want both, but that is the problem. You have to choose where and how to start. A mobile-first design begins with the smartphone or tablet in mind.

The computer or laptop becomes a secondary consideration. The site has to work on your phone without any compromises or workarounds. In a sense, a mobile-first design involves designing the site for mobile, with the desktop needing adjustments.

A mobile website isn’t a scaled-down version of a desktop site if you adopt a mobile-first design. The mobile site is the default version and should work exactly as intended. With that formality out of the way, we can move on.

What Did Websites Use to Do?

The story of website development is long. The history of web development, in general, is desktop-oriented. Mobile came onto the scene late with the advent of the smartphone.

Before then, websites were always meant to be desktop-first. The UI, layout, and content choices, confirmed this. Smallish buttons and links were the norm, with some sites becoming more user-friendly.

Then came the advent of mobile browsing and, soon after, the smartphone. The early mobile browsing period was reactionary and a wild-west phase. Most sites didn’t bother with a mobile-first or even mobile-friendly approach.

It wasn’t thought to be worth it. Many websites reproduced scaled-down versions of the desktop version for older phones. It was inconvenient, but it worked.

At the very least, it worked well enough when websites were simple, and the needs weren’t too demanding. A massive shift occurred as more users flocked to mobile browsing. Websites realized that squishing a desktop site onto mobile doesn’t work.

The text ends up being small, with links and buttons often misclicked. Pictures, buttons, and even text may not appear as well on mobile platforms as on desktops, breaking the functionality of the UI and menus. Overall no one liked the experience, and something needed to change.

Mobile-first development was what many sites arrived at. Instead of trying to force a desktop site onto mobile, total redesigns become a better option. Making sure a site worked for mobile from the beginning became standard.

You Have to Adapt or Die

The rapid development of mobile technology pushed websites to evolve. The abandonment of a desktop-first approach was a practicality and not a whim. The huge popularity of mobile browsing in recent years has carved out more than a niche.

From September 2021 to August 2022, 55-62% of all internet use was mobile – not desktop. This trend first surpassed 50% in 2016-2017 and hasn’t looked back since. It’s come a long way from around 11% in 2012.

So what does this mean in practical terms? As a website owner, you have to adapt or die. The trend towards mobile browsing is only set to keep increasing.

If you don’t adopt a mobile-first design philosophy, you’ll lose traffic to those who will. You can’t beat the convenience of a browsing experience designed to be native to the device it’s on. A well-designed mobile site doesn’t even need an app, reducing the hassle even more.

Every large website has pursued a mobile-first policy or made serious redesign choices. Following suit would be the smart play. Every extra bit helps boost site traffic.

What Does It Mean to Implement a Mobile-First Approach for Your Website?

So mobile-first means a couple of things. For starters, it means creating a browsing and user experience native to the device. It should feel as easy on a smartphone as on a computer.

The buttons and menus should be easy to press, and the UI a joy to navigate. Nothing should be hard to read or locate, and navigating the site must be intuitive. You can think about it almost like designing an app.

It’s easier to scale things down for a desktop than it is to reformat everything for mobile. If you start from a mobile-first approach, then making a mobile-site desktop-friendly is easier than the other way around. It also becomes much more convenient for everyone using your site.

By the same token, going mobile-first means taking advantage of some unique features. The big one is social media. The site should make it easy to interact and connect with all the big social media apps.

This means Instagram, Facebook, and of course, Twitter support. The ability to post about your site and its content, or share it with others, will be a huge traffic driver. You don’t want people to have to jump through extra hoops.

Rather you want users to press a single button that can take them straight to the app in question. Remember, mobile convenience is king here. This is what it means to implement a mobile-first approach.

How to Create a Mobile-First Approach

When it comes to mobile design, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. The first is what the end user wants. You’ll have to make hard choices about how to design your mobile site and how to orientate the info on your pages.

You also have to weigh the pros and cons of each decision you make. Going over these considerations in more detail will help you understand how to create a mobile-first site.

Knowing Your Users

The first thing you need to figure out is your user base. What kinds of people visit your website, and most importantly, why? Answering this will go a long way towards helping with your mobile website approach.

Let’s pretend you own a cafe or pub. The average user will usually be after two general categories of info. They’ll want to know what you serve and how, when, and where.

The problem is you’ll have limited room on a mobile site. A smartphone is only so large, and people don’t like to squint or scroll too much. So you’d do well to synthesize the first page.

Start with the name of your business at the top, alongside your logo. Under it, include the hours of operation, as well as the address and any relevant contact info. Take advantage of the fact you’re on mobile to put an actual call now button.

This button can be used to dial a number or to make inquiries via social media. It’s also not a bad idea to include an “order online,” and a “see menu” button right under it. If you have some extra space, you could try advertising any specials or best-sellers.

You can design multiple layouts for different devices. The streamlined example above works well for smartphones. For a tablet, you can include pictures of the food and even a little blurb about what makes you so great.

The Keys to Good Design

The key to successful mobile-first design is being sweet and to the point. The less time people have to spend fiddling and trying to find out the info they need, the better. Maximize every square inch of screen space you have.

That said, not every website or business is the same. Or simplified food example above works up to a point, but it isn’t the only way. You have to make design choices that maximize efficiency and convenience.

Page-Content is King

So this should be obvious, but on any website, content is king. The info you want to communicate should be clear, to the point, and easy to find. Don’t hide important stuff behind several buttons or a convoluted menu.

Whatever you do, don’t oversaturate your pages either. Things should be nice and big, with simple to read font. Images should be informative and well-formatted but not overkill.

Any links should also be super easy to see and click. Remember, you don’t have that much space on a smartphone. People can, in theory, zoom in or scroll around, but they shouldn’t have to.

If you’ve done your mobile-first design the right way, it should all work. The transition shouldn’t even be noticeable. All of the info you want to present should be sitting there like ripe fruit.

This only works, however, if you know what info is most important and you cut out everything else.

Your UI/UX Must Be Impeccable

There will be times when users need to go beyond your curated first page. They might need to look at your catalog of products or articles. To use our earlier food example, you could have several different menus organized by type for them to see.

You need a way for your users to navigate, and it has to be unimpeachable. It’s a sad fact, but most desktop-specific menus won’t cut it. This is true even if you shrink and scale things the right way for mobile.

There are several factors at play here. For starters, you don’t want to sacrifice valuable screen space. Making the menu buttons large enough to be convenient would do exactly that, which is a problem.

Leaving them small is worse because now your site is ready for misclicks and frustration. You need a way to make navigating your mobile site as easy as possible. The solution is one we’ve all seen.

The hamburger menu is a tried and true method of navigation. Instead of needing all of the menu options at the top or side of the page, hide them all with a single button. The iconic three lines or three dots symbolize “more” in any desktop or mobile app and site.

The moment a user sees those recognizable symbols, they’ll know what to do. If what they need isn’t on that first page, they’ll hit the button, and the resultant menu will take them where they need to go.

Making Sure Every Page is Set Up

One of the last important and overarching factors is consistency. If each page is as well thought out and economical as the first one, you’ll be in business. If, however, your site behind that first page is a convoluted mess, you’ll suffer.

Users want quick, efficient, and easy experiences. Your site should be so intuitive and easy to use that anyone visiting for the first time can figure it out. The vast majority of users know how a hamburger UI works, for example.

If users can’t figure it out, or your site throws them for a loop, then that’s a problem. Your mobile site should never direct users toward broken or misformatted pages. If parts of your site haven’t been or cannot become updated, then you should avoid them.

Google actually considers how mobile-friendly your site is in its rankings.
Create replacement pages, or make an “under maintenance” page/message for now. Don’t let users see pages that aren’t set up for mobile. Pages that aren’t mobile-friendly are ugly, inefficient, frustrating, and only drive users away.

Make sure everything about your site, from the bottom up, puts the mobile experience first. Optimize space, provide all the info you need, and make sure there are no inconsistencies in quality or experience.

All About Mobile-First Website Development

The most important thing to remember about mobile-first websites is convenience. You aren’t making a site compatible for mobile. You are making a website where mobile is the default and most comfortable experience.

This ensures you can tap into the huge growing market of mobile users. That said, having a marketing partner you can trust can help a ton in growing your traffic. At Latitude Park we have the experience to help push you to the next level, so don’t be afraid to contact us today.

You can never quit. Winners never quit, and quitters never win

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