What is mobile-friendly? A look from the user perspective

What is mobile-friendly? A look from the user perspective

17th March 2016

This is an article based on the presentation I did at SMX Munich 2016.

Our phones are now a big part of our lives. From being a nice to have, the mobile device has become almost a commodity. Some of us can’t go without long. But Marketers aren’t always looking at mobile in the right way. They go device first. But mobile is much more than that.

The mobile phone changed my life

In the late 90s, I was working for an Internet Company. A start-up you could say. The company was building websites and developing e-learning platforms.

Websites were quite simple back then. In the early days, it was not more than translating the corporate flyer to an online flyer. Which we called a website. That evolved in high speed.

At this company, I was working as an account manager / project manager. Trying to understand the needs of my customers. Then translating that into plans the programmers could work with. A great job in exciting new times.

I remember that one day my boss (who wasn’t much older than me) came up to me and said ‘you need a mobile phone’. I was a bit confused, to be honest. I asked him why.

“Because then we can always reach you.” I wasn’t too impressed with that answer. Why after all would I want to be reachable all the time? The idea of having a device though was tempting and I agreed. But only if the company would pay for it.

sonyericssonAnd that’s how I got my first phone. A Nokia phone. I have to admit. In the first few weeks, I didn’t do much else with it than playing the illustrious game of snake. And after that, it became more interesting to text with friends.

There wasn’t much more you could do in those early days. But that was about to change. In the early 2000s, we started building the first mobile websites. Made available for phones that you could go online with. Don’t think too much of those websites, though. They were in essence lists of links and short pages with only text. But the beginning of the mobile web was there.

Fast Forward to 2016

Let’s fast forward to 2016. Boy has life changed. The other day I had dinner with my family and the topic of Google came up. We talked about how you could talk to your phone and Google or Siri would answer back. The kids thought this was normal. This is how it’s supposed to be.

This was best illustrated when later that night I brought my little girl to bed. We read a book and then we turned off the lights and chatted a bit. She, then 6 years old, turned to me and said: “Daddy, can I ask something?” “Of course,” I answered, “what is it?”. Her answer stunned me: “No, not to you, to Google!”

This to me illustrated the change I’ve lived through. Yes, it shows I’m getting old. But it also shows the different way of thinking about mobile and search these days. Instead of the few links with text on our tiny browser screens, we now talk to the phone and expect the answers back.

Mobile is everywhere

The mobile world has increased with the speed of lightning. Now over 70% of use smartphones to find information. But not just that, we use tablets, desktops, and laptops as well. And we use them everywhere. We are mobile on those devices as well.

Mobile devices have become such a big part of our everyday lives that we can’t live without anymore. Especially with the ‘younger’ generations (well, younger than me anyway).

A research performed by Facebook in Germany and France to me shows how big the role of the mobile device is:


[Tweet “Multidevice teens in Germany have a very personal relationship with their smartphones, equating them to their diary, something that knows them well and keeps their secrets”]

We can’t live without mobile anymore.

How do (Search) Marketers respond?

Knowing the world has changed at such a rapid pace. Knowing changes are there all the time. You would expect marketers to respond appropriately right? The question is if they do…

Last year (2015) at SMX West, Google’s Gary Illyes announced ‘something’ was going to happen on April 15th. Something around mobile.

Pretty quick it was clear there was a mobile update coming from Google. ‘Mobilegeddon’ was born.

The search market panicked. “Are you ready?” “Is the UX so that your website can be read on a mobile device?” “Do you have all the technical elements ready?” “Is your site mobile friendly?” The advice was all around the web.


What really is mobile-friendly?

Technically you could (and should) have been ready. But the mistake many marketers made (and still make) is that they end there.

But mobile and mobile-friendly are much more than the technical stuff. Let’s take a look at what mobile-friendly really is.

Mobile-friendly = where is someone?

The first thing mobile-friendly is, is understanding where someone is. People are moving around. Mobile isn’t the device, it’s the people using the device. And as a marketer, you need to understand where they are at that point in time.

Are they in a shop, are they traveling or at home? People will be in a different state of mind in all those situations.

Mobile-friendly = what are they doing?

Mobile-friendly is also understanding what people are doing at that time. They could be at home, but are they watching TV at the same time? Or are they working, entertaining? Understanding the different possible behaviors can help a marketer. Help to create content around those topics and be there when it matters.

Mobile-friendly = how does someone use their device?

The first mobile phones weren’t convenient to search on or even to browse on. On smartphones these days that is a lot simpler. The way we use our phones has changed as well. From keyboard to the touch screen, we are now going to voice search.

According to statistics from Microsoft, 70% of the millennials use voice search. And that has consequences: search queries have become a lot longer.

Mobile-friendly = what are they using their device for?

When I first got my phone, I was text messaging and making calls. These days we still message a lot. But the things we do vary. From listening to music and taking photos to accessing social networks and playing games.

Understanding this will make that you can make use of people’s behavior much better. Trigger to make pictures, and use Instagram and Snapchat for example.

But it’s more than that. The mobile phone is slowly becoming a personal assistant. There are applications like Facebook M and Hound. But Google itself and Microsoft’s Cortana take it even a step further.

They are providing us with information that we didn’t ask for. Something Eric Schmidt already predicted several years ago:


Mobile-friendly = knowing what does someone want right there and then?

Finally, mobile-friendly is also understanding what people are looking for at that point. Statistics show for example that ‘near me’ searches have grown fast and mobile makes up for 88% of those.

Understanding the need of the customer. Understanding where they are, on what device and in what way. That makes that a marketer can create the perfect experience for the customer.

How should a marketer respond?

So how should a marketer respond to the changing mobile world? There are a few things.

1. It starts with thinking about the user: what do they need and use. What works for them. Stop thinking about your own product or service first, think user first.

2. With that comes research. Really making an effort to understand the user. Do keyword research, do behavior research. Really understand your customer.

3. When you understand them you need to become relevant. Making sure you are there for them when they need it and when you can serve them best.

4. Finally, you have to be useful. If you are not useful, your brand will not even be considered by the user. You want to be there, but you need to be useful as well.

The slides from Bas‘ presentation can be seen here:

The slides from Cindy Krum’s presentation (same session) can be seen here:

Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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