What Mobile Visitors Want from Your Website

How to meet the needs of your site's mobile audience

Man using a smartphone
Mobile visitors to a website have specific needs and expecations.

A comScore report from Morgan Staley Research has shown that, on a global level, visits to websites from mobile devices have now surpassed those from traditional desktop computers. On a more “close to home” level, looking at the few hundred websites that my company hosts and/or manages, we see mobile traffic levels to those sites at an average of about 35% - but there are a number of sites that are indeed above that 50% threshold.

This means that those companies are now seeing the majority of their website traffic coming from mobile devices of one kind or another. That is incredible when you consider that, just a few years ago, mobile website visitors were seen as something an anomaly. 

Regardless of the exact percentages of mobile visitors that your site receives, there is no debate that, on today’s Web, sites must support a multi-device landscape if they hope to succeed. An important part of this support is understanding what mobile visitors want and expect from websites. This “want list” includes the following:

Access to All Content

In the early days of mobile websites, the general thinking was that visitors on mobile devices wanted a shaved down subset of a site’s content and functionality. This is why we saw many “mobile websites” that only presented a select few buttons of content, while the majority of that site’s information was restricted to the “full version.” This was a failed strategy as it soon became apparent that mobile visitors wanted, and needed, access to all the same content that was on the desktop-version of the site.

Today’s websites must accommodate the “multi-device user.” These are people who visit the same site from different devices. For instance, someone looking to purchase a new car may start that research on their home’s desktop computer. Later on, they will continue that search on a mobile phone while they are waiting in line and have a few minutes to kill.

The search continues on their work computer that, while a desktop, may have a different screen size than the one they used at their home. Finally, they turn to a tablet in the evening while they are sitting on the couch with their spouse reviewing which vehicles may be a fit for their family.

In this scenario, one person visited the same site from 4 different devices, 3 of which were distinctly different from each other (desktop, tablet, phone). This visitor would not want a subset of content to be available on the tablet or phone version. They want to be able to conduct their search on those mobile devices and have access to all the same content and functionality that they had when they began the search on their home computer. Doing otherwise will stifle their ability to find the vehicle that they want and it will create a frustrating experience for them as a whole.

When planning the content that will be displayed in the mobile-layout of your responsive website, consider how that content should be presented for different devices and at key breakpoints. Be wary, however, of eliminating content or functionality altogether as this exclusion often alienates and frustrates visitors on the devices which are missing those pieces.

If certain content is relevant for one device size, it is likely relevant for all device sizes and your multi-device visitors will need access to it.

Quick Download Speeds

Mobile visitors expect the websites that they access on their devices to load faster than when they access them from a normal, desktop computer. This is especially challenging since, in truth, mobile sites load about 1.5X slower than when they are accessed from a desktop.

This perfect storm of user expectations being out of line with the reality of website performance means that we have to work extra hard to optimize the websites we build for better download speed. Those sites should be tested regularly to ensure that they load quickly and meet client demands for performance.

No one like a slow-loading website, but this problem becomes even more apparent on mobile devices where expectations are higher and patience levels are even lower.

Ease of Use

A website should be intuitive and user friendly. When a visitor on a mobile device hits your page, they should quickly be able to understand the following in as little as 4-8 seconds:

  1. Who is this site for?
  2. What do they do/what makes them different?
  3. What do I do next?

That final question is especially important. A site must have a navigational structure that is consistent and easy to use. Additionally, any calls-to-action for key content or functionality on the site must be obvious to those visitors so they can quickly find the correct path to help them find what they are looking for on the site or to complete whichever action they are there to accomplish.

An Enjoyable Experience

While usability is absolutely important for mobile-friendly websites, too often we stop at making a site usable and disregard the value of also making that site enjoyable to use.

Creating a site experience that is fun and enjoyable is a wonderful way to delight visitors and help your site and your business stand out in a crowd of other sites that may only be focused on ease of use.

An enjoyable experience is also one that most effectively utilizes the characteristics of a visitor's chosen device. For instance, if they are using a touch-screen, your site should be designed so that links are easy to "tap" on that screen. You can even take this a step further by designing for touch and utilizing gestures when appropriate as part of your site's user experience.

Reality Check

If you’ve reviewed this list of what visitors want from a mobile website experience and thought, “these are all things that any user would want from a website experience”, then you are absolutely correct! Creating a site that downloads quickly, is easy and enjoyable to use, and which makes content and functionality readily available is a boon for all site visitors. By focusing on what mobile visitors need from a site with a Mobile First approach to your thinking, you can absolutely improve the experience for everyone.