The mobile web is unique; users do not exhibit the same behavior on their mobile phone as they do on their desktop computer. This blog series will point out some of the best practices of mobile website usability by looking at various mobile websites.
Why Your Mobile Strategy Should Include a Mobile Website
Fairly recently, Nielson Norman Group’s usability guru, Jakob Nielson, came out with research findings that tout mobile apps as having better usability than mobile websites, urging companies to go the app route. Nielson pads these findings with a prediction that mobile websites are not too far behind, but his closing advice reads, “Today, if you are serious about creating the best possible mobile user experience, my advice is to develop apps.”
I disagree and here’s why (the abbreviated version).
First step in a positive user experience is providing an experience.
Out of 1.2 billion mobile users, there is a 2:1 ratio for feature phones to smart phones. If you are trying to reach a global audience, this means you are leaving out a huge group of prospective customers. In the US, the majority of web traffic is already dominated by smartphones, but 2.4% of non-computer traffic still comes from feature phones. If you can narrow your users down to smartphones then the second issue you have with mobile apps is optimizing for various devices, your app needs to be optimized for Androids (35.6% non-computer traffic), iPhones (23.5% non-computer traffic), and other smartphones (6.7% non-computer traffic) according to comScore.
What if users don’t want to download your app?
I know Nielson tested the usability of the apps, but did they do any open-mobile web research? Meaning, did they research how users arrive to mobile sites and applications and test how users react when they hit a page that prompts them to download an app? No, and the way I see it is that any extra step, click, hop, or jump you make the user go through increases the likelihood for drop-off. From personal experience, I have searched and navigated my way to websites that prompt me to download their mobile app, and what do I do? I pass. If there is no direct link to their website, I will hit the back button on my browser and choose another site from my Google search results or I will just take a look at the site later on my computer…that is if I remember.
While there is no research that delves specifically into site abandonment when prompted with an app download, MobiThinking reported that “In all countries surveyed more consumers used their browser than apps and only a minority will use web or apps exclusively. US consumers prefer mobile browsers for banking, travel, shopping, local info, news, video, sports and blogs and prefer apps for games, social media, maps and music.” I am not surprised by this and by no means would I advise a gaming company to dive straight into a mobile website at this stage, considering HTML5 performance (arguably) still lags behind native apps.
Lastly, who says mobile sites can’t offer a great customer experience?
This blog series is going to showcase mobile sites and point out some of the do’s and don’ts as we see them; however, I’d like to start with three do’s that apply to all mobile sites.
- Recognition - Your site needs to recognize mobile devices
- Speed - Site should load and navigate through pages/searches quickly
- Opt-Out Option - Users should be able to easily find a link to full site
- Limit the Work - Site should be organized and easy to use as to prevent users from having to search, scroll, click or type too much
- Size it Up - Font sizes and buttons should be legible and sized to appropriate tap zones according to type of mobile browser
Now, let’s take a look at our first example of a mobile site and point out the Do’s and Don’ts!
Example 1: AirBnB - Finding a Room Nearby
QUICK COMPARE / CONTRAST
AirBnB’s initial page wastes no time in presenting users with lodging options by showing nearby locations right from the get-go. Whereas Expedia offers users to ‘Search Nearby Tonight’ or geo-locate via compass icon next to the destination field, both of which require the user to tap another button and load a new screen. Not to mention, when I tapped the ‘Search Nearby Tonight’ I got the error message seen in the pic below which was not informative or helpful at all. Don’t waste users’ time with such messages, make the operation work or come up with better error messaging.
Expedia does, however, offer sorting features not available on the AirBnB site which are extremely helpful when searching for a place to stay. Users can search by price, popularity, or neighborhood, among other options.
To sum it up, the site has minor usability flaws, but overall is an easy to use mobile site that allows users to quickly search and find a room. All of the call-to-action buttons are clearly labeled and appear above the fold. During my site experience there were no loading issues or major roadblocks. When I checked out a few competitor sites, I was surprised to see that few had mobile websites (Roomarama, Wimdu) or if they did, the websites had inferior user experience right off the bat (VRBO, Couchsurfing). Ultimately, AirBnB gets 4/5 stars for overall satisfaction and ease of use in my book.
Stay tuned as I review more mobile websites across industries. If you have any suggestions for sites we should look at, catch us on twitter @evocinsights.