It can be hard to believe that just 20 years ago, mobile phones were little more than glorified plastic bricks with shoddy cellular service. Over the course of the past decade, they’ve evolved far past simple calling and messaging devices and have become powerhouses for media consumption. Today, we see them acting as essential players in the lives of people worldwide, with over 64 percent of individuals owning a smartphone in the United States alone. Whether in the biggest metropolitan areas or the tiniest rural towns, it’s rare to not find a person nose-deep in their smart device, only occasionally looking up from their latest online purchase or a particularly captivating article.
Last year, 52.7 percent of mobile users accessed the Internet from their phone – a four percent jump from 2014. This number is expected to climb over the next few years, eventually peaking in 2019 with 63.4 percent. Additionally, over half of all Google searches now take place on mobile. However, not all users interact with their phones the same way. While some opt for a more traditional browser-based approach for information, others depend on digital voice assistants to guide them. Mobile is an enormous market – how can you ensure your business is taking advantage of it?
The key is optimizing your content based on the different means by which users arrive at your site, be it Cortana, Safari, or otherwise. Let’s explore a few ways people use their devices and how you can make sure your content accessible regardless of where they’re coming from.
Digital Assistants and Conversational Searches
If you own a smartphone, chances are you have access to a digital assistant – Siri, Google Now, or Cortana, for example. These smart assistants are growing in popularity, with over 55 percent of U.S. teens and 41 percent of U.S. adults using Google voice search more than once a day and voice searches comprising 20 percent of all mobile queries.
Those searching for information through these methods, though, aren’t doing so in the same manner they would with a keyboard and desktop – they’re asking questions as they would to a human. You wouldn’t approach someone and demand “best restaurants in 90025” like you would to Google’s search box – that’s just an uncomfortable situation all around. Instead, you’d ask the more conversational “What’s the best restaurant nearby?”
In 2013, Google introduced the Hummingbird update to its search engine algorithm, allowing it to better understand colloquial queries like those made through voice search. With Hummingbird, Google’s search engine is better equipped to interpret the intent behind searches and deliver the answer it believes best fits a user’s needs.
It makes sense, then, to craft content that appeals to these conversational searches – content that speaks to the casual user who has enlisted the help of Siri to figure out how to change their oil or make an omelet. Focus on what common questions individuals may have about your industry. If your commodity is, say, bedding, you’d want to build a blog article or landing page that provides answers to typical questions those interested in your product would have. For example, “What is thread count?”
This type of content may even be pulled from Google into an instant answers box, which can increase click-through rate and traffic for your website. Take, for instance, a user who searches, “How do I wash a down comforter?” If the content you have created targeting a query like this is served up in an instant answers box, it will appear at the very top of SERPs and provide a good opportunity for curious users to click through to read further.
Figure out what the major whos, whats, whens, where, whys, and hows for your market are: the things users are asking their digital assistants. Consider searches that include superlatives like, “What’s the best bed sheet material?” Not all searches are positive, either, so think about the sort of negative queries your users might be asking – “Why won’t my bed bugs go away?” Your purpose is to solve a problem for your potential customer, so determine their needs, provide them a solution, and place them on that path to conversion.
Think of your content as the response in a conversation your user is having with their phone. In the real world, a person’s age, gender, and other elements of their make-up provide us cues about how to respond in social situations. Over the Internet, however, in many cases, we don’t have this same luxury. People don’t typically speak to 86-year-old women the same way they speak to 16-year-old girls, and the same should apply to your content. While you can’t see exactly who’s behind that screen reading your stuff, you can get a pretty good idea who’s visiting your site by researching personas – archetypes of characteristic visitors to your pages. If you’re selling anti-wrinkle skin care cream, it’s definitely not the best idea to write content in a voice that would appeal to a teenager whose biggest concerns are final exams and acne – not crow’s feet.
Though many searchers are looking for in-depth answers to their questions, others are simply looking for basic information about a business or brand. However, not all voice assistants are built the same. For instance, while Google Now pulls information like phone numbers and business hours from the web, Siri uses Yelp as a resource for some of the info it delivers. Knowing this, it’s important to keep your brand well-optimized across the Internet to ensure digital assistants can actually find answers to the questions your potential customers have. If a restaurant doesn’t have an accurate presence on Yelp (or one at all), Siri users might be sore out of luck when it comes to figuring out when it closes in a timely manner.
Google Now on Tap
When one thinks of the ideal real-life assistant, one might imagine someone who knows and has exactly what you need before you even know you need it. Google Now aims to be the digital version of this ideal assistant, providing users with contextually-relevant information without any required interaction at all. Flight reminders, nearby events, commute times, weather, upcoming bills, and other helpful notices are pulled from users’ e-mail, browser history, location, and behaviors and neatly laid out in convenient card form.
Google Now on Tap, introduced last year in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, takes the model assistant and advances it further, allowing individuals to access information instantly from any screen on their mobile device. A man texting his friend about a movie he wants to see can use Now on Tap to pull up show times and ticket prices with a single long press of a button.
Imagine a person, bed sheets soiled beyond recognition and desperate for a replacement, is e-mailed a referral to your bedding business. By long-pressing the “Home” button on their Android device, this potential customer is given all sorts of information about your brand in an instant: your phone number, website, Facebook profile, Twitter, Instagram account, and much more. Within seconds, they’ve jumped into the Evaluate stage of the Consumer Decision Journey and are well on their way to making a purchase.
This information is gathered through a combination of structured data markup and app indexing – structured data markup for information like phone numbers and app indexing for items like social media profiles. I like to think of the information Google Now on Tap pulls up as miniature Knowledge Graphs, available instantly at the push of a button. Essentially, if your website has a Knowledge Graph already in play, Google Now on Tap will display for users the same information laid out on SERPs.
With Google Now on Tap, users have a treasure trove of information right at their fingertips. However, if your brand isn’t present or improperly represented across the web (for example, having inconsistent social media handles or your phone number missing from your website), it’s very possible that information won’t be there when your users need it the most.
Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook Instant Articles
We’re all familiar with the dreaded loading wheel. It always seems to appear in the most inconvenient moments, which, in a world where high-speed Internet is a thing, is pretty much any time. When it comes to the World Wide Web (and, y’know, basically everything else in life), people are impatient. 47 percent of users expect web pages in load in two seconds or less and, perhaps more frightening, 40 percent of people will abandon a page that takes more than three seconds to load.
Facebook Instant Articles, a similar venture that inspired the AMP Project, runs with the same idea of quick-loading, easily-navigable pages – just in a Facebook-exclusive setting. Open to any and all publishers, Facebook Instant Articles deliver fast and responsive content and boast some pretty impressive stats. According to the project’s website, when compared to standard mobile articles, Instant Articles are 10 times faster, are read 20 percent more on average, are shared 30 percent more often, and are 70 percent less likely to be abandoned.
The project allows publishers to play with a plethora of creative tools to enhance the narrative elements of their content. Analytics and monetization tools are also available, allowing you to serve display advertisements and track where your revenue is coming from.
Mobile User Experience
All too often, I see websites adopting responsive design approaches while seemingly neglecting to test how they actually look and function on a mobile device. While responsive web design is meant to serve the same content to every platform, desktop and mobile inherently have different needs. Often, the needs of the mobile user aren’t taken into consideration and issues involving navigation and formatting arise. While an element might look good and work well on desktop, it might be a UI and UX disaster on mobile that results in users leaving your site. Like I mentioned, people are incredibly impatient, and any misstep you make in your web design can cost you visitors.
This site, The Art of Manliness, features a ton of editorial content that, while appearing and functioning well on desktop, doesn’t work quite as nicely on mobile. The article’s title takes up nearly a third of the page on mobile while the two other thirds are occupied by the header, the site’s banner, an ad, a large amount of empty space, and then a fraction of the piece’s image. The actual meat of the article – the actual content – doesn’t even appear above the fold. Imagine a user attempting to load this site while their phone is behaving slowly or while the site itself is being unresponsive. Are they really going to stick around past a few seconds? Probably not. Nobody cares that much about Teddy Roosevelt’s advice on reading.
Your content needs to be immediately visible once a user enters your page on a mobile device – not accessible only by scrolling down. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll see a fairly high bounce rate coming from mobile users.
Another important thing to consider with mobile is if desktop and mobile users are both given access to the same content. In this example, mobile and desktop navigation vastly differ, with several top-level navigation categories missing from the mobile version of the site. When comparing your desktop and mobile sites, ask yourself: does one experience trump the other? Are users on one device unable to access certain content that’s available on another?
Ultimately, it comes down to one overarching concept: don’t frustrate your users. Otherwise, those walking around cities and towns around the world with their nose pressed against their phone won’t be doing it because your content is oh-so-moving. No, it’ll be because they feel getting that close to their device is the only way their exasperated screams will ever reach you.