What is Mobile-First Design?
Out of the Blue Blog

What is Mobile-First Design?

There are just under 8 billion people roaming the earth, and 6.4 billion of them are smartphone users. In other words, mobile web browsing is used daily by nearly everyone.

chart to illustrate smartphone vs people statistics

Source: Oberlo

Google understands this too, and it’s why they have prioritized mobile-first indexing for every website in search results. Mobile internet usage has far outgrown desktop use, and this gap will continue to widen in the coming years.

So what does this mean for web designers or SEO strategists? It means that a site must perform well regardless of the device’s screen size, and the design must be responsive enough to adjust to different screen sizes.

Mobile-first design has several key principles that need to be followed in order to produce a successful user experience.

Mobile-First Design Principles

Designing a website for smartphones doesn’t come without challenges. There is less real estate to work with, which means that minimization is key. Not only being succinct through content but also through minified design practices and web coding.

A mobile first approach in responsive web design will yield far better results than an antiquated desktop-based design, but optimizing for mobile requires a number of considerations to be made along the way.

Think of the following concepts as critical to a mobile first design philosophy. These are essentially your best practices for mobile web design.

Differences Between Mobile-First Design and Indexing

Mobile-first web design and mobile-first indexing are actually two different things, but they are interconnected.

Mobile-first web design is the practice of designing a website for the smallest screen size and working your way up. Mobile-first indexing is Google’s methodology of indexing websites based on their mobile-friendliness (they provide a free test you can take to see the mobile-friendliness of your site.)

Having a web design that is mobile-friendly does usually equate to a better mobile-first indexing score, but it’s important to understand the difference in concepts.

Mobile First Design vs Responsive

Another definition worth clearing up is that of a mobile-first website vs a responsive site. A lot of people use these terms interchangeably (even some designers), but there is a difference.

A mobile-first site is technically always responsive, but it’s more of a concept that has to do with the mobile experience above all else. Responsiveness is a more technical term. It refers to a web design tactic that makes the site dimensions automatically adjust based on the users’ screen sizes.

Ordering of Content on the Page

Visual hierarchy of content is a critical step towards a better user experience. Correctly coded and organized headers, subheaders, paragraph text, call to action buttons, and sign-up forms will help lead visitors down the page and towards a desired action.

Mobile First Webpage Design

Make sure the content of the page is clear right away. Main titles should appear above the fold (the area of screen a visitor sees before scrolling), as should the featured image (the main image that sums up the content of the page).

Break up long chunks of paragraph text whenever possible. Reading through a wall of text is never enjoyable, especially when you’re on a small device. This is also a great way to improve the quality of content, since you are breaking up the big chunks and removing unnecessary fluff.

Sizing of Typography

Once again, it’s mobile. Your text should be big enough to see but it should also be spread out enough to prevent clutter.

The line-height metric is a designer’s best friend. This allows you to increase the spacing between lines of text while keeping the font size large enough to read.

Obvious CTAs

Call to action buttons are the difference between a prospective customer becoming a paid customer. If these buttons are eye-catching, people will be more likely to click through.

Make your CTAs bright and bold. The best colors for these are red, green, blue, or orange.

Call To Action CTA button

Loading Speed

Speed kills, and a slow website will kill your conversions like no other. Slow load times will lead to a higher bounce rate (more people leaving your site from the first page) and a rankings demotion for bad performance.

It should take less than four seconds from the moment someone enters your domain to the moment the page is fully loaded.

79% of e-commerce shoppers are unlikely to shop from a website that has slow load times. So even if you were planning not to spend money on a mobile redesign, you’re actually leaving money on the table by doing so.

When in Doubt, Simplicity

The key takeaway for mobile-first web design is simplicity. Making sure that pages aren’t cluttered with excess images, text, and other elements that could be distracting on mobile as well as serving as a hindrance to your site speed.

This can also help you from a content standpoint. Maybe you don’t need as many pages on your website in general. Sometimes it’s best to have fewer pages that are hyper targeted rather than a plethora of pages that provide similar info.

Your top navigation menu will thank you for decluttering. Mobile web design works best when you reduce the number of links in your navigation menu, providing only the most relevant pages for users to access.

Approaching Your Mobile Site Like an App

People are constantly in app mode. Even when they use their phone’s internet browser, they still subconsciously want to consume content like it’s on an app.

Give your website an app-like feel by using a similar UI to your favorite apps. You’ll find the same general principles to be true across most apps, especially the following:

  • The Structure Principle: The idea that a user interface should be organized with purpose. Related elements should be grouped together and unrelated items should be separated.
  • The Visibility Principle: All options that are available should be visible to the user with minimal search effort. There shouldn’t be any redundant or superfluous content.
  • The Simplicity Principle: Clear communication, easy to comprehend content, and appropriately placed shortcuts to get to the essence of the conversation in a more timely fashion.

Why Mobile-First Design Matters

Understanding what makes a good mobile-first design also requires an understanding of what can mess up your design. There are certain design pitfalls that should be avoided in order to maintain a positive UX.

Poor typography choices

It’s not just the size of your text that matters, it’s the style of text and the spacing employed. Some typography is just hard to read no matter the font size (we’re looking at you sans serif). While other text is made difficult to read by the lack of line spacing.

Illustrating poor typography choices

Source: Elegant Themes

A good rule of thumb is to run any new page through Google Search Console using the URL inspection tool. This will tell you if there are any mobile-friendliness issues like “text is too small to read” or is “too close together.” You can then jump into your editor and make the necessary font size and line height changes to improve your page’s UX and help get it indexed.

Bad contrast

Elements and text that is difficult to read against the background of the webpage will cause users to distrust your site. People need to be able to read and comprehend your content without difficulty, otherwise they will bounce and find a better source.

Illustrating bad contrast issues

Source: 85 Ideas

Mobile users are notorious for quickly scanning a page in order to unearth a morsel of useful information. If your sales pitches are hard to read or they blend in to their background, you will struggle to convert customers.

Sizing issues with images, text, and buttons

Understanding your sizing parameters starts with understanding your website’s width. Website widths may vary, so it’s important to test your pages firsthand by opening them on your phone.

Avoid placing extra large images at the top of your pages, as they will generally inhibit scrolling. Be sure to reduce the size of your images based on the screen size, but always save an original file version before making any changes. If you shrink an image too much, there’s no going back without it looking grainy.

You can further enhance the value of image files by adding SEO attributes like alternative (alt) text, as well as running the image through Google’s Vision API to see how it’s read by Googlebot.

Headers and paragraph text should be large enough to read on a mobile device while retaining enough line spacing to satisfy Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Buttons are probably the most critical element to get right when it comes to sizing. These are the mechanisms that get potential customers through your site towards making a purchase, so it’s essential that they are properly sized and responsive to any screen size. The color of the button text should also be a stark contrast from the button color.

Links being too difficult/easy to click

Anchor text is the phrase people click on to access a new page. If people can’t see this link, they will not know to click on it.

Make your anchor text stand out by using a color that people know is synonymous with links, usually a blue or brighter color.

When you are faced with the decision between using a button or a text link on mobile, it’s better to opt for the button. This comes down to the predictive model of human movement laid out in Fitts’s Law, that people are more inclined to gravitate towards a larger target area, i.e. a button.

Walls of Text

Avoid huge chunks of text, especially text that is too close together. Even blog posts that are content heavy should be no longer than 4-5 sentences in one chunk. Too much text close together will distract readers and dilute your message.

Benefits of Mobile-First Design

Sometimes we need to alter our approach in order to experience massive gains. Crafting a web design that puts mobile devices first might seem strange at first, but the net benefit will be a higher volume of traffic, better lead generation, and increased conversions.

So, why mobile first web design?

Easy to Navigate

Responsive mobile website design makes it easy for users to navigate, since only a few options are presented in the menu area. This level of minimalism is key to a smooth user experience, and it will help guide people to faster conversions.

Long-Term Revenue Gains

Although there is a little bit of upfront work required, the long-term benefits of mobile friendliness far outweigh potential disadvantages.

Designing for mobile first means more conversions which translates to higher revenue. As long as there is a clear pathway down the sales funnel, users will be much more likely to reach an end goal (usually a conversion).

Most of the Work is Upfront

If you are launching a new site and prioritizing mobile usability from the start, the process is relatively straightforward. Once the site is developed and live, there is little more design work to put forth other than maintenance.

An expertly designed site will automatically conform new blog posts to the specific mobile layout. Your most important job at this point is making sure that new images aren’t too large, which can be done with the help of an image compression tool.

How to Create Engaging Mobile Websites

Are you ready to build a website that looks amazing across mobile devices? Here are a few quick tips when starting your next website redesign.

Prioritize Responsive Design

From the get go, your new website or site redesign should be designed for mobile first. A mobile first design philosophy will ensure that your pages load fast for all users while satisfying the need of Google’s search engine.

Desktop version of Blue Laser Home page

This is the desktop version of our homepage.

Mobile version of Blue Laser Home page

This is the mobile version of our homepage.

Use a Mobile-Optimized Navigation Bar or Menu

Menus should be simplistic by including only the top options you want to present to users. This will prevent clutter as well as keeping users focused on the items that matter most to them.

Use a Clean and Easy to Read Font

Messy fonts can dilute your message, causing would-be customers to bounce. Some of the most reliable fonts you can employ are Arial, Calibri, Open Sans, and Helvetica.

Make Content Simple to Understand

Avoid long, convoluted strings of text. Paragraphs that are too close together will also distract away from your message.

Short, succinct text blocks will make it much easier to articulate each topic. You can also vary your color schemes between text and background to create contrast.

Do Web and Mobile Design Go Together?

In today’s landscape of heavy mobile usage, web and mobile design go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Whether you are planning to build a new website or redesign an existing site, it’s important that you do so with mobile usability in mind.

If you’re doing the design in-house, that’s great! But, if you want to hand off this project to a team of experienced mobile designers, Blue Laser Digital is here to help.

Book a consultation and let’s articulate your vision together.

Contact Us

We’re here for you.
Let’s talk.

Get in touch