One of my personal soapboxes is Adwords being used to promote websites that are not suitable to receive those visitors and to be brutally honest, there are more than enough poor websites out there to keep me ranting forever. However, every now and again I come across a website that doesn't look too bad. It's worrying, unsettling, since it suggests there may come a time when I'll have to get down off the box and find something else to do. Fortuantely, whenever I find one of these rare good-looking sites, I can usually rely upon them to have let themselves down on the mobile side.
Do we need to worry about mobile devices? Aren't they a tiny share of the visitors?
Well, they used to be, but things are changing very rapidly. Here's a graph from one of the sites I monitor:
OK, it's not as impressive as it could be so here's the figures that you can't read. This time (November) last year (2011) of the 762 visits the site had in a week, 85 were mobile devices; that's a tad over 11%. This year (2012), those figures are 182 mobile out of 787 visits, or just over 23% - more than double what it was last year and now close to a quarter of all visitors. I won't throw any more unreadable graphs up but I can tell you that all of the sites I monitor (and there are a fair few) are showing the same trend and most are now reporting roughly one quarter of all visits being mobile devices. Let that sink in for a while... one quarter of all visits.
So what's the worst that can happen? Well, I'll show you... This site has a reasonably good "desktop" website. Here it is:
The odd blobs of white everywhere are not part of the design, they're my attempt to conceal the identity of the site, which is largely pointless since after editing this shot I realised I couldn't edit the others without making them useless so... live with it. Sorry, if this is your site, you've brought it on yourself...
It's OK, isn't it? I'm not going to go into a detailed analysis of it here, it's OK, and that's fine. The company are an audio/theatrical suppliers who specialise in "audio solutions" for theatre, film and events. If you've ever dabbled in film, theatre or TV as I have, you'll know well that equipment only ever fails immediately before the most important scene and, if possible, at 3am, so it's pretty likely this site will be accessed rather desperately via a mobile device.
So what happens then when we have a look with my HTC Desire?
This is what you get when you first click to the site (after a microsecond tantalising glimpse of the desktop site).
Don't struggle trying to read it - here's the highlights. The lovely touch is that the second line says "We suspect you are accessing our site from a mobile device..." as though this was a criminal offence and you're being cautioned.
"Excuse me sir, I suspect you've been using mobile devices to access a website, you'll have to accompany me to the station..."
The next two lines then provide links (in very small writing) to either their mobile site, or their normal desktop site. We, of course, are going to go to their mobile site.
This may seem like an unfair when the Desire will quite happily render their main site but most users are going to think "Yes, I'm on a mobile, I'll go to the mobile site". So let's have a look at that then...
Again, don't struggle to read it. What we're seeing here is a couple of forms asking you either to log in (top bit) or "Create an Account". There's no explanation of why you have to do this. There's no information about the company (other than their telephone number in 0.00000001pt text at the top), no indication of office hours, a helpline, what they do, who they are, etc. etc.
In short, this quite easily wins my coveted "Worst Mobile Site of the Year" award. There is no prize.
There are two elements that make this even more disturbing. Firstly, they've recently (in the last week or so) edited that first page to add on the London/New York choice. If these mobile pages were a hangover from a site build years ago and the developer is no longer around, then there's some very small excuse; but someone has just in the last few days accessed the site and made changes, and presumably thought everything else was OK, including the charges of accessing a website without due care and attention.
The second disturbing thing is that this site was only the second one I looked at when trying to find examples for this article. I'd settled down with a nice hot cup of coffee and fully expected to be browsing all morning looking for an example site that had a pretty good desktop website and an appalling mobile one. This was only the second one I picked out of my first Google search - I hadn't even taken my first sip of coffee. Imagine how common this problem is if I can find a good example of it this quickly.
Why does a good mobile site matter for Adwords?
Firstly, as explained back at the start, more and more people are using mobile devices to access websites - even when that website may not initially seem as one that would attract a lot of mobile traffic. I do it myself, even when sitting at home only a few feet from my main PC, I still use my Nexus to look stuff up. So the percentages are going to continue to rise and you need to be serving these mobile visitors as well as your desktop ones otherwise they'll do what they all do, and walk away. Bear in mind that if these mobile devices are using a full browser (like a tablet will), they'll probably be seeing your Ads. Then they click on them, and your site detects they're mobile and sends them to a terrible mobile site (or the main site that doesn't render properly). Bang! You've just wasted the CPC on that visit.
Secondly, with a good mobile site you can proactively target mobile devices. Most of you will know that Adwords campaigns can be configured to target mobile devices (or not target them, depending on your glass half-full/half-empty attitude). If you split your campaigns to target mobile devices specially you can tailor the keywords you use, the Ad copy, and... ta da!... the landing page.
Some thorough analysis of Analytics data may show you a pattern to your mobile users. For example, it may be that you get as many people put items in their basket as when using a desktop but fewer complete the checkout process. Is this because your checkout process is hard over a mobile, or simply because people prefer to do actual buying from their main desktop machine where they may feel more comfortable getting out their credit cards? Obviously if it's the former, you can work on your mobile site to make the purchase process easier.
But hey, most mobile devices can render the desktop site so why bother?
That's true to an extent but there's a big difference between a mobile device being able to render a site and that site then being comfortably usable from that device. My HTC Desire renders the desktop site of my example beautifully, but it's tiny. Getting the text to anywhere near a readable level requires lots of two finger zooming gestures and then a whole load of scrolling all over the place to try and work out where you are on the page and then you end up clicking something you didn't want to click which starts to download a 4Gb movie and of course the volume is on maximum then you give up and throw the **bleep** thing in your pint. Deep breath.
Having a "desktop" site that renders correctly on mobile devices is good, don't get me wrong, and depending upon the nature of your business and the design of your site you may be able to get away with one that works OK for both. But it's so much nicer for a mobile user to see that you've made the effort to accommodate them properly and, ultimately, it'll lead to more sales.
One final thought... if you're a sound hire company based in London and New York, it's probably worth taking a look at your mobile site... It really isn't very good, sorry.
AdWords Management Consultant, a Google Partner, based in Dorset, UK, but working worldwide... I'm very proud of having been a Top Contributor for AdWords since 2006 and enjoy being able to help others improve and develop their AdWords usage. I now work primarily as an AdWords Manager & Consultant. You can read my eBook "AdWords Preschool", just search on Amazon.
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