Mobile First = Content First.
I often hear this mantra championed by Synecore's in-resident web design diva, Jacey Gulden. It's one of those profound phrases that instantly resonates with you when you hear it, even if you're not fully sure what it means; a pithy aphorism you wish you had a few months to chew on while trekking across the Himalayas; something vaguely reminiscent of the wise utterances imparted by blind Master Po to a young David Carradine on Kung Fu...you get the picture.
Even though I'm still wrapping my head around all the nuances of "mobile first = content first," I believe the phrase aptly reflects an important new reality for businesses and marketers that can be understood as a two-part equation: the massive consumer adoption of mobile devices requires companies (1) take a mobile-first approach to website design, which in turn implies they (2) take a content-first approach that focuses on content structure, navigation, and user experience.
Here's how the second part of this equation breaks down:
Content Structure - both the type of content (written, video, audio, images) and its objective (i.e. promotional, informational, entertaining; TOFU, MOFU, BOFU)
Content Navigation - refers to the way the content is laid out on the site. This should be approached from the user's perspective.
User Experience - all aspects of user's interaction with the website, including elements of structure and navigation.
Before I say more about the second part of this equation, let me clarify a few things about the first.
The Power of Mobile
Virtually every day new statistics come out the power of mobile. Here are a few stats that reflect the emerging mobile consumer paradigm:
- In 2013, 1.4 billion smartphones were in use globally.
- 1 in 4 online searches are conducted on a mobile device.
- 57% of users won't recommend companies with poor mobile websites.
So the world is going mobile. Responsive web design (RWD) takes a mobile-first approach, designing backwards from the smallest-sized device to the largest to ensure web-based content properly scales on devices of varying sizes. Initially developed for the purpose of creating singular websites that can be accessed by any user on any device, RWD creates a sense of consistency in both content and brand message across multiple platforms. In this way, RWD serves as a design tool for the mobile world if ever there was one.
Before moving on to the second part of our equation, it's important to point out a conceptual aspect of website content that is too often overlooked. In web design parlance, content refers to everything on a website: the worlds, images, and videos, etc. Just like you need matter to fill the universe and a body to fill a suit, you need content to fill a website page. Setting aside for now any debate over the merits of content marketing, in the context of web design content is a thing, not a strategy, tactic, or tool. Moreover, it's an "are," not an "is" - think plural rather than singular. When we refer to web-based content, then, we are referring to all the things that occupy or populate a web page in aggregate.
Mobile First = Content First
Regardless of whether or not they come from a mobile device, your users have decided to come to your website for a reason. They want information, and they want it fast. They're likely not particularly reflective about the fact that they're searching from a mobile device; they're more interested in finding relevant, easily accessible content.
As our own Jacey Gulden notes in her Responsive Web Design ebook, "Too many designers out there are taking content from their desktop sites and whittling it down to the bare bones for someone accessing it on a mobile device. In doing so, they are essentially saying, 'this is all the information a mobile user would need to see.' In the end, people don't care whether or not your website utilizes the latest technologies or follows the most popular design trends. What they do care about, though, is whether or not your website works and brings them to the information they desire."
From the user's perspective, it's all about simplicity and relevance. They prefer websites that are easy to navigate through and contain content worth navigating to. If a user has gone as far as to explore the innards of your website, they're looking for a path of least resistance; they want to connect and convert as efficiently as possible.
The flipside of convenience and relevance is confusion and irrelevance. Overly complex, redundant navigational structures can cause confusion and distract the user away from the simple path to connection and conversion. Unhelpful or irrelevant content can cause user frustration and disaffection, feelings that can quickly lead to more generalized feelings of negativity towards your brand.
On a purely conceptual level, website content is a neutral concept. It just is. The devil lies in how it is structured, navigated, and experienced. Much like any other weapon in your digital marketing arsenal, web-based content can either be a powerful tool for - or impediment to - connection and conversion.
You can take steps to ensure it is the latter by taking a "mobile first = content first" approach, employing responsive web design and making certain the information and navigation of your web-based content provides a convenient and relevant user experience.