A friend of mine recently asked me to review and explain a series of site recommendations sent over by a well-known digital marketing agency with roots in SEO. We talked through the (generally good) recommendations for content and search optimization, and then we got to this:
Mobile accounts for 53% of your traffic. We recommend building a mobile-friendly responsive website. Google recommends using responsive design so that your site looks good on all devices, and it may help increase mobile rankings.
And that was it. A bullet point that says “build a responsive site” is like getting a home inspection back with a bunch of minor repairs and a bullet point that says, “Also, build a new house with modern specs.”
We, as professional marketers, need to realize that this advice is not good enough. We’re not helping anyone with broad statements that give no guidance on where to start or what to think about. Google might recommend responsive, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option or that it’s always the right option. Even if it is the right option, we need to have some idea on how to do responsive right.
If we’re going to tell people to redesign their websites, we’d better have something more profound than a single bullet point on a 20-page document. Implying that “Google will reward you for responsive” and leaving it at that could do more harm than good. It also misses a tremendous opportunity to help clients build a great website with an awesome user experience.
It’s fine if you’re not well-versed in site architecture, design, user experience, and/or user intent. Just don’t mention a gargantuan project like a site redesign if all you have to say is “build a responsive site, because Google.”
This post is a look at how companies are handling the future of the web, for better or worse. My goal is to help SEOs, content marketers, and all other digital marketers to speak more intelligently about responsive, mobile, and other design and development trends.
Don’t follow the crowd: you risk going full Windows 8.
We learned some important lessons about cross-platform design from the disaster that was Windows 8. It was a mess for lots of reasons – and yet I see the same people who mocked Windows 8 beginning to make some of the same mistakes on their websites. For those who never used Windows 8 in its early days, let me explain why it was so bad.
- “Metro” (or “Modern” or whatever) shunned navigation for modern simplicity. It featured big icons – and no clear way to do more than click icons. Desktop users hated it.
- There were a bunch of useful features and options most people never knew about hidden in sub-navigation. Windows 8 could actually do some cool new stuff – but few people knew it could, because it wasn’t visible.
- Users didn’t know how to do what they wanted. Menus and buttons were shunned in favor of bloated pictures of app icons. Common features like the start menu, control panel, and file search were suddenly moved to non-standard places. Thousands of people turned to Google every month to figure out how to do simple things like turn their computer off and run a search. That’s RIDICULOUS.
A small sample of people asking Google to help them navigate a Microsoft product. Also interesting: Windows 7 has always had lower searches for these terms despite 4-5x the number of active users.
Now here we are, three years later, watching the web go full Windows 8 on their users. Menus are scaled down into little hamburgers on desktop. Don’t do that! You’re alienating your desktop users just like Windows 8 did. Users have to click two or three times instead of just once to find what they need in your menu. And don’t kid yourself: You’re not Windows. No one’s going to ask Google how to use your site’s nav. They’re just going to look at result number two.
Let’s look at an example of making the Windows 8 mistake on the web. Let’s go big. Let’s go Honda.
This is what happens when you take a design trend and try to force it on your corporate site without thinking about users or why they’re coming to your site. What does this site sell? Dreams? Clouds? Stock images? The text on the page could be placed on almost any corporate site in the world. Honda has gone full Windows 8 on their corporate site.
Aside: I’m picking on Honda because I know they can take a beating here and keep running – just like my CR-V (which I love).
I’m obviously not a fan of the expanding mobile-style navigational menu on desktop, but Honda blew me away with an overly-complicated mess of a menu.
I understand the company makes major engines, boats, and aircraft parts. Having lots of parts to your business doesn’t mean that each part deserves equal emphasis. Honda needs to step back and ask what users want when they get to the site, and realize that it’s unfeasible to serve every intent – especially if it wants to maintain its simplistic design.
What about the competition?
Toyota and other competitors know most users visiting the site want to look at automobile options or find a dealer. Both Honda and Toyota have sites for racing, and both companies sell industrial engines. But Toyota understands that most users landing on Toyota.com want the consumer brand, and that racing enthusiasts will Google “Toyota racing” instead.
A site might look awesome when you shrink and expand the window while presenting the design to the c-suite, but if the real decision makers, the users, don’t know what a cheeseburger menu is, you’re not going to sell very many stock photos of earth. Responsive design is a great option – often the right option – but it isn’t the only option. Hopefully this post can help get some thoughts started how to do responsive right.
I’m absolutely not saying that responsive is dead. My point is that if our advice drifts into design and development we should be able to give more concrete advice. Don’t just build websites that respond to screen size. Build websites that respond immediately to your customer’s needs.
Published by Carson Ward on moz.com, October 12th, 2015