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The advantages of a mobile-first strategy: Everything you need to know

Before design and marketing strategies are in place, all businesses must decide whether they want to implement a mobile-first approach. This is a critical decision that will affect virtually every step of your company’s overall strategy. Your product’s UI and UX design will depend on your device priority, just as your marketing spend will be shaped by being mobile-centric. With 79% of smartphone users completing a purchase with their mobile device in the last six months, more companies are opting for a mobile-first approach to their digital strategy in order to increase engagement and ROAS. This article shares the benefits of developing a mobile-first strategy and best practices for optimal results.

What is a mobile-first strategy?

Luke Wroblewski popularized the term in his 2009 book, “Mobile First.” Throughout the book, Wrobleski outlines the common issues companies faced when transitioning from desktop to mobile web. Being mobile-first refers to the decision to shape your business with mobile users as the priority. More specifically, a mobile-first strategy can mean prioritizing your businesses’ mobile app and mobile web capabilities over desktop. In an article for Forbes, Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research, Daniel Newman, explains, “To be mobile-first, businesses must begin their digital transformation focused on creating a user experience that is just as effective on mobile devices. The idea is this: if we can create a user experience that converts using a mobile device, the rest of the devices will follow.” He also says, “Mobility can be used to remove other silos within your business, bringing an end to self-limiting technology and behavior that your digital transformation should bring to an end.”

Why are companies choosing a mobile-first approach?

Businesses are increasingly choosing a mobile-first digital strategy due to the increase of mobile users and mobile web usage: 78% of all teenagers use their smartphone instead of a laptop and users access almost 70% of all media via their phones. Mobile apps can also help you build a strong relationship with your customers as a result of personalization. A reported 35% of users want more personalized apps and websites, while 62% of customers say they would like to receive personalized messages based on purchase history.

Responsive web design vs. mobile-first: What’s the difference?

Responsive web design is the process of adapting your desktop websites to work on mobile screens. It requires you and your design team to scale down and simplify your desktop version to work on a significantly smaller screen. Unlike in a mobile-first strategy, this process puts the desktop version first.

What are the primary benefits of a mobile-first strategy?

1. Increase your customer reach

Last year Datareportal recorded 5.15 billion unique mobile users, accounting for 66% of the global population. Choosing a mobile-first approach can help increase customer reach and open doors to new markets.

2. Build strong relationships with your users

You can use social media marketing, chatbots and similar tools to leverage your mobile-first approach and create a positive brand reputation. Moreover, 51% of mobile users will check their apps between 1 and 10 times a day, while 25% of users check them between 11–20 times per day. Having a native app, in comparison to the user simply visiting your website, is another way to build a stronger brand association with your customers.

3. Create new revenue channels for your business

Choosing a mobile-first approach can help you identify new channels that will generate revenue. You also have the possibility of increasing your ROI for existing channels. This is because mobile apps offer several monetization strategies for different app verticals. For example, fitness and health apps can provide workout plans, access to personal trainers, diet plans and performance analytics. Gamification can also help you increase engagement and increase revenue for channels via mobile.

A popular way to monetize your mobile app is to offer a freemium and premium service. This means users can install your app without a fee and have limited access to your app’s features. Once satisfied with your offering, the user can then upgrade to your premium service with a monthly subscription. An essential benefit to this monetization model is that you can monetize both versions of your app: your freemium offering can place ads while your premium service is an ad-free, paid service.

4. Gain critical data insights

Prioritizing your mobile app is a smart way to gain essential insights into user behavior over time. This can lead to data-driven decisions that will help you push toward ambitious targets and scale your business. Data tracking also enables you to personalize your mobile app for each user, which can create a more satisfying experience and increase revenue.

5. Provide a superior customer experience

Mobile apps offer more diverse UX options than what you can achieve with web solutions. This means you can tailor the user experience to customer preferences and make changes to optimize revenue and improve brand reputation.

Developing your mobile-first strategy: 9 best practices

1. Consider the size of touchscreen targets

Compared to a mouse or trackpad, a user has less ability to pinpoint an icon with their finger. This needs to be considered when setting the parameters of your touchscreen targets. These should be 7–10mm on a mobile device for best results.

2. Make it easy for users to submit feedback

To increase your mobile app’s retention rate and ensure customers are satisfied with your app, you should make it as easy as possible to submit feedback. This could be a submission form within your app or a prompt to rate your app in the app store. User feedback can prove to be extremely helpful when optimizing your app’s performance over time. Another smart way to make it easy for users to submit their feedback is by having active social media channels that offer customer support.

3. Optimize your user onboarding

Your mobile app’s onboarding is critical to keeping users engaged and reducing churn. You must design the onboarding experience to guide the user through your app in their first session and provide all the necessary information to get the most out of your offering. This is critical to achieving a high retention rate. There are several things to keep in mind when optimizing your mobile app’s onboarding experience.

  • Don’t overload the user with information: While you should use onboarding to provide critical information, providing too much detail may harm the user experience. Think of your onboarding as a display of essential insights before the user has the freedom to explore your entire app. When additional information may be necessary, you can include a “?” icon that the user can click at any time – opening up a more detailed explanation of your features.
  • Onboarding must be visually engaging: It is preferable to communicate information visually during the onboarding experience, so try to think of how icons and symbols will simplify your design while giving the user everything they need.
  • Learn what your user already knows: Most mobile apps will share some essential features, meaning the user does not need to relearn how to use every aspect of your app. You should identify which features have become second nature and exclude explanations for these in your onboarding.
  • Your onboarding should conclude with a CTA: This is a perfect opportunity to enhance the user experience and increase retention. For example, this could be to begin browsing products, a sign-up form for opting-in for push notifications.

4. Beta test your mobile app

Beta testing your mobile app will help you have a higher retention rate from Day 1. This is a great way to identify your mobile app’s issues before introducing it to a large audience. This also prevents you from paying for users that will immediately uninstall due to a widespread problem.

In addition to identifying problems, beta testing can help you optimize what is working well within your app. Your data analysis can reveal ways to improve the user experience and give your app the best launch possible.

5. App Store Optimization (ASO)

ASO is often compared to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The only major difference is that SEO is performed for search engine rankings such as Google, while ASO boosts rankings for app stores such the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store. ASO is an extremely valuable yet cost-effective way to drive organic traffic, increase retention rates and improve ROI. This is the practice of making changes to your app store entry to enhance visibility with a higher ranking. There are several ways to make changes to your app store entry and gain a higher ranking, such as:

  • Updating your primary and secondary categories
  • Optimize and update your app description
  • Localize your app store entry for different regions
  • Include keywords in your app name
  • Include engaging screenshots and other helpful images

When done right, ASO will put you ahead of your competitors in the app store rankings and positively affect many of your mobile app’s KPIs. You are also driving organic installs, which often prove to be the most valuable users as a result of their organic interest.

6. Implement chatbots

Chatbots can provide users with critical information to fully enjoy your app without requiring manual work from your customer services team. This is a great way to improve customer satisfaction and ensure users can get the answers they need 24/7.

7. Keep your design simple

It is important to keep your mobile app and mobile web design simple but effective with a small screen. Unnecessary design elements can confuse users and make it harder for customers to navigate through your app. This will be detrimental to your end goals. For example, an overly complicated design will increase the time it takes to complete a purchase. The same rule applies to your mobile app and mobile app’s creative.

8. Keep your CTAs consistent and simplistic

Consistent design elements such as color schemes and copy create a cohesive user experience. This will also make it easier for users to familiarize themselves with your mobile app and navigate their desired in-app destination. Keeping your CTAs as bold, short invitations to take action will drive conversions, which can be optimized by A/B testing.

9. Use push notifications and in-app messaging to your advantage

Push notifications are an essential advantage to being a mobile-first company. This type of message can be sent directly to a user's device and will appear on their lock screen. Your mobile users will need to opt-in to receive push notifications, and the number of users who want these alerts will depend on app vertical: 57% of users want to receive push notifications from social media platforms, followed by news apps (45.94%), e-commerce apps (25.29%), mobile games (19.05%), travel apps (10.08%) and blogging apps (9.24%).

In-app messaging is another way to communicate with your customers. This message can be highly engaging: Mobile apps that use in-app messaging to communicate with users see an increase in retention rates of 61%-74% after Day 28.

If you found this guide useful, you may also be interested in “How to increase app retention: 10 strategies”.

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