As more and more of us take our internet browsing and shopping onto mobile devices, small screens are becoming increasingly big business. According to a report from RKG, more than a quarter of search traffic in 2013 was mobile rather than static. Google’s Matt Cutts suggested that mobile might overtake static search overall by the end of this year. In some territories the tipping point has already been reached. Smartphones have been the most common way for people to connect to the internet in India and China since 2012, making mobile optimization even more important for businesses looking to expand into emerging markets.
It’s not only the increasing volume of mobile traffic that’s important but also the differing usage habits of mobile users. According to a report by Google nine out of ten smartphone users have taken action as a result of a mobile search. For more than two thirds (68%) this involved visiting a business (either online or in person) and for 52% it involved making a direct purchase.
According to a report by Amethon however, only a third of mobile visitors made it past a site’s landing page. It’s crucial that you optimize for mobile visitors, placing important information prominently and helping them to navigate easily.
Use a prominent search box
Perhaps the most important aspect of mobile site search is a search box, which allows visitors to navigate to the relevant part of your site without having to trawl through various navigation bars and menus. Make this search box prominent, placing it towards the top of the page and marking it clearly. It can also be handy to include the search box on subsequent pages, allowing users to navigate further without having to click the ‘Home’ button.
Make things easier with auto-complete
Typing is not always easy on a smartphone or other mobile device and it generally pays to make the task of searching for information as convenient as possible. Auto-complete is a great feature because it suggests terms when visitors start typing the first letters of a keyword, helping your mobile users to find what they want with less effort.
A related option is auto-suggest, which suggests alternatives or related products based on the visitor’s search history. If you’ve ever used Amazon or eBay you’ll be familiar with the concept. The Deb Shops chain reported a 20 per cent increase in purchases for users exploring with a ‘More like this…’ feature.
Use infinite scrolling for search results
Mobile users do not usually want to have to click through lots of different pages to see the complete range of products or other relevant search results, waiting for each one to load and having to click back to see previously viewed items.
Using infinite scrolling can rectify this issue by automatically loading in more results as the user scrolls towards the bottom of the page. This ‘infinite scroll’ allows the user to find what they want with a minimum of actions and to scroll back up to revisit or compare items further up the list. This approach tends to work best with a single column of results sized to match the width of the device’s screen.
Mobile devices are obviously ideally suited to check the ‘net on the go. It’s perhaps not surprising that, according to Google, 95% of smartphone users have used their devices to look for local information, with 88% of those having taken action within a day.
Many are looking for physical locations that they can visit in person. If you are not a purely e-commerce venture, you should make your contact information easy to find. As well as visiting websites, some people still prefer to speak to a human being and you should also make it easy to call. For mobile devices a clickable ‘Call’ button is often preferable to simply providing a number.
You can also use the GPS technology built into smartphones to provide localized information based on the visitor’s current location. The Loews Hotels chain’s mobile site, for example, uses locational technology to highlight and suggest the hotel nearest to the visitor’s current location.
Push your promotions
If you have items on sale or other promotions, it makes sense to emphasize those promotions when your visitor searches for related items. This can be used in conjunction with an auto-suggest feature, but don’t be too pushy or make banners too intrusive. Any displays should also be keyword-driven, meaning they are still relevant to the original search.
Mobile users do browse and surf the web but they will also frequently visit a site with a specific task or purpose in mind. By optimizing your site search, you make it easier for them to complete that task, which is beneficial for you and them alike.