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With all the talk surrounding the need for great mobile experiences today, it’s pretty interesting that the execution of mobile-first practices still isn’t always done well, even by larger brands and organizations. A large part of this may be due to a misperception that responsive websites and mobile-first websites are one and the same. The reality is that being responsive isn’t enough to compete effectively in today’s search landscape. Perhaps more importantly, being responsive doesn’t mean you’re providing the best mobile experience. Why? Because responsive sites are built around a desktop experience first and then made to work on mobile devices. What often results is a website that, while “responsive,” isn’t meeting the needs of mobile visitors which means wasted opportunity, time, and well…money.

A couple of posts ago, we mentioned how Google’s roll-out of the Mobile First Index is (or should be) completely challenging how webmasters, creatives, UX specialists, technologists, and SEOs approach developing mobile experiences. And each one of these roles brings its own set of requirements for a web build. At Destination ENV, our website development process allows for these parties to have an equal voice to discuss the pros and cons of decisions ahead of development to ensure we’re considering multiple points of view, and ultimately, are landing on outcomes that promote the highest degree of mobile usability and adherence to search engine standards.

While a mobile-first approach should be employed for any website, it’s absolutely vital to the success of a DMO’s website as metrics such as visits, time on site, and actions taken are initial indicators of success.

So what exactly makes up a mobile-first approach to website development and how do you know if your destination’s website is truly mobile friendly? Here’s 5 major things to measure your current website against:

1. Do you allow full accessibility across any device?

Have you ever really compared what your website looks like on desktop versus mobile? Even though a site may feel responsive, does the site provide mobile users with the same or comparable experience as the desktop version? Do all of the links actually work? Are large sections of the site missing? Not only can this lead to an incredibly frustrating user experience, Google cares about these discrepancies so much that they’ve essentially said if you’re offering disparate experiences between mobile and desktop, your site will not be considered well optimized for mobile and therefore, will not rank as well within this new index. 

So what do we mean by offering disparate experiences? 

As websites are updated (particularly the homepage) and new content is added, it’s extremely important to not only create an adaptive experience for mobile users, but ensure they’re getting the same types of content and accessibility as desktop. An organization that is operating with a mobile-first mindset will carefully consider this when building out their website and start with the mobile experience. And if they’re not handling the development internally, they should challenge their partners to provide strategic thought leadership and execution to maintain a best-in-class website that delivers for visitors and search engines alike.

2. Do you meet a visitor’s need for speed?

As visitors of websites, we all know why page speed is important to users. Slow sites are not only annoying, but they can also damage a brand’s credibility. Search engines and particularly, Google, go as far as including page speed in their ranking algorithm. While the majority of traffic comes from 4G versus 3G today, Google is telling us that that the average load time for a mobile landing page is still 15 seconds, which means there’s a lot of bloated or sloppy code out there, not to mention bad design decisions.

Beyond table stakes optimization, creating truly mobile-first website experiences means organizations are consistently assessing their page speed performance across all standards.

3. Are you showing the way through consistent CTAs?

While you may want users to take the same action whether they’re on mobile or desktop, the way to get them to that end point is often a different path. Through strategic decisions in architecture and design, you can make decisions that will work for your site visitors, not against them. Through ongoing path analysis, you can determine how folks are using your site across devices and continue to optimize. We like to call it an evolutionary approach to website development that involves hypotheses, testing, and iterating based on what the data is telling you–well after the site is built or redesigned. This will lead to shifts in on-page elements such as the site’s navigation, CTA buttons, forms, font sizes, call outs, and even color schemes.

4. Do you place a heavy emphasis on imagery? 

Historically, if you’ve been offering up quality content, your website could get away without using a ton of imagery or rich media (e.g. video). Those days are effectively gone when it comes to mobile visibility. In our experience, adding imagery and video not only improves your chances of being seen in mobile search results, but it also goes a long way to improve click-thru-rates because these images and videos are shown more readily in search results. Also, by virtue of being in the travel industry, this represents the perfect opportunity for DMOs to showcase what makes their destination unique; carefully considering how the imagery they use across events and attractions, in particular as prospective visitors are actively seeking out information around these activities. Additionally, DMOs can work closely with their local partners, photographers, videographers, and creative agencies to ensure their asset strategy they’re promoting the best their city has to offer in the most visually appealing and engaging way possible.

5. Are you speaking the search engines’ language through structured data

For your site to have maximum visibility in the organic landscape, you need to think about how a search engine would crawl and interpret its content. One of the more straightforward ways to give Google specific information about what a page is about is through the use of structured data. It essentially serves as a translator for the search engine that affects how it is shown in search results. The more relevant Google finds a page to a specific query (among many other factors), the higher the likelihood of it ranking effectively. So with this in mind, wouldn’t you want to mark up everything you can within the guidelines established by Google? Structured data can be used to mark up things like a business’s location, hours, ratings, events, videos, etc.

Perhaps even more important is that structured data ensure your site is enabled for voice search which has very specific implications for mobile.

Make the jump: Make mobile-first a priority

While these considerations certainly don’t encompass a fully mobile-first approach for a website, they’re a great starting point for determining whether your destination’s website will pass the test. And really, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how you approach all of your channels. A “mobile-first mindset” is at the heart of digital marketing in general, and can be applied to how we consider mobile experiences across paid media and owned media. If you’re putting yourself in the shoes of an increasingly mobile audience and adapting how you’re presenting information based on a desired experience, you’ll always stay a step ahead.