Covid-19 restrictions increase smartphone use and reinforce importance of responsive website marketing


Richard Calkin is the founder and executive chairman of Web Genius.

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Richard Calkin is the founder and executive chairman of Web Genius.

OPINION: Research emerging out of the US is suggesting that the already strong trajectory towards increased smartphone use has been intensified by Covid-19 restrictions. For example a study by eMarketer.com found that the average American has spent just over three hours a day on their smartphone in 2020, up 23 minutes from 2019.

Closer to home, statistics from the more than 1,000 Kiwi websites hosted on the Web Genius platform show that website traffic from mobile devices has grown from just over one percent in 2010, to around 50 percent in 2018, plateauing at around that level ever since.

These numbers emphasise the importance for a business to have their own website that is equally well optimised for both computers and smartphones. While it is possible to have an internet presence solely via social media profiles like Facebook and Instagram, this approach severely limits a business’s options.

Unlike social media profiles, a website is the part of the internet that a business can own and therefore control. A well-optimised, informative business website containing useful, original and evolving content will be rewarded with prominence on Google, resulting in a steady stream of potential new customers.

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As mobile website traffic has steadily grown over the past 10 years the cry has grown louder and louder that any serious business needs a mobile-optimised version of their website. Research has shown clearly that smartphone users have little patience for a poor mobile website experience and will quickly abandon a website that has been designed for larger screens. Google is also on record as stating that websites that don’t offer a mobile option will be increasingly penalised with lower rankings in the Google search results.

But the pendulum can swing too far and some website design now makes the mistake of catering solely for the mobile experience to the detriment of computers, despite the fact that the latter is still of equal importance.

An example is the use of the ‘hamburger’ menu, a graphical device which uses three short horizontal lines on top of one another and reveals a website’s navigation menu when clicked on. This feature has become an effective standard practice on mobile devices where space is at a premium. However, more and more websites are relying on the hamburger menu for navigation on their desktop version as well, despite that fact that research from Nielsen Norman Group and others has found that this delivers an inferior user experience.

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The answer is for the modern business website to employ what is known as “responsive design”. A responsive website detects what kind of device the visitor is using and then scales images, wraps text and adjusts the layout to best fit that particular device.

The content is designed according to a number of “breakpoints”, which usually correspond to computer, tablet and phone screen widths. In other words the content will be designed to take into account three main screen widths: a computer screen width, a tablet screen width and a smartphone screen width. A fourth breakpoint – for ultra-wide computer screens – is also sometimes included.

So while the picture being created by the pandemic is evolving on a daily basis it seems clear that the long-term trend of more and more consumers connecting with local businesses online has definitely accelerated and that an effective business website, optimised for both computer and mobile experiences, is a crucial weapon in the modern day business marketing arsenal.

Richard Calkin is the founder and executive chairman of Web Genius. He is also the author of The Kiwi Business Hero’s Internet Marketing Handbook, which provides a practical 360° view of digital marketing for New Zealand small and medium business owners.