Some mobile websites are borderline unusable, forcing you to squint and peck around in hopes of finding whatever piece of information you need. But others seem to fit your phone like a glove. What’s the secret to their success?
Researchers from Google and AnswerLab recently hosted 119 hour-long user testing sessions, in which they observed everyday people using 100 different popular (though unnamed) mobile websites, ranging from retail to insurance to news. Users were encouraged to talk about their frustrations in real time while attempting to make a purchase or get a quote—any number of actionable things the industry at large calls user "conversion."
We’ve shared the 25 points Google learned in its whitepaper on the topic in the gallery above. Below, Jenny Gove, Google's user experience researcher on the project, walk us through her four most important recommendations.
If your mobile site doesn’t have a search bar, you should probably add one. "People [on mobiles] want to find something quickly, with urgency, so we found a strong need to have search visible on the homepage," Gove explains.
It might not seem so surprising that Google of all companies would recommend a prominent search tool, but Gove admits, going into the study, she was curious whether the necessity of typing a search term into a box might put off some users. In reality, Google found that users didn’t mind the task because it streamlined navigation to the specific information they were looking for.
Many sites Google studied required quite a bit information from the user at some point in the process, like addresses and credit card numbers for shipping and billing a purchase. For these cases, long pages with many fields for text should divided into smaller, more approachable chunks—the exact same information can be requested over several pages rather than one big one.
"When people reached a big long form on mobile, it was very discouraging to them. Breaking forms into pieces, being careful you don’t repeat asks for information, those thing really came out as important," Gove explains. "Another thing related to that is, there’s nothing worse than having gone through filling those forms, submitting them, and finding out there were errors."
In turn, Gove recommends that forms check for errors in each step of the process. Check the ZIP code formatting right when a user enters his or her ZIP code, for instance, not five minutes later after the person filled out credit card information, too.
Some sites require you to register or login to make a purchase. Others require you to register or login just to browse the site at all. Both of these approaches are big mistakes on mobile because a responsibility as trivial as deciding on a password really bothered participants in the study.
"If you’re thinking about retail sites or anything like that, providing the opportunity to check out as a guest was very much preferred when people didn’t have an existing account," Gove says. "Stores want you to register of course, but they can do that after the process."
We often use our mobiles on the go, and as a result, we're more likely to be interrupted during the browsing experience than if we're planted at our desks reading a laptop.
"Another thing we saw that was quite painful was, users wanted the opportunity to continue their conversion process, or follow up on research, at a later time or different device," Gove says. "We saw many users painfully copy and pasting URLs to themselves."
The fix can be as simple as a shortcut button for users to email something to themselves to check out later, which is user-centric design of course, but it also pays off for the business to re-engage a user at a later time on another device.
Near the end of our call with Gove, we couldn’t help but ask: Wasn’t some of what she was pointing out, well, ridiculously obvious?
"That’s the interesting thing about user research. It comes across as yes, these things are obvious, but it’s surprising how many [sites are still breaking these rules today]," Gove says. "It’s a good thing that the lessons are so easily recognizable. It means now, when we write them down and publish them, it’s clear what has to be done."