mobile-only

The mobile revolution has led a growing number of Americans to abandon home broadband entirely. How should businesses react?

Over the past decade, the internet has become steadily more pervasive, and according to the latest statistics, nine out of ten UK homes now have an internet connection. For most of us, that means a broadband connection through our telephone line, through which we can connect our laptops, smartphones, tablets, TV boxes and all the other gadgets that have become a part of everyday 21st century life.

However, reports from across the USA have shown a gradual but discernible shift away from home internet. The mobile revolution is a phenomenon with which we are all familiar, and in 2015, smartphones overtook desktop as being the most popular way of carrying out searches and surfing the net. But now, it seems a growing number of Americans are choosing not to bother with wired internet at all, and “mobile first” is becoming “mobile only.”

Who Is Going Mobile Only?

The report shows a swing from less than nine percent going mobile only in 2011 to some 20 percent in 2015. This is a significant number, but the factor that is of more interest to businesses is the demographic divide.

20% of Internet users in 2015 were mobile-onlyClick To Tweet

A number of patterns emerged, but the biggest single demographic factor was age. Surprisingly, given that there is a general conception that teens and millennials constitute the “smartphone generation,” it was found that older users were actually more comfortable with a mobile-only connection.

Income was also found to be a significant factor – those earning less are more likely to get by on a mobile-only connection instead of spending more on an additional home connection. Most people now have a mobile phone, however, very few people purchase home computers now. Laptops and desktop PCs are largely owned by people who run businesses, and those that do exist are often over five years old – whenever budgets are tight, people choose to upgrade to the latest iPhone rather than change their home computer.

Those living in rural locations are also more likely to be mobile only than those living in cities. This is probably because many rural areas still have very poor Internet connectivity, with limited broadband speeds that are often no better than mobile internet.

Downsides To Mobile Only Internet

Issues relating to screen size and poorly optimised content are well-known, but for those relying on a mobile only connection, there are more basic and pragmatic obstacles, too.

Perhaps the largest is data allowances. We have already mentioned that those on lower incomes are more likely to be among the mobile-only community, but given that some 30 percent find themselves running up against data limits, they might often find themselves with patchy access, and paying close attention to how much data their browsing habits consume.

There are also potential problems with poor signals, particularly given the increased likelihood of those in remote locations going mobile-only.

Implications Of “Mobile Only” For Site Owners

Site owners and businesses are already well aware of the importance of a site that is optimised for mobile devices. But if your target market includes the segments we discussed earlier, this is no longer just advisable, it is essential for survival.

Assume that the vast majority of your visitors will be arriving by smartphone, and optimise accordingly. Ensuring the site renders properly on mobile devices and that buttons and calls to action work properly is important, but catering to the mobile-only market goes further still.

You also need to take into account that visitors will often be arriving via shaky connections, and with a weather eye on the data they are using. That means optimising for low bandwidth, and keeping those images small so that they load quickly and do not scare your customers away.

Main Actions Points

While an all-singing, all-dancing website looks great, it is wise to now build for mobile first, and ensure that pages are optimized for low bandwidth, slow connections. While 3G and 4G is widespread, many people are still using much slower connections, and in high congestion areas and high rise urban areas, 4G can quickly be swamped.

One option is to implement AMP pages to your website, which can help Google provide its users with faster loading websites. However, this will not show when you direct traffic from social, emails and other non-search sources. So, build with the slowest mobile phones in mind, not the fastest.

You can make a few small changes now to get started. Compress and reduce images for faster loading, and strip out all code that is no longer required, such as social media hooks and excessive styles and javascript.

One major bugbear of mobile users is complex and poorly loading web forms. Build contact and order forms for mobile first, as a great website will still fail if users cannot submit and enquiry or order. Google provides some good advice on creating “amazing” forms.

The use of mobile apps, which allow repeat customers to order and reorder without having to visit your full site can also pay dividends. Many apps are designed to update whenever a WiFi connection is present, and then provide a connection to your website even when internet connectivity is very slow. A well designed app will allow customers to place orders offline, that are then sent through when a connection is present.

Each year there are more people relying on mobile phones as their sole access to the Internet, and if you are not providing a simple and fast service, your business will undoubtedly lose out to faster and more streamlined competitors.

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* Adapted lead image: Public Domain Dedication (CC0) Public Domain, pixabay.com via getstencil.com