The Mobile-First Revolution – Why No One is Waiting for You to Catch Up

Mobile is happening—it’s simply a fact. Whether or not you think this applies to your audience, it probably does and it will become increasingly more important as time passes. It’s the mobile first revolution and it’s slowing down for no one.

Fortunately, most marketers already realize this. The knowledge gap comes around what to actually do about it and what it means to actually be mobile first. If you don’t subscribe to the mobile first philosophy, your marketing efforts could very well become ineffective, or even obsolete, in years to come.

As it turns out, smartphone usage is no longer playing second fiddle to desktop when it comes to daily functions of internet browsing and searching.

The Role of Smartphones in Modern Internet Usage

Demographics are changing and millennials are becoming the largest group of buyers. Unlike their older counterparts such as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, they have been “digitally wired since childhood”, according to Pew Research, and 15% of them rely on smartphones for all online activities. For those of you whose audiences don’t include millennials, you’re not quite off the hook either.

Two-thirds, or 64%, of American adults own a smartphone. This has practically doubled from 2011 when only 35% of American adults owned a smartphone. Additionally, 19% of American adults rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information and for staying connected to the world around them. Considered the “smart-phone” dependent population, 7% of American adults entirely rely on their smartphones for getting online—meaning that they own a smartphone, do not have broadband internet access, and have a limited number of other available option for getting online.

The population of smartphone users (dependent and otherwise) are using their smartphones for more than just Blog 13 - Graphic 1aimless browsing. Functions that smartphones are being increasingly used for aside from calling, texting, and basic browsing include:

  • 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition.
  • 57% have used their phone to do online banking.
  • 44% have used their phone to look up real estate listings or other information about places to live.
  • 43% have used their phone to look up information about a job.

Smartphones are also being used to stay current on events and news in real time:

  • 68% of smartphone owners use their phone at least occasionally to follow along with breaking news events, with 33% saying that they do this “frequently.”
  • 67% use their phone to share pictures, videos, or commentary about events happening in their community, with 35% doing so frequently.
  • 56% use their phone at least occasionally to learn about community events or activities, with 18% doing this “frequently.”

This should, ultimately, be good news to marketers. We now have the ability to directly and personally communicate with our audiences in real time via a tiny computer in their pockets.

Adapting to a Mobile First Mentality

Unfortunately, many marketers believe that making a few tweaks to their website and slapping a label of ‘mobile friendly’ on it is all they need to adjust. Mobile first is more than just design, though, it’s about rethinking your entire digital presence to account for increasing human mobility. Meeting users where they’re at is essential when they are becoming less engaged with marketing materials, avoiding ads, and have an increasing number of options to choose from that are not you. The biggest influencers in marketing are reacting, too.

One of the most significant shifts to the mobile-first mentality comes from Google itself, which is now prioritizing the mobile experience of the paid ads over the laptop or desktop experience. In one of their recent updates, they removed the sidebar ads from the desktop view of their results pages to match their mobile results pages.

What’s significant about this change is not necessarily the decrease in ad space—though this has implications of its own for advertisers. It’s significant because Google has effectively deemed its mobile results pages the standard for user experience. Desktop officially comes second.

What exactly is mobile first?

Well, let me tell you what it’s not.

It’s not exactly about cell phones, first of all. Yes, a lot of people are using their phones and tablets, but laptops and desktops haven’t exactly disappeared. Plus, there are certain tasks that one could argue will basically always require the expanded screen and keyboard abilities that come with a laptop or desktop. For example, I probably won’t be writing a blog like this on my iPhone anytime soon, it’s just not functional.

It’s not exactly about design. Design plays a big role in mobile experience, but it’s not the only factor to consider.

It’s definitely not about moving 100% of your efforts to mobile. Refer back to my point about laptops still maintaining relevance for certain tasks.

It’s definitely not about creating a mobile app. This simply isn’t functional or useful for every brand.

It’s simply what its name sounds like; putting mobile first.

At its core, developing a mobile first digital presence requires taking a critical look at everything you do and how it fits into the mobile lives of your audience. Spoiler alert: it should fit seamlessly.

Incorporating Mobile First into Your Marketing Strategy

Rather than focusing solely on smartphones, think about the mobile first mentality in terms of having the ability to engage and interact with your audience on whatever platform works best for them. The specific tactics you employ to achieve this will obviously depend on your specific audience and your strategic research. Following these three suggestions will ensure that you are headed in the right direction:

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Ensure you have a responsive web design

This is the most obvious, but still worth mentioning. If your site is not mobile-friendly, there is absolutely no way you can embrace mobile-first in the way it requires to be successful. Before taking any of the strategic steps necessary to be mobile-first, make sure that you can cross this foundational step off of your to-do list.

Map out the mobile buyers’ journey

You’ve likely already mapped out your standard buyers’ journey, but do you know how it differs from mobile buying behavior? Consider these specific elements when mapping the mobile buyers’ journey:

  • Searches often begin on mobile, but purchases and other larger decisions may be moved to a laptop or desktop. Ensure that you have top funnel content that is easily accessible via mobile for those who are just starting down the buyers’ funnel.
  • Mobile users are typically on the move, which means they might abruptly abandon their search when they arrive at their destination or become otherwise distracted. In other words, they’re not 100% committed to researching your product, service, or brand–it’s likely a way to kill time or just get the research process started. Make it easy for them to pick up where they left off, even if they exit your page or app.
  • Consider where your buyers are (physically and mentally) as they’re researching your product. If you’re a B2B company, maybe your ideal buyer is more likely to be researching your solution on his or her commute from work, while their business-related need is top of mind. If you’re a B2C company, maybe your ideal buyer is researching your product while they’re at one of your brick and mortar locations to find reviews online. How this factors into your strategy will depend on your buyer, but it’s certainly worth knowing.

Find out how what you’re doing now resonates with mobile users

Examining your current performance will allow you to make useful updates without reinventing the wheel. Is a certain subset of pages doing really well with mobile users? Look at its structure, design, and content. Pull it up on your own smartphone and critically examine the user experience elements and overall functionality. Then, find ways to make the rest of your pages mimic the format. Of course, you can do the opposite with pages that mobile users never visit or frequently drop off of–find out what makes them failures, then eliminate that from your site.

You can get this process started with simple tools such as mobile filters in Google Analytics or with heat mapping tools such as Crazy Egg, which divides your audience along the lines of desktop, mobile, operating systems, browsers, and more, to give a complete picture of where your visitors are spending most of their time on your pages.


If you keep mobility—in the larger sense—in mind at all times, look forward, and brace for more change, you will always be one step ahead of the mobile first revolution.


Did you like this post? Let us know why (or why not) in the comments. In the meantime, check out our blog Who Really Controls Your Marketing? to find out why putting mobile first is just one of the tactics you need to stay ahead of to regain marketing control.

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