Why you should consider a mobile-first design for your website

Why you should consider a mobile-first design for your website

Will Morris's Layout avatar

While it’s been five years since Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’ announcement, creating a mobile User Experience (UX) is still a challenge for many designers. In fact, it can be difficult to differentiate between what makes a design truly functional for mobile users, or just visually less cumbersome. 

This is where a “mobile-first” strategy can be of vital importance. Given that mobile internet usage is predicted to increase sevenfold between 2017 and 2022, the need to cater to mobile users is not going to decrease. With this in mind, you might want to consider adding mobile-first WordPress builders to your cache of web design tools.

In this article, I’ll take a close look at the differences between mobile-first and mobile-friendly strategies. I’ll also discuss: 

Let’s get started! 

Why you should design mobile-first (and how it differs from mobile-friendly)

First, it’s important to understand the difference between a “mobile-first” approach and a “mobile-friendly” one. While you might sometimes see these terms used interchangeably, they’re not the same thing. Actually, both the technical specifications and the methods of execution can differ greatly. 

If you want to see a mobile-first approach in action, a few good examples include Apple’s website, YouTube, and Airbnb. A quick test is to pull these sites up on both a desktop computer and your mobile device. If the differences are hard to detect or absent completely, you’re seeing evidence of a mobile-first design.

Let’s look at the YouTube homepage for some examples of strong mobile-first design choices: 

A screenshot of YouTube's colorful homepage. There's a wide hero image/video at the top.

The use of large images, minimal text, and an icon-based menu are all ways YouTube has prioritized mobile users. It has even abandoned more traditional desktop menu structures for the ‘hamburger’ menu that works well on mobile screens. 

Now, I want to switch over to a mobile-friendly approach for a closer look. This can actually be a more complicated path to take. This is because the process relies on coding for larger screens first, then using CSS to achieve a better experience on small screens. For example, if you access a mobile-friendly website on your phone, the code will detect your display and deliver the ‘friendly’ format to your device.

In this situation, the menus will typically change, images will be optimized, and your experience will be a bit better for the screen size you’re using. However, you may also lose some functionality in the reformatting. For example, some elements may become hidden on the smaller screen or the images, and graphics will become stacked to accommodate a mobile layout.

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However, with a mobile-first approach, you’ll be building for mobile displays from the get-go. While a mobile-first design might use some of the same design frameworks as its friendly cousin, it places mobile users as the primary concern. You can also look at mobile-first as a design strategy that delivers exactly what’s needed from the start, while mobile-friendly strategies adapt what you have to smaller screens.

Consequently, it makes more sense to design for the majority of your users. Starting with mobile in mind means you can build one site and deliver content specifically designed for the largest number of site visitors, without losing functionality or diminishing the experience. 

How you can benefit from a mobile-first design

I already mentioned Mobilegeddon, but it’s worth discussing Google’s latest steps to prioritize mobile sites. In July of 2019, the search giant upped the ante and began indexing on a mobile-first basis.

In reality, this actually grandfathered in any sites that were previously indexed, even if they were of the desktop variety. However, there is definitely more to the mobile-first story.

When you design with a mobile-first strategy, you will likely be using some tried and true UX design best practices. These keep your users in mind, and are geared toward improving the user experience. All of this is proven to benefit your bottom line by keeping visitors on site longer and more engaged in your content.

Additionally, a mobile mindset brings with it a whole host of other options. This might include using real-time interaction, location-based strategies, and more. 

How to build with a mobile-first strategy

Next, I want to take a look at a couple of key tips that can help you get started on a mobile-first strategy. While these can be considered recommended practices for any site design, there are a few things you wouldn’t be able to implement with just mobile-friendly CSS. 

Here are three key tips for building with a mobile-first strategy

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Revamp your site design
  3. Harness the potential of mobile technology

Keep it simple by consolidating your content

This is a pretty widely used approach that can systematically help you declutter your content before switching over to a mobile-first site. It’s inefficient to try and work with content you may just delete later. 

Content consolidation has a pretty flexible but prescriptive process that starts with cataloging your existing content. Readily available tools such as Google Analytics can be used to help with this process, and can pinpoint how certain content areas are performing:

A screenshot of the Google Analytics homepage.

Once you’ve taken stock of your content and analyzed its performance, you can begin making decisions about your future style and content strategies. 

Revamp your site design by using a mobile-first theme

If you’re revamping a desktop-focused website with a mobile-first design, you’ll likely need to choose a new theme. This is because the mobile-first approach is not tacked onto an existing design – it’s a transformation with a different strategy altogether. 

If you’re not already using mobile-first WordPress builders, I highly recommend considering it. Not only is WordPress the most popular Content Management System (CMS) available, it also offers the most versatile themes. This includes many mobile-first themes all packed with features that can help keep your new design on track. 

Harness the potential of mobile technology with innovative design

One of the big upsides to designing for mobile, as we mentioned earlier, is that you are no longer locked into the time and space a desktop user would be in. For example, you can design with the assumption that your customer could literally be anywhere when they interact with your website.

This opens up the door to prioritizing development that incorporates elements such as Augmented Reality (AR), voice activation, touchscreen features, and more. For example, one popular and engaging touch-enabled option is to gamify your website with a ‘spin wheel’

An example of a "spin the wheel" offer on a website, showing augmented reality.

This is a fun option that gives you a way to collect lead information while offering a coupon or discount. Mobile versions of this often give the user the option to literally ‘spin’ the wheel by swiping their finger across it.  

Just a couple of other possibilities you can consider with mobile-first design include: 

  • Using touch-enabled signature options for things like contract signing and product customization.
  • Utilizing AR to provide engaging experiences where users can see what virtual products would look like in their house.
  • Creating location-based sales options or discounts with push notifications and GPS technology. 

There are many other ways to maximize the opportunities a mobile-first design approach can introduce. The key is to balance form and function, as you’ll want to make sure you’re still delivering a user-friendly experience.


Once you understand the basic differences between mobile-friendly and mobile-first strategies, you can begin your own mobile-first website makeover. Since the adoption of mobile internet usage doesn’t look like it will be declining anytime soon, I definitely recommend evaluating your current website for areas where you can implement mobile-first practices. 

As you begin your mobile-first design plans, you can keep these three simple tips in mind: 

  1. Keep your content simple and straightforward.
  2. Revamp your site design with a mobile-first theme. 
  3. Leverage the unique technical features of mobile devices. 

Are you working on a mobile-first makeover, and if so, how’s it going? Let us know in the comments section below!

Want more tips for designing sites?

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Comments ( 1 )

  1. DemiA

    January 21, 2020

    Any suggestions on woocommerce mobile- first designed themes?

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