Four ways to fix mobile conversion rates

If you run a mobile ecommerce site, then you probably know that mobile conversion rates are shockingly low - typically about half what people see on the desktop web. It's as though we took all the usability gains of the last five years and threw them away.

Here are four ways you can fix your mobile conversion rates.

Stop cutting functionality

People 'simplify' mobile by cutting content and functionality from the main site. Now part of me is in favour of this because most desktop sites are bloated. But cutting features is not the same as cutting complexity.

Josh Clark often asks: have you ever had this happen to you? You're on a mobile site... you're looking for the content / feature that's on the desktop site... you can't find it... so you scroll to the bottom of the page, hit the 'show desktop version' and find yourself swimming around hopelessly on the horrible desktop site to get what you need.

This happens to me all the time. I was trying to manage my LinkedIn inbox yesterday (never an enjoyable task) but they'd cut the 'sent messages' functionality from the mobile site. I can't fathom why they did this. I can see sent emails on my phone, so why not LinkedIn messages?

People don't want broken experiences on their phone; they want simple experiences. Cutting functionality and content isn't always the answer - start by organising and prioritising features to fit users' behaviour.

Learn to love multi-device
If you have a mobile site, you're inherently multi-device. Your users are almost certainly accessing you on desktop and mobile devices. But many sites are unable to recognise returning users if they come from another device. So users have to go back to the beginning; hardly an ideal experience. If someone starts a purchase on their desktop and picks up their mobile, your mobile site should be ready to complete that purchase in a couple of taps.

Equally, look at how many of your mobile site users are in your physical store (and likely go on to buy in-store)? How many mobile users go on to complete their purchase on the desktop site? How does the conversion rate of your mobile site compare to other task completion rates on your site (in other words, is the whole thing unusable)?

There are two answers here. The first is to ensure that the desktop and mobile sites work in concert. The second is to move away from simply comparing conversion rates to using stats that have reflect multi-device behaviour.

Go faster
Few mobile sites are optimised for speed, but we know that download speed affects conversion. I've worked with one company that re-wrote its entire web back-end system to shave half a second off the shopping basket open time. They got a return on investment from the exercise. The same applies to mobile - more so if you believe that mobile users are probably distracted by something nearby (traffic, the telly, the cooking, whatever).

Faster websites, faster networks and optimised websites are the answer here. Look at your HTML, CSS, images, web back-end and see what you can do to increase speed.

Invest in design
Mobile design has a long way to go.

For instance, people assume that mobile users are in a hurry and so they design mobile sites as six big buttons. But most mobile use happens on home WiFi networks. Mobile users are picking up the nearest device. They are not running for the bus. So mobile sites can encourage more thoughtful use (though I would always recommend one big button for the person who is running for the bus).

Innovation often seems risky, so a lot of mobile sites copy what's gone before. Innovation takes time and costs money, so it gets put off. But today there's a lot of room for improvement - so investing in design has a good chance of paying off.

A little of everything
Chances are you need to do all of the above. The order of priority of these items depends on your particular circumstances.

What is undeniable is that customers love mobile. Mobile traffic is rapidly dominating the web. Next year, many of my clients will see more than 50% of their traffic come from mobile devices.

If you have significant mobile traffic, it's time to start investing in the areas above.

Giles founded cxpartners with Richard Caddick in 2004. He's author of 'Simple and usable' and an invited speaker at design conferences around the world.