# Chapter 3: Progressive Web Apps in the mobile-first world
PWAs seem to be the right choice for companies, especially since being "mobile-friendly" is not just a manifestation of goodwill but a must as it is required by Google. The Mountain View giant made this clear by updating its search algorithm, but even without it, five billion smartphone users can't be ignored by marketers.
Table of content
- What is the mobile-first approach?
- Mobile as a must, as we live in a mobile world
- Social media in the mobile-first world
- What is crucial in the mobile-first world?
- Mobile-First Indexing
# What is the mobile-first approach
Mobile data traffic will grow at a CAGR of 46 percent from 2017 to 2022, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index. Since, this trend didn't start yesterday, the mobile-first approach to design online services should be a no-brainer. And yet, it is not. Even though Eric Schmidt in 2010 put forward that designers should follow the “mobile-first” rule, many web owners still create websites for desktop and then force them to run on the devices we really love to use.
Americans will spend more time on their smartphones (and tablets) than watching traditional TV. The eMarketer's forecast estimates adults will spend an average of 3 hours, 43 minutes daily on mobile devices, not counting calls, and 3 hours, 35 minutes watching TV.
This approach, called Responsive Web Design (RWD) requires a specific CSS technique to adjust the site to every device. "Mobile-first" assumes the opposite. It means the website should be designed with mobile users’ needs first and, after that, it should be adapted to desktops. That makes a lot of sense because of the explosion in mobile use. According to Wolfgang Digital’s KPI Report 2019, 53% of global traffic already comes from mobile devices. However, the gap between time spent and dollars spent on mobile vs. desktop devices is still significant and caused mostly by poor UX.
American users spent nearly two-thirds of their online shopping time on smartphones or tablets in Q4 2017, but more than 75 percent of eCommerce dollars were spent on desktop devices.
The online giants, like Microsoft, Apple, and above all, Google, can't afford to neglect this fact. Their dominant position on the market depends on the ability to win users' attention, and it's no surprise they are trying to do it at all cost. Progressive Web Apps, now supported by all three of them, are growing into one of the most important means to achieve this.
# Mobile as a must, as we live in a mobile world
When about half of all internet traffic happens on mobile devices, Google must address the specific needs of mobile users to prevent them from going elsewhere. While it is true that Google has no real competition in search, mobile search is increasingly vertical, which poses some serious challenges. Bypassing Google and searching for products directly on e.g. Amazon is already typical nowadays. Considering that Amazon is the third force in the digital advertising market, Google's efforts to prevent it by introducing new mobile-friendly standards like PWA (Progressive Web Apps) or AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) are understandable.
The future is mobile. It will be even more visible if we bravely decide to leave our Western-focus bubble and look at what's happening in Asia and Africa. These markets are considered to be a chance to maintain the growth of companies like Google or Facebook since they have already taken pretty much everything they could in the US and Western Europe.
The number of smartphone connections in Africa is forecast to double from 315 million in 2015 to 636 million in 2022, and it is not about the mobile-first world, but a mobile-only one. Africans use smartphones for activities that Europeans typically perform on desktop computers. Mobile technology overcame weak or non-existent landline infrastructure in large parts of the continent. The same tendency can be observed in south-east Asia. There, mobile traffic has grown on average 19% and now accounts for 72% of overall eCommerce web traffic.
Current eCommerce spending in Nigeria is estimated at $12 billion and is projected to reach $75 billion in revenues per annum by 2025.
Source: Export.gov prepared y U.S. Embassies abroad
# Social media in the mobile-first world
Revelations of data misuse have not gone unnoticed, but the social media companies are somehow immune to negative publicity. Cambridge Analytica, the greatest crisis in Facebook's then 14-year history, didn't stop its growth. It came out bruised, but it is still the second most powerful force in the digital media world, after Google. At the end of 2018, it was even able to increase its monthly and daily active users by 9%.
Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 2nd quarter 2019 (in millions). Source
Facebook doesn't report how many of these users connect with the platform via mobile devices; however, the mobile channel generated about 93% of all revenue from advertising in 1Q2019, which is symptomatic but not very surprising.
According to the report "Digital 2019" provided by Hootsuite and We Are Social, the general number of people who use smartphones increased by 100 million in 2018, with the global total reaching more than 5.1 billion users by January 2019. This figure brings worldwide mobile penetration to 67 percent - more than two-thirds of the total global population. Already 3 256 billion of them consume content on social media using mobile devices.
Half of the time spent on mobile globally was in Social and Communication category apps in 2018.
Source: State of Mobile, by App Annie
Social media apps and mobile homepages are 40% more engaging than desktop ones, and users are also 20% more likely to click-through. The problem is that the average number of new apps per day is 2.54. It is difficult to break through this content clutter. PWAs - available directly from Google Search and shareable - can be a way to avoid it.
# What is crucial in the mobile-first world
The mobile channel gives new possibilities for business growth, though it also brings severe challenges. The mobile-first approach demands that we give up our old, desktop habits and focus on the specific needs of mobile users. The good news is, however, they are not surprising for anyone who at some point, struggled with login walls, permission settings, and overloaded interfaces. The only way to succeed in mobile is good UX.
Designing interactions is a specific part of designing a user-experience. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, the goal of interaction design is to create products that enable users to achieve their objective(s) in the best way possible. It means that interaction designers take care of every element that a user might read, click, swipe, tap, drag, or slide. Gestures are a new way to interact with a mobile device.
User engagement is a hot topic, not only in mobile but across all channels. However, in mobile, it is especially challenging to maintain. According to Localytics, app abandonment increased in 2010 and reached the same height as it did in 2015. It means that 25% of users launch an app only once. How to induce them to stay a little longer? It is necessary to show them value just after they open an app through well-designed onboarding, in-app messaging or encouraging but not annoying push notifications.
In other words - keep it simple. Remember that mobile keypads are not as precise as computer mice; that mobile screens can't contain as much content as desktop ones and - above all - that mobile users are impatient. Don't make them overthink how to navigate your app, and reduce the number of actions they need to take to buy an item or download a white paper.
Mobile devices often have access to information like credit card details, passwords, addresses, contacts, messages, photos, etc., which make them especially vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Ensuring an adequate level of security should be your priority.
# Mobile-First Indexing
Google, which knows pretty much everything about our online behavior, in the summer of 2015 noticed that - for the first time - the number of searches made via mobile devices exceeded the number of searches from desktops. It was a breakthrough and the beginning of a more significant trend.
Google was already prepared for this shift, and back in February, announced its plan to release a new update to its search algorithm. The update was about to change how the search engine evaluated and presented mobile-friendly and non-mobile-friendly results. The message was clear: you have to be mobile-friendly, and if you refuse, the visibility of your old-fashioned site will decrease. Progressive web app development companies and eCommerce providers soon observed declines in search results. Mobilegeddon, as the SEO community nicknamed the update, caused a huge media buzz, but its real impact was, however, less overwhelming.
Although it was just the beginning, the "Mobile-First Index" was supposed to be the next Google push to force website owners to treat the mobile channel as seriously as it deserved.
“To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we're going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices. (...) Starting today, we will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed. As a result, we may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search. “ - Google Webmaster Central Blog.
With the mobile-first update, Google announced that it will primarily index mobile content and use it to decide how to rank its results. Any additional content on desktop websites will be given minor importance and will get less traffic compared to a mobile site.
This change - but not only this one, since page speed also became an important ranking factor - was very favorable for Progressive Web Apps. With Google’s mobile-first approach, and the support of Microsoft and Apple, which came right after, these ultra-fast mobile pages can become a standard mobile solution for any OS in the future and the cure for the mobile gap.
# The mobile gap
Mobile usage is growing year by year; likewise, retail eCommerce sales, but these two things don't exactly relate to each other. The amount of time we spend with our smartphones does not match up with the number of transactions finalized on them. According to all the available data, mobile conversion is much lower than desktop conversion, and this discrepancy, called the mobile gap, is a growing challenge for retailers.
US adults will spend an average of 3 hours, 35 minutes per day on mobile devices in 2018, an annual increase of more than 11 minutes. By 2019, mobile will surpass TV as the medium attracting the most minutes in the US.
Website visits by platform
Conversion rates by device
Adding mobile-first solutions is a MUST for any eCommerce company since the mobile channel drives sales and brand loyalty, probably even more than desktop. It allows brands to understand their customers deeply; to get in touch with them by providing more personalized and real-time solutions. And yet, we are still reluctant to buy directly via our smartphones.
Of course, in the omnichannel era, every single touchpoint with a product or service should be treated as an equally important stage of the customer journey. However, every second of delay in purchase decreases the chance of making a transaction.
Progressive Web Apps, ultra-fast, engaging and discoverable via internet browsers on Apple's, Microsoft's and Google's operating systems have a big chance to become a game-changer in that field.
They allow businesses to engage users without worrying about connection quality or breaking through the clutter in app stores.
# Companies that use Progressive Web Apps
Although the major players from all kinds of areas - online marketplaces, media, and social media companies - have already embraced PWAs and proved their advantages in practice, the smaller ones - according to Divante's report on the state of mobile-first commerce - remain skeptical.
Most of them seemed to be in good shape when it comes to SEO and best web development practices (e.g. HTTPS usage, avoiding application cache). However, they are hardly prepared for the mobile-first revolution. Performance and PWA standards are not their strongest suit. But the harbingers of change are already visible in the latest moves of the leaders.
↗️ Tinder cut load times from 11.91 seconds to 4.69 seconds with their new PWA, which is 90% smaller than their native Android app. User engagement is up across the board on the PWA.
↗️ Trivago saw an increase of 150% from people who added its PWA to the home screen. Increased engagement led to a 97% increase in clicks on its offers. Users who go offline while browsing can continue to access the site, and 67% continue to use the website when they come back online.
↗️ Pinterest rebuilt its mobile site as a PWA and core engagements increase by 60%. They also saw a 44% increase in user-generated ad revenue and time spent on the site has increased by 40%.
↗️ Forbes' PWA test saw a 2x increase in average user session length, 6x completion rate, and 2% more impressions. Loads in 0.8s down from between 3 to 12s.
↗️ Google found that PWA installs’ banners convert 5-6x more often than native install banners.
↗️ Alibaba increased conversions on the mobile web by 76%, with 14% more monthly active users on iOS and 30% more on Android.
↗️ AliExpress improved conversion rate for new users by 104% across all browsers, with 2x more pages visited and 74% more time spent per session.
↗️ OLX experiences 250% more re-engagement using push notifications and a 146% higher click-through rate on ads. The PWA takes 23% less time to become interactive, resulting in 80% lower bounce rates.
Progressive Web Apps are gaining popularity, and will definitely be explored throughout the coming years by many more small businesses, also thanks to new open-source initiatives like Magento's PWA Studio or Vue Storefront. These ready-to-use solutions that make PWA implementation more comfortable and accessible, are already available on the market.
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