Speed is key for retaining mobile site users, says Google

Mobile sites that fail to load quickly are a no-no for travel companies hoping to retain impatient and preoccupied smartphone users, speakers from Google and Travelzoo said this week.

At a webinar on optimising sites for mobile users, the two companies urged travel firms to make sure they prioritise creating a fast user experience over featuring high resolution images.

“You are now competing with all the other tabs, games and other apps,” explained Shane Cassells, online conversion specialist at Google, adding that customers now have a greater expectation that sites will load fast, and have less patience with those that don’t.

“If you are keeping a person waiting just to have a supreme quality picture, you risk that they will never see that picture because they have found something else to do.”

On the question of whether companies should invest in building mobile sites, apps or both, Cassells recommended opting for both if possible, but added that firms should concentrate on sites rather than apps if they had to choose one.

Cassells advocated looking at site analytics so companies are aware of how people are using their site, and provided a list of nine top tips to help retain and convert a growing mobile audience.

These included creating a really simple navigation on the mobile site, making sure a search facility is prominent, and incorporating buttons that are large enough to be pressed using thumbs so that the site is ‘thumb-friendly’.

Other tips included making conversions easier by turning a phone number into a button so users can call the number with a single tap, and avoiding using flash, instead opting for HTML5 for interactive elements and animation.

For Dave Ambrose, senior director of mobile and social at Travelzoo, mobile sites should make any call to action “extremely clear”.

Ambrose said that Travelzoo, which has achieved more than one million app downloads and has 28% of its web traffic coming via mobile, is adapting to think ‘mobile first’ across all aspects of its business.

When it comes to how much users were buying on their mobile phones, and which travel sectors were harnessing the power of mobile successfully, Cassells said: “The big aggregator companies are ahead of the curve because they have got huge economies of scale.

“Also, hotel sites are seeing a lot of conversions on mobile, particularly last-minute bookings.”

He added that low-cost purchases were much more likely to happen on mobiles rather than high-value expenditure.

However, Cassells said he was aware of examples of expensive purchases being made, such as someone who bought an entire kitchen on their mobile.

Ambrose said the travel industry still has a way to go to maximise the potential of mobile.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity for travel companies and providers to focus on mobile sites,” said Ambrose. “We are getting there. 2013 is the year I think everyone will be focusing on it.”

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