Jeremy Smith Feb 19, 2019 11:31:35 AM 43 min read

The Common Usability Mistakes of Mobile CRO

Any conversation about CRO has to start with some foundational stuff – facts, things we can agree on, basic tenets, common ground.

But you’d be surprised at how little common ground exists.

Just like politics, religion and shopping at Target, the conversion optimization community is assaulted with fear, ignorance, paranoia and misinformation. And we can’t even blame Fox News.

One of my overarching professional goals is to abolish as much of the conversion optimization ignorance as I can through my teaching, consulting and content writing.

Nowhere is such ignorance more obvious than in the wild world of mobile conversion optimization.

Just when some thought we had conversion optimization figured out, along came mobile like a wrecking ball, destroying our well-laid plans and precious “common practices.”

Several years past the original mobile explosion, we’re still picking up the pieces. Today, mobile conversion rate optimization is one of the most misunderstood, volatile and unrestrained areas in digital marketing. It’s simple to understand when you break down the different user segments by device.

Simply put, a user’s intent, motivations and even anxieties can be completely different when on a mobile device. Yet, we still see folks trying to blanket A/B test or hypothesize for everyone on the site rather than breaking it down into simple segments.

Some say best practices don’t exist in conversion optimization, which I always tend to agree with. However, we are starting to see trends of common practices of different user segments on desktops. This just gives us a quicker, more agile way to make a decision about a control.

You can just forgetaboutit on mobile though!

It’s still too early, yet I see marketers trying to port wins and/or insights gained on a desktop environment over to mobile, without properly doing their homework on the user.

It’s unfortunate.

Why? Because mobile conversions comprise a huge percentage of the conversions that your site could be getting. I’ll dish up the juicy data in just a second, but first let me make my point: This is a very big deal.

Because it’s a big deal, the information you’re about to read could change your perspective, your business and even your company’s revenue. It’s that level of big deal.

Okay, so let’s circle around to where I started this introduction — with the foundational stuff.

I’d like to assert two foundational insights right at the beginning. I want us all to be right on the “Go” space, with no one looking the other way, trying to collect $200, or rushing off to Boardwalk, okay?

GO square from Monopoly

(Image source)

  1. Foundational insight No. 1: Mobile conversion optimization is a massive missed opportunity for many websites. I’m looking at you, e-commerce sites, SaaS sites, local business sites, and run-of-the-mill placeholder websites. I’m looking at all of you.
  2. Foundational insight No. 2: Mobile conversion optimization is comprised largely due to mobile usability issues.

Usability lies at the bleeding heart of conversion optimization. If you come to me and say, “I have a conversion problem,” I’m tempted to retort with a snarky, “No, you have a usability problem.”

Why? Because so much of conversion rate optimization stems from a deep misunderstanding of the target audience, their intent and the way that the user’s intent is manifested in their experience — usability.

UX matters in conversion optimization ... a lot more than we think.

So there we have our situation — missed moolah, and messed up mobile websites.

The solution should be presenting itself to you by now

If we can abolish those pesky mobile usability issues, we’ll begin to fix the mobile conversion rate issues.

The idea is simple. This is my very straightforward and simple hypothesis:

Mobile usability problems cause mobile conversion problems.

We have a problem. Can we agree on that? You and I want more mobile users to convert, right? Okay, so why aren’t they converting? Because their mobile experience is skewed & screwed.

Heck, those people would love to convert. I can almost hear them pleading, crying, “Please let me convert.” (Okay, I overstate my case, but it’s for a good cause.)

Yet they don’t convert. Why? Because of the mobile usability issues that are corrupting their mind and destroying their path.

It’s time for some answers.

I present these answers in the form of common usability mistakes. These are the problems that I see all the time when scouring user data (even at a qualitative level) with people who whine about their “mobile conversion” problem. It’s all about the usability, folks, so let’s take a look at just how bad it is.

Let’s face it: We’re not doing much about this problem.

What’s the problem? Mobile usability.

And what are we doing about it? Not a whole lot.

Why aren’t we doing anything about it? Time. Resources. Education. Lack of Data.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the glut of businesses that aren’t even trying — those that don’t have a mobile site.

Does your company have a mobile app cahrt(Image source)

Among the websites that do have a mobile presence, very few are actively optimizing their mobile sites for conversions or usability.

For example, a recent eConsultancy survey found out that 93 percent of businesses are “not addressing” or “not really doing anything” about mobile site search.

chart of companies who address mobile marketing (Image source)

Excuse me a second while steam billows horizontally from my eyes as I write this.

Mobile search is at the core of mobile usability. And you’re telling me that 93 percent of organizations are sitting on their hands about this issue?

This doesn’t jive at all. Apparently, most of these same businesses say they are “committed” to providing the “best possible online user experience.”

chart graphing companies commitment to bole optimization (Image source)

If you are truly committed to a good online experience, then you should be and will be addressing mobile usability.

This is especially true if mobile apps, advertising, emails, search, commerce and coupons are as crucial as respondents allege they are.

Chart below: Percentage of responding businesses participating in the following digital marketing initiatives:

 Percentage of responding businesses participating in the following digital marketing initiatives(Image source)

Look at the conversion stats for online shoppers from the recent past.

In sheer numbers, mobile commerce is huge, accounting for as much as half of all online conversions.

You’re probably well aware that 2015 signaled the tipping point for mobile shopping. It’s never been higher, better, shinier and brighter.

But, digging deeper, how are these festive holiday shoppers converting on mobile as far as conversion rates go?

Not nearly as well as their desktop-shopping counterparts.

Mobiles growth infographic (Image source)

Look at another boot-to-the-head statistic to see just how awful these conversion rates actually are:

conversion rate of online shoppers (Image source)

Conversion rates steeply decline in a rate that corresponds to the smaller size of the device being used.

Yes, we have tons of mobile conversions, but only because there are tons of mobile users. The conversion rates — that’s the important number — is staggeringly low. At the same time, we should always be looking at the conversion volume compared to revenue to evaluate all outcomes.

For this exercise, though, we are pointing the finger at those saying they are paying attention to user experience, but clearly aren't. That signals a usability issue.

My initial reaction, when staring at stats like these, is to think, “It’s somewhat hopeless. Mobile conversion rates simply can’t compete with the conversion rates and sales revenue of traditional sites.”

But before you get out a bottle of cheap wine with which to numb your mind and drown your sorrows, stick with me.

It’s not hopeless.

Take two examples — and Charlotte Ruse. Both were able to smash through the ceiling, and blast record-breaking numbers in conversion and overall business growth.

Mobiles growth infographic (Image source)

Let me trot out another positive example from social media.

Social media sites are a prime example of a mobile-first strategy. People don’t appear to do social media on their desktop computers anymore.

Want proof? Here is one to ponder from a somewhat reliable source :)

mobile-vs-desktop-social-media-usage-stats(Image source)

Bam. Social media lives on mobile devices. So now the question to ask is, Social media engagement and social media conversions, where do they live and how do we raise our conversion rates and conversion volumes to affect our bottom line revenue numbers?

And, in case you want to broaden the example a bit, mobile internet users far outstrip desktop internet users — like by the millions upon millions.

desktop vs mobile web usage (Image source)

What is my point?

Somehow, someway, these mobile apps or sites have crushed mobile conversion rates.

How? By focusing on mobile usability!

Perhaps their users aren’t inputting credit card data or selecting a pair of sneakers to buy, but the developers have managed to create an experience that is so compelling, so engaging and so user-friendly that they have enormous appeal among mobile users.

Why can’t we do the same thing?

You may not be the CEO of Snapchat, but you have a responsive website and want mobile conversions, right?

Let’s take a page from social media’s playbook, and focus relentlessly on optimizing the experience for our mobile users!

There is a way to snatch more conversions from the gaping jaws of mobile death.

Here are two common mistakes in the vast arena of mobile usability.

Mobile Usability Mistake No. 1: A stripped-down approach to the shopping experience.

This point is particular to e-commerce sites, but the point still applies to non-e-comm sites.

Shopping online has become an experience not just a transaction.

Take Atelier, for instance, winner of an Awwwards recognition.

An immersive experience, user-focused color scheme (black), and interactive elements make for a highly experiential online shopping trip.

slider on a web page

We enjoy the large images, full feel and comfort of a desktop shopping experience.

But where is this experience in most mobile shopping experiences?

It’s stripped down, dumbed-down and scraped away.

Some old-school UX professionals argue that there’s a functional difference between mobile shopping, which is transactional, and desktop shopping, which is experiential.

Designing a Vision-based mobile interface for in-store shopping(Image source)

Their arguments sound sophisticated, but there is no evidence that confirms that mobile users simply want to jump onto a transaction with little to no positive shopping experience.

Others argue that a mobile device is for shopping research whereas the desktop site is for completing a purchase.

Again, studies and statistics belie this notion. The 2015 holiday season is proof enough that users want to and will convert on their mobile devices.

Sites that succeed are sites that allow for a more engaging shopping experience on mobile devices.

Let’s take your run-of-the-mill e-commerce website viewed on a mobile viewport.

True value screenshot of homepage(iPhone 6 viewport)

There is no way I’m going to buy a riding mower off of that website, especially considering the fact that I’ve probably already clawed my corneas out because I couldn’t see a dang thing.

Is that a good mobile shopping experience? No. That’s like saying “We have a tiny Rolex watch that you can wear on your pinky finger!” and then smashing a Rolex watch into tiny pieces to make it fit on said pinky finger.

Want something better? Try this website — Fortnum & Mason:

mobile screenshot of Fortnum and Mason(iPhone 6 viewport)

I’m far more likely to shop their expensive hampers, because the experience is pleasing.

As evidence of an improved shopping experience contributing to higher conversion rates, Fortnum & Mason increased their mobile conversions by 57 percent when they redesigned their responsive site.

Even the menus make you want to buy.

Fortnum and MAson mobile menu(Image source)

The real power is in the product pages themselves:

fortnum and mason mobile product page(Image source)

Simple and straightforward improvements to the mobile shopping experience can elicit more conversions.

This is a broad, vague and sometimes frustrating area to grapple with — ”shopping experience.” What does shopping experience even mean?

Instead of giving you some technical tricks to achieve a better shopping experience for your mobile users, I can only warn that you must not simply give users a dumbed-down version of your desktop site.

Instead, you must create an entirely new and positive experience for an entirely new and mobile kind of user.

Mobile Usability Problem No. 2: Images.

Images are a Pandora’s box of problems for mobile users.

One of the biggest challenges is image size. Often, responsive sites will scale down image size for mobile viewports in order to save precious bandwidth and lower load time.

The result is an image that can’t be pinched or zoomed, leading to frustration on the part of the mobile shopper.

Baymard reported on studies about this very issue.

See what happened:

Throughout testing the subjects would try to interact with the images on product pages to inspect a particular product detail or quality. Some tried zooming the product image by tapping and pinching it – alas many of the tested sites didn’t support these gestures and had also disabled their users’ ability to zoom the webpage as a whole through the <meta name="viewport" ..> tag

At the sites where nothing happened, many of the test subjects chose to go hunt for other products – both on- and off-site – since they felt they weren’t able to sufficiently inspect the product’s quality or features, and therefore didn’t feel comfortable buying it.

Mobile users deserve the right to see details, interact with the product, and get a good look at it.

A surprising 40 percent of mobile sites do not support tap or pinch gestures to enhance or enlarge images, Baymard said.

Take this bathroom sink on sale through, for instance. No pinch or tap functionality means that I’m left with a small image, and not likely to convert.

athroom sink on sale at on mobile

If someone wants to buy clothing, they want to inspect it, right? Thus, a mobile site should allow such viewability.

From this ...

American eagle product page on mobile page

To this ...

American eagle product page close up on mobile page

... should require only simple tap or pinch gesture.

Some sites, however, allow limited viewability due to low-res images. Sure you can tap or pinch, but you get a pixelated mess. This kills usability!

blurry mobile product image

To help users better interact with product images, you can provide gesture prompts on the mobile device, like Musicians Friend and Home Depot do.

Musicians Friend and Home Depot mobile product page(Image source)

ETQ is a great example of a website with impressive images.

Their desktop website is an experience in and of itself.

ETQ home page image screenshot

The mobile site doesn’t disappoint. The images are easy to view, expandable, and high-res.

ETQ mobile page

What about image carousels?

Some usability experts have made it their mission to campaign against the carousel.

Why sliders make your website suck

If you read ConversionXL, you’re likely to encounter this information:

In many cases, they’re right. Here’s how ConversionXL explains it:

screenshot of Conversion XL post, Don't use automatic image sliders or carousels

But on mobile [image carousels] present a bigger problem. In tests, we frequently see carousels whose images have been adapted from a PC website. The text is too small and the images are too crowded for easy viewing on a mobile device.

But can carousels work for mobile e-commerce sites?

I’ve seen a limited number that are fine, but each user segment inside of each niche can be different. That’s why you have to test.

The American Eagle Jean Guide is one such example. The mobile slider features a horizontal-scrolling interactive visual guide that is a great experience.

American Eagle mobile experience

Image carousels are a great way to feature visual variety and tempting eye candy for shoppers.

But you don’t need them and, with mobile shopping, it’s dangerous to simply adapt any old carousel for RWD use.

An alternative is to use vertical stacked images. I’m using American Eagle as an example again because they have an excellent mobile strategy, which coheres with their mobile-tethered younger audience.

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Images are one of the most important components of a shopping experience, whether you’re on mobile or desktop.

Give your mobile users the best possible images, the most image functionality you can, and the highest level of interaction with the product images.


Mobile usability is important — extremely important.

The success or failure of your mobile conversions hinges upon mobile usability. By  focusing on improving your mobile usability, you are focusing on improving business revenue.

Here are a few tactical suggestions for improving your mobile usability to enhance mobile conversion rates:

  • Clueless about where to start? Hire a mobile UI/UX consultant or designer to help you with things that you can improve on your mobile site.
  • Research your customer journey and user intent to determine what you customers are trying to achieve when they access your mobile website.
  • If your website isn’t able to handle all types of devices, change it. Whether it needs a responsive style or an adaptive style, do your homework and find out.
  • If your images are non-interactive or low-res, improve them. It pays to pay attention and use the highest quality of image without sacrificing speed on the page.

Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.