Our Customers Were Ahead of us: Why we had to Pay Attention to the Mobile Web.

The mobile web is arguably the fastest growing sector of the internet and soon if not already then most of your users will be using a mobile device.

/Global mobile usage graph/ If the site isn’t ready to receive mobile users then the results are going to be predictable, long load times, poor navigation and frustrated users all lead to the natural conclusion of leaving the site.

Until recently we were getting the

Our old website was the perfect example of this. If you ventured to www.kayakthenile.com before the re-brand your experience will have been something like the following;

Our old site as it rendered on a iPhone 5

The results were really predictable. Our analytics showed that our bounce rate (people turning up and leaving without visiting anywhere else in your site) for mobile users was so much higher.

One person in every five who had found us through search, a recommendation, our social media or sites like trip advisor (thats the hard work done, getting people to know about us and what we do) on their mobile was understandably seeing the page above and because the user experience they were getting was so terrible, realised they couldn’t be bothered and left.

The worrying thing however was that in general number of people visiting our site and subsequently asking us a question about the service we provide was pretty good (our ‘conversion rate’ in business speak).

This meant we were not only losing readers (which is bad enough) but customers too. At the growth rate of our mobile visitors we could see that in a few months this bounce rate would be two in every five and soon three.

A situation which we couldn’t allow and needed a solution for.

Whats the point.

Can’t they just read the same as everyone else?

…… suggests that the mobile user is a very different user from the desktop user.

"Quote about what a mobile user is looking for. Laptops die. We have probably all experienced this at one point and if you haven’t then congratulations."

/page/ /page/ screenshots comparison

A more understanding user

Laptops die. We have probably all experienced this at one point and if you haven’t then congratulations.

That one of mine had lasted for five years but the morning came where I pushed the power button it would light up ready for the day and then decide that it had had enough of life and turn itself off.

Annoyed at first, what I didn’t realise at the time was that this technological failure was about to propel me into being the kind of person that user experience professors and design geniuses have been hypothesising about; A mobile first user.

No desktop, no tablet, my one and only from of accessing the internet was through a /iphone 4 screen dimensions/ screen.

Coming into this mobile first world was a huge eye opener.

Websites that I had previously frequently visited that were broken or just poorly displayed on mobile sunk down the list, while people that had got their act together and had a easy to navigate, clean and most importantly readable mobile site were suddenly more valuable in my fickle user experience lead mind.

Probably the worst trait that I saw in myself in this mobile first world was the speed at which I judged the person / company / reliability of that business.

With no tolerance for anything other than good design I realised that within about 2-4 seconds I would have made my judgement on whether I was staying or leaving. Something which the others here had great fun comparing my new attention span to a goldfish’s studious 10 seconds.

Even though I now felt like I was at the cutting edge of technology with the exception of wearables. I also realised I wasn’t alone. Pretty much every customer that came through our doors at Kayak the Nile, who didn’t live in Uganda was, at least for the few weeks of their trip, also a mobile first user.

[/goal of this paragraph is to create a scenario that resonates with our business market, a simple observation they have also made that makes them and us feel like the same animal]

The backpacker in search of wifi is a sad creature and I always feel sorry for the campsite receptionist who really just needs a gold chain with the password in big letters around their neck. Though I can’t help but laugh when people, phone in hand looking confused get as far into the question as: “What’s the…” immediately interrupted by the receptionist with “superman443”, pre-empting the inevitable question.

With all of these mobile first users around I went around asking sparking up conversations with tourists who were on their devices what they thought of the mobile web and some good and bad examples.

It was easy to confirm the experience that I had had with others. Also it let me find out a few other interesting pieces of information which I’ve included in the takeaways below.

Solve your customers problems first

With it clear that our customers were moving towards mobile and the harm that it was causing us and going to cause us in the future the decision to change was easy but what exactly that meant was much harder.

My first port of call when faced with something like this is always data and the following question;

What can I tell from our data about what our customers need?

This is an amazingly useful question to apply to a lot of our problems that come up where we are not really sure of what the answer is.

Of our mobile users 70% of them, followed a very simple chain of Home page > Contact us.

Already knowing what they wanted to do (come kayaking, find us or talk to us) their top priority was getting the information needed to contact us. Thankfully a pretty easy fix (putting our contact details at the top of the home page).

For the elsewhere on the site such as the Tandem kayaking page there were two important pieces of data we needed to know;

  1. Where were visitors were coming from?
  2. Where did they go next?

In the majority of cases for our information seeking mobile users they were coming from other websites straight into our product pages.

Having read about Tandem kayaking elsewhere they wanted to find out more and come to us.

While the header took up a lot of space initially the content when they got there was readable so this was not much of a concern.

The problem was in where they went next…


Once scrolled down the page, the navigation was hidden, there were no obvious ways to contact a real person and no clues as to where the visitor should go next.

Again predictably this is where a lot of our mobile visitors ended.

I had a theory so conducted some more crude research of tourists with their devices. I asked them to visit the a page on the site and find the contact us page. While nearly everyone could find it and felt good about themselves, the data I was really taking was how long it took them to find it.

Our average was an appalling 18 seconds. My own experience as a mobile user and my shorter than a goldfish attention, combined with the bad feelings that I was having towards businesses for not thinking of me, and how unreliable they must be (I told you it was a fickle place) made me realise exactly what kind of experience those who were trying and really wanted to use the website were having.

In reality people who had made it from a direct product referral to one of the information pages were probably having my experience of realising they couldn’t be bothered and leaving.

The solution along with a improved site navigation was in one of the features we saw make a huge difference to the Kayak the Nile main site.

By making it much easier for people to talk to us, visitors would come up with questions whilst reading about us and by using a small contact form on every page we avoided the issue of people having forgotten what they were going to ask by the time they got to the bottom of that page or to the contact page.

The final result

Putting our thoughts into play took a while of playing around. We wanted something which was recognisable as Kayak the Nile but staying as simple as possible in order to fulfil the information thirst of our mobile users.

  • The mobile market is growing fast>
  • Protect yourself from a changing market by including a mobile ready website>
  • Mobile first users are extremely judgemental>
  • Mobile users want information, not pretty pictures. (The resounding feedback I got from mobile first tourists and volunteers.  )
  • Study your data in order to better serve the needs of your customers

It’s unlikely that the desktop web will disappear overnight, and for the sake of the current number of businesses that aren’t yet ready for mobile I hope it doesn’t.

It was however a stark realisation and an experience I would recommend to anyone trying to get ahead, to immerse yourself in the mobile first world and directly see the needs of being mobile user.

Further Reading

If you have have built a mobile site for your business please leave a link in the comments so we can see how others have tackled this.

I’m especially keen to hear of some great examples from small business hotels and shops and what specific challenges they have faced.


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About the author

River guide & part of the team trying to take Kayak the Nile to being the world's best kayak school. 'Sit and think about what you've done' is his official job. or follow him on twitter.