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Why good B2B industrial websites break the rules

2022-05-02
Laura Norup-Boyer
3 min readMarketing,Design,Development

Mobile-first. If you haven’t heard of it before now, you’ve missed out on the number one web design mantra of the past five years. Build it for phones; that’s where your customers are. Even better, it’s where they will be: more and more often, people engage with the internet via a small screen rather than a laptop or desktop.

Google agrees, by the way. We’ve mentioned it before. Several years ago, Google moved to mobile-first indexing for their search engine. Google treats your mobile website as the main website, not an add-on or secondary version.

This is more than a shift in philosophy: it has a real-world impact. Websites that fail to meet Google’s standards for website experiences receive penalties in their search visibility. In short: no mobile-friendly website? Say goodbye to your search traffic.

This is where conventional web design philosophy and B2B websites clash. For most of our clients, phones aren’t where their customers are. When you sell products that require custom quotes, have a months-long sales cycle, and can often be valued in millions of dollars per sale, it’s far less likely that your customer’s journey begins or ends on a phone.

Instead, it starts on a desktop computer in another company’s purchasing department. The experience that most B2B manufacturers ought to prioritize is desktop over mobile.

So how can we have our cake and eat it? Google is all about mobile-first. Manufacturers usually don’t get value from their mobile visitors. The answer comes via a design concept called ‘progressive enhancement’.

When Google analyzes websites for their mobile-friendliness, they aren’t really able to look at less tangible design features. Google uses a robot called a web crawler to explore web pages. It’s a very clever robot — but a robot nonetheless. When it scans a web page, it looks for a variety of signals to tell it if it’s mobile-friendly or not. Does the page have a proper width set for phones? Is its text readable on a small screen? Can you click all the menu elements on a touch screen?

These technical flags are what tell Google a website is mobile-friendly. Meeting the minimum requirement for mobile-friendliness is not actually that hard! This means that savvy web developers (like us!) can focus their efforts on providing excellent desktop experiences while providing a very simple (but technically flawless) mobile experience.

Essentially, we build the mobile site for a robot, using as few resources as possible, and the desktop site for humans. It’s called progressive enhancement because we ‘ramp up’ the complexity and quality of user experience for our desktop view. The website starts very simple and grows lusher and human-friendly as the screen size increases.

In doing so, we allocate fewer development resources toward building a website view that valuable customers won’t usually see. This frees us up to double down on the experiences that do result in leads and revenue — your desktop traffic.

With a little bit of trickery, you really can have your cake and eat it, too.

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