For most nonprofits, there’s been a steady growth in the use of smart phones and tablets by visitors to their websites. This has led to a lot of consternation as organizations wrestle with the challenge of providing a better user experience for site visitors on smaller screens.
Almost universally, mobile conversion rates lag desktop and laptop conversion rates on e-commerce sites—and the same is true for mobile conversion rates on nonprofit sites. By “conversion” we mean any kind of goal completion, such as a site visitor signing up for your email list or making an online donation. But the distinction doesn’t stop there—smart phone users typically convert only about half as well as those on tablets, according to research by Monetate and Forrester.
The main reason why your mobile visitors convert so much worse? It’s pretty simple. The user experience for mobile visitors—to nonprofit sites in general and donation pages in particular—can be quite awful. Common problems I’ve noticed when visiting giving pages on a mobile device include:
- Pages that load very slowly or incompletely
- Pages with multiple columns that require sideways scrolling (mobile users especially hate this!)
- Form fields that are so tiny they need to be stretched before text can be entered
- Text too small to be read without enlarging
- Call-to-action buttons that are out of sight or too small to be tapped easily
- Overly dominant graphics or images because they adapt clumsily to small screens
- Elements displaying contrary to the visitor’s thought sequence, i.e. content isn’t addressing basic user questions in the appropriate order
It can make for a very frustrating user experience—and only those who are extremely motivated will persevere to complete a transaction.
How do you know if this is an issue on your site? The answer is lurking in your web analytics. Key metrics to examine on pages with a mission-critical conversion goal are:
- Bounce rate by device type
- Conversion rate by device type (if you’ve configured goals)
- Average time spent on page by device type
If you notice a wide disparity in these metrics for mobile users relative to desktop/laptop users, e.g. their bounce rate is much higher or their conversion rate is much lower—it’s a clear sign that you need to do more to optimize the mobile experience.
It’s important to note that other issues like sluggish cellular network speeds and higher latency on mobile devices also contribute to poor conversion rates—and these are largely out of your control. It explains why conversion rates for mobile users may not approach desktop/laptop conversion rates for a long time to come—if ever.
But this is no reason to throw up your hands and forget about it. There are still plenty of things you can do to optimize the user experience on a mobile device.
Where do you begin? For many, the logical place to start is to develop a responsive page design (or an entire site that uses RD), so page elements adjust to fit whatever screen size the user is on.
However, it’s still an open question whether a responsive page is better than a dedicated page for mobile users when it comes to conversion. Testing by commercial marketers is decidedly mixed on which approach converts better.
Like conversion optimization in general—no technique is guaranteed to work best for your organization. You must figure out what your mobile visitors prefer and adapt content to meet their needs.
User testing with small groups is one way to identify user experience (UX) issues with mobile, since live A/B testing can be difficult to interpret—due to the fact that mobile users are much more sensitive to speed than desktop/laptop users. They will abandon a page if it hasn’t loaded after just 3 seconds, in many instances. Consequently, if you test two user experiences and one page loads a lot slower than the other, it’s highly likely to convert worse—and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the creative itself.
Consequently, with A/B tests targeting mobile users it’s difficult to determine whether conversion rate disparities are due to differences in load times or differences in how visitors react to the content itself. This is why many organizations forego A/B testing when optimizing the UX for mobile.
If you decide to conduct user testing instead, ideally you’ll want to get feedback from people similar to your actual visitors. In this way you’ll avoid optimizing for the needs of testers—whose behavior may differ markedly from your target audience. Imagine getting feedback from a group of twenty-something male testers when your typical donor is a 55-60 year old female. It’s pretty much guaranteed that those insights will take you down the wrong path.
An alternative to user testing is to simply design mobile pages with best practices in mind. As noted above, using responsive design is the logical place to start. But there’s a case to be made for thinking beyond responsive design and re-imagining the user experience on a small screen—and then designing a dedicated mobile experience from the bottom up.
The reason a dedicated mobile approach can convert better than responsive design alone is based on the fact that people consume content differently on mobile devices (especially smart phones) as compared to desktop or laptop devices.
For instance, mobile users are typically more goal-driven and impatient than laptop/desktop users. They prefer “snack-sized” content, i.e. brief, action-oriented items that can be absorbed quickly—not long pages that require a lot of time and mental energy to consume.
To convert better, your mobile pages aimed at donors must reflect those differences in user behavior. While this may sound complicated or intimidating—it really just involves a little extra work. That said, the extra effort is likely to pay off in the form of better conversion rates with mobile visitors.
Taking these factors into account, below are some specific changes you can make to improve the UX for donors on mobile devices:
- Render all content in a single column to eliminate the need for sideways scrolling.
- Pare back copy so your core value proposition is expressed succinctly.
- Cut supporting graphics and images, which don’t render as well on small screens.
- Reduce friction by shortening the giving process, i.e. cutting out as many steps and questions as possible.
- Break up forms into multiple short steps so that each one appears simple and effortless, instead of a long form all on one screen. Remember the Obama campaign’s enormous success with this technique!
- Design bigger form fields that don’t need to be resized to be tapped
- Ask donors to enter their zip code first, so that other required fields can autofill (city, state, country) based on that input, thereby reducing the total number of inputs the donor has to make.
- Display fewer suggested gift amounts (e.g. 3 instead of 5) so that options are easier to see on a narrow screen and a decision can be made more quickly.
- Offer alternative payment options, e.g. Amazon Payments and/or Paypal. (focus on payment methods that are most popular with your donors; don’t offer everything.)
- Design bigger buttons that are easier to tap.
- Left-align all call-to-action buttons so they’re always in the main eye path.
Implementing these techniques will no doubt make for a much better UX for visitors who intend to convert on a mobile device. That said, there’s new evidence to suggest that a large portion of mobile users have no intention of converting on a mobile device.
Research by SeeWhy has found that the average consumer requires five “touches” via marketing before they’ll -make a purchase. If the same holds true for transactions on nonprofit sites, this means that many donors will use multiple devices over multiple user sessions before making a gift.
Their “journey” to donor conversion often begins as a result of an email they read on their smart phone. It may prompt them to visit your website on their mobile device, even if they don’t intend to make a donation at that moment. A significant portion may wait until they have access to a desktop or laptop before giving online, because they expect the UX to be much easier on those devices.
To put it simply—many consumers (who are also donors) don’t yet consider their smart phone a “converting device.” According to See Why’s research, by a 2:1 margin consumers are more nervous about transacting via mobile device than on a desktop or laptop. This anxiety gap will take time to overcome—and may never close entirely.
This is why your mission-critical pages need to be responsive for those donor prospects who may just be “kicking the tires” via their mobile device. Their experience is likely to have a big influence on whether or not they decide to return and donate later on.
To summarize, while there’s no one technique that’s guaranteed to increase your conversion rate with mobile donors, the techniques we’ve discussed should help get you started in thinking about the process. Regardless of how you approach the problem, one thing is certain—mobile devices will continue to gain importance as a step in the donor conversion process. No one in the nonprofit world can afford to ignore the user experience on mobile any longer.