Facebook, Amazon, Pinterest, Ebay….whatever the site, chances are, there’s an app for it. More and more users are surfing the web on the go, and this is a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. Apps seem to be winning the popularity contest as they’re usually much easier to navigate with a cleaner user interface. Many companies are optimizing their mobile sites in response. But regardless of whether it’s an app or a mobile site, one thing is clear: mobile is rapidly becoming the next frontier for the digital world.
So does that mean that mobile web still matters? And what’s really grabbing the market share of web traffic – mobile or desktop sites?
To get definitive answers, we used SimilarWeb to compare mobile web and desktop engagement from June through November 2014. What we learned might surprise you.
How We’re Searching: Search Engines on Mobile
First the obvious: the majority of traffic from the two biggest US search engines – Google and Bing – comes from mobile devices. Google’s traffic share for desktop and mobile was neck in neck, with 52% from desktop and mobile at 48%. Come November, the stats told a different story, with mobile traffic surpassing traffic volume from desktop. This is big news for Google.
Here’s the catch, though – engagement metrics for desktop users were considerably better. Desktop visits averaged more than 3x longer than mobile, with triple the page views and a much lower bounce rate. What’s the reason for the engagement discrepancy? Maybe people searching on desktop have more time to search, whereas mobile searches are quick, on-the go queries.
Google User Engagement
On the other hand, Bing user engagement for mobile vs. desktop visits was much closer, with mobile ultimately winning out. Average visit duration for desktop was just 20% longer, while mobile users viewed more pages than their desktop counterparts. Bounce rate for mobile was also lower, suggesting that Bing’s users favor mobile search over desktop.
Bing User Engagement
Bing users seem to be more engaged on mobile than on desktops – the exact opposite of Google. Yet interestingly enough, Google’s mobile traffic is growing considerably faster than Bing’s. What’s more, Bing’s mobile traffic wavers from month to month, while Google’s is steadily rising.
Inside Look at Industry: Traffic Sources
Next we took a look at industry leaders across different verticals to see how the mobile web was stacking up against desktop sites.
In order to get a good indication of how the shopping industry was doing on through both of these channels, we analyzed one of the biggest shopping sites online: Amazon.com. Again, mobile and desktop traffic was pretty evenly distributed, with desktop traffic just barely nosing ahead by claiming 51% of traffic. In September visits to the mobile site rose by 8%, surpassing desktop traffic by 6%. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and this happened in October with a drop in mobile site traffic.
Desktop traffic to Amazon.com was nearly double that of mobile, but the number of pages per visit was nearly identical. Meanwhile, mobile bounce rate was just 5% higher than the bounce rate to the desktop site. The closeness in stats between desktop and global was pretty consistent before the end of July 2014.
Amazon.com User Engagement
After the end of July, however, mobile traffic suddenly experienced a sharp drop in visit duration, while bounce rate increased. Why? Around this time Amazon began really promoting their mobile app, so it’s highly likely that a good portion of their mobile web users installed the app and stopped using the mobile site entirely.
News & Media
Unlike the shopping industry, news & media sites are in no rush to jump on the mobile bandwagon. 2014 saw a definite increase in traffic from the mobile web, but not at quite the same volume as other industry verticals. On average news sites grab 35-40% of their traffic from mobile devices.
Case in point: The NY Times. 38% of traffic to the nytimes.com in the past 6 months came from mobile devices. Mobile users spent on average a little over a minute and a half on the mobile site, while desktop users stuck around for more than 17 minutes. This could be partly because reading news articles and blogs from a desktop site is more comfortable – and therefore preferable – to reading a full-length news feature while on the go.
Nytimes.com User Engagement
Perhaps this explains the news & media industry’s more relaxed approach with regards to mobile web. It’s important, but since they want their users to spend more time reading quality content, desktop visits are still preferable. Nevertheless, when the NY Times launched their mobile app, mobile web traffic dropped, illustrating that many users probably installed the app. Maybe these users are hoping that the app’s more efficient UI will make article reading easier.
Arts & Entertainment
We analyzed entertainment site IFC.com as a prime example of a strong brand with a great mobile website. IFC’s mobile site adjusts to fit the mobile screen, making their mobile website one of the few that is very easy to navigate. This reasons are likely contributing to the success of their user engagement on the IFC mobile site, which surpasses engagement from desktop visits.
Mobile traffic for IFC.com is always on the rise – now at 37% and continuing to grow. User engagement is also on the upswing, accounting for longer visits and more page views than that of their desktop counterparts. Again, we believe this is attributed to the well-designed UI of IFC.com’s mobile site.
IFC.com User Engagement
Food & Drink
Feeling hungry? Now there’s a fast and easy way to order from Chillis. The well-known American restaurant chain also has their hands on the mobile web, and like IFC.com, they’re doing a great job in keeping up user engagement. Users can order food for delivery or pickup on the easy to use mobile site, and the convenience makes for great ordering on the go. Thanks to a nice user interface, Chillis.com’s mobile website is also winning the user engagement contest.
Chillis.com User Engagement
Who Wins the Traffic War, Mobile or Desktop?
With mobile web and app growth soaring, the avenues for business expansion are seemingly limitless. Marketing professionals, PPC, Media Buyers and Affiliate Mangers would do well to explore the lucrative opportunities provided by the mobile web.
No one’s arguing the importance of websites, which continue to be a valuable resource for both companies and consumers. But the marketing strategy for each type of device should be different, as the users of each are driven by different motives and therefor have different usage patterns. For example, for mobile searches it’s cruicial to appear not only on the first page but on the top results, as users aren’t going to flip through an endless series of SERP pages like they would on desktop.
As we’ve seen from some of these examples, even a mobile website can surpass desktop user engagement if the user interface is strong enough. It’s also important to remember, though, that even though people spend an average of nearly 3 hours daily on their mobile devices, their attention span is still as short as ever. So make those minutes count! Content should be captivating, CTA’s should be inviting, and display ads should be enticing. And all of it should be highly optimized for both mobile and desktop.
Author’s note: a version of this article originally appeared in Search Engine Watch on January 7.