Internet giants like Amazon and The New York Times are attempting to push their users directly to apps; others are focusing on offering a better mobile Web experience. What’s the right approach? In a world of mobile devices and apps, will websites fade away?
To answer this question, we analyzed SimilarWeb data from June through November of 2014 to determine how significant mobile websites will be in 2015. The results show that mobile websites remain important – and that the release of apps may cannibalize that traffic, for better or worse. Our research also turned up important differences in user engagement between websites accessed via mobile and desktop.
First, traffic to the two major U.S. search engines shows that a substantial proportion of their traffic comes from mobile devices. For Google, mobile comprised almost half of all traffic from June to November, with 52 percent coming from desktops and 48 percent from mobile. However, in November, mobile traffic surpassed the quantity of visits from desktop, marking the turning point on the way to mobile dominance for Google.
Fig. 1. Google Traffic Sources by Device Type
For Bing, the portion of mobile Web visits is smaller, accounting for roughly 33 percent of visits against 67 percent from desktop. In addition, while Google’s share of mobile access has remained steady and recently began to climb, mobile traffic to Bing is not stable, but rather fluctuates month to month.
Fig. 2. Bing Mobile
Fig. 3 Bing Traffic Sources by Device Type
However, engagement metrics for Google reveal noticeable difference in user behavior patterns for these two visitor types. Visits from desktop lasted more than three times longer, with more than three times more pages viewed and two times lower bounce rate.
Fig. 4 Google Visitor Engagement
In the same timeframe, the engagement figures for Bing were much closer for desktop and mobile. The average visit duration for visits from desktops was only 20 percent longer, while visitors from mobile devices actually viewed more pages on their phones than those sitting in front of the computer screens. The bounce rate was also lower in the mobile visits.
Fig. 5. Bing Visitor Engagement
Unlike Google, Bing’s mobile visitors are actually more engaged than those using desktops. This could be due to more mobile-friendly results in SERPs. Despite this, Bing’s mobile traffic is not growing as fast as Google’s.
Online shopping in general is a good indicator of the trend of traffic shifting to mobile, with Amazon.com a case in point. Amazon’s shares of visits from mobile and desktop are almost equal, with desktop responsible for 51 percent of all visits. September even saw more visits from mobile devices, with mobile traffic increasing by 8 percent, surpassing desktop traffic by 6 percent. Mobile traffic then dipped in October. This could be related to back-to-school shopping.
Fig 6. Amazon Shopping Traffic
Fig. 7. Amazon Visits by Device Type
The ratio of time spent during desktop visits to Amazon was almost twice that of mobile visits. The number of pages per visit was almost the same on desktop and mobile, while the bounce rate on mobile of 38.44 percent was only 5 percent higher than that for desktop visitors.
Fig. 8. Amazon Visitor Engagement
It’s noteworthy that before the end of July 2014, the traffic from both sources was even closer. In late July, visit duration for mobile devices experienced a substantial drop and an increase in the bounce rate. This happened around the time that Amazon started to push its mobile app. Our hypothesis is that, as people visited the site from mobile devices, they were encouraged to install the app. This campaign consequently led to an increase in app installs and correspondent decrease of engagement of visits from mobile.
Fig. 9. Amazon App Installs
News and Media
News publishers are shifting to the mobile world at a bit slower pace than the shopping industry, although they are gradually increasing their share of mobile visits. News sites currently receive, on average, 35 to 40 percent of their traffic from mobile devices. The New York Times website is a good example of this.
Fig. 10. NYTimes.com Traffic
Over the last six months, 38 percent of traffic to NYTimes.com came from mobile devices. While page views per visit and bounce rates were fairly close; but a big difference in average session time shows us how users behave when they visit the site from mobile devices. Mobile users spent on average only one minute and 43 seconds on the site, compared to more than 17 minutes when visiting via desktop. This is evidence that most likely mobile users are only scanning headlines, as opposed to consuming content.
Fig. 11. NYTimes.com Engagement
The New York Times‘ launch of a mobile application had the same effect on mobile web engagement as Amazon’s did.
Fig. 12. NYTimes App Installs
Arts and Entertainment
Entertainment website IFC.com is a great example of responsive Web design, a method of creating Web pages that automatically adjust to fit the screen it’s being viewed on. The site is also well organized and content-rich. Because of these factors, IFC.com is one of the rare occasions where the engagement of mobile visitors is even greater than of those that came from desktops.
Fig. 13. IFC.com Traffic
Mobile already accounts for 37 percent of total traffic, and the share of mobile visits is constantly growing. But most unexpectedly, mobile visitors are showing surprisingly high engagement. Longer visits, more page views, and slightly higher bounce rate add up to an amazing result and one of the best adaptations to the mobile world.
Fig. 14. IFC.com Engagement
Food & Drink
Another website that knows how to deliver in mobile is Chilis.com. The site for the casual-dining chain focuses on online ordering of food for delivery or pickup at a restaurant. As you can see on the graph below, mobile traffic is steadily pushing desktop out, demonstrating the same or even higher level of user engagement.
Fig. 15. Chilis.com Traffic
Fig. 16. Chilis.com Engagement
One of the most important lessons from the data should be how SEOs and PPCs approach mobile within their planning. For mobile, it’s critical not only to appear on the first page but in the top results on Google. People are using their phones and tablets on-the-go and trusting that Google is delivering the results. They are not spending the time researching SERP pages, like they would on desktops, for that perfect link. Rather they are spending less time and less page views on Google.
Websites will continue to be an important way for companies to reach consumers, whether or not they also offer apps. The increase in mobile traffic is a given; marketers should focus on engagement metrics to be sure they serve mobile customers as well as those using a desktop. Meanwhile, even companies that provide apps should not neglect their mobile websites, because they will continue to receive a significant amount of traffic.
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