Considering that the BBC is currently reporting on a "war" between Google and Apple, it’s easy to forget how much the world’s biggest search engine owes the world’s largest technology company, especially when it comes to mobile phones.
After years of false starts (2007 will be the year of mobile…oh, er, 2008 then?) the smartphone revolution was really only kicked off by the arrival of the Apple iPhone, enabling mobile users to become true mobile searchers.
Since then, Google has been keen to take advantage of this fast-growing subsection of the search market and, helpful as ever, they are now providing site owners with more and more ways to make the most of the opportunities provided by the mobile internet (and, of course, grow ad revenues in the process).
One element of this assistance comes in the form of the recently released Our Mobile Planet data for 2012, which provides marketers with a near bottomless repository of facts and figures relating to current trends in smartphone usage around the world. These facts vary from the relatively interesting and useful (32% of users change their minds about buying a product while in store as a result of researching on their smartphone) to the trivial and slightly bizarre (5% of users in Finland read a book while using their smartphone).
Having a play around with the Our Mobile Planet tool serves as a reminder of just how different mobile internet usage is from browsing on a desktop or laptop. No matter how advanced smartphones get, and no matter how widespread their usage, it seems that they simply aren’t a direct substitute for a “proper” computer, especially when it comes to ecommerce.
According to the Google data, over 50% of the UK population now uses a smartphone. This penetration is reflected in data we’ve collected from a number of client websites that show an increase in mobile traffic of over 550% in the last two years (even excluding iPads). Visits from smartphones now account for around 14% of all traffic to our client sites, and over a third of the extra traffic that these sites have gained in the last two years has come from mobiles.
Growth in mobile traffic is undoubted, but the Mobile Planet data also accord with our own when it comes to the issue of users making online purchases with their smartphones. Major reasons cited for using the internet on a smartphone are passing time (67%), getting information when away from the computer (64%), and avoiding missing out on things when on the go (49%).
Only 31% of UK smartphone users had ever made an online purchase, which seems reasonably high until you consider that 86% go online every day. Indeed, our data show that ecommerce conversion rate on smartphones is less than a quarter of that for desktop and laptops. What’s interesting is that the Google data show that only 11% of users see purchasing via a mobile as too complicated.
The major barrier to online conversion via a smartphone would seem to be the bald fact that most people (69%) just prefer to use a laptop or desktop. I suppose that this preference may be eroded over time but, for the time being, smartphones simply aren’t seen as the primary means of making online purchases.
Of course, the increase in mobile internet usage must not be ignored, especially in light of the fact that among smartphone owners 60% search for products on their phones, and 29% research holidays.
But it's equally important not to ignore the clear differences between mobile user behaviour and computer user behaviour when analysing site and campaign performance. Lumping mobile data in with everything else might cause site performance to look like it’s been diminishing over the last couple of years, while failure to properly segment mobile users in search campaigns can lead to wasted spend or missed opportunities.
It seems obvious that the success of the iPhone and the various clones that it spawned means that the mobile internet is here to stay. But what needs to be remembered is that mobile traffic isn’t better or worse than non-mobile traffic – just different.