Despite the current emphasis of mobile marketing and optimization, there’s little data available to quantify the activities that mobile users actually complete online on a day-to-day basis. Statistics tend to be skewed towards optimistic promises, such as: “70% of mobile consumers shop online.” This says nothing about how often they shop online or what time period this shopping takes place in; it just means that seven out of every ten people have shopped online at some point. Let’s try to get a bit of a fuller picture of what consumers are actually doing when they pick up their smartphones and tablets.

phone2Mobile Behavior and the Online Consumer

91% of users access their email on a daily basis. Just looking at that statistic would seem to indicate that email is the most important mobile task, but that isn’t true. Digging a little deeper, we find that only 7.6% of the time that a user spends on their phone is spent on email. We can still see email has tremendous marketing reach — it just doesn’t have a significant volume of activity.

More importantly, a full 80% of consumer time is spent on the following five apps: Facebook, YouTube, Maps (‘search’), Pandora and Gmail (’email’). So when we say that consumers are spending more time on mobile devices than ever before, this is undoubtedly true — but the vast majority of time is being spent on social media, not on search queries or consumer activities.

Mobile consumers are more likely to encounter a company’s brand through social media rather than through an organic web search. Searching for local businesses through the ‘maps’ function is also undoubtedly skewing activity statistics.

And, at the same time, an app like Pandora or YouTube could be used for a more passive user experience. Users may simply have Pandora running in the background, or even be playing YouTube playlists for music rather than social media purposes. So we can see that consumers are using the Internet through their mobile devices very often, but how often they’re using it actively may be arguable.

phone3Reaching Out to the Mobile Consumer

Surveys would indicate that companies wanting to reach out to the mobile consumer would need to also focus on developing their social media campaigns, rather than strictly developing the mobile functionality and accessibility of their websites. It’s undoubtedly true that modern websites must be responsive, but the question here is whether the mobile consumer is looking for their website at all — or if they’re more likely to encounter the brand through another platform.

When mobile users do search online, their searches tend to be more local than desktop users — one in three rather than one in five. And virtually every study supports higher conversion rates through mobile devices, if only because the customer is already somewhat committed; mobile consumers appear to search for products when they already have a purchase in mind. A significant amount of searches involve reading product reviews and looking up specific products, services and companies, bolstering this theory.

Thus, we can see that mobile usage is very important to an e-commerce marketer; we just aren’t able to quantify exactly how important. We know that consumers convert more often, but we also know that they are usually already primed to buy and have an idea of what they want to purchase. And we know that brands are probably more likely to be interacted with by the mobile consumer through social media rather than their website.

mobile-616012_1280Search Engine Optimization and Mobile Design

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: Google is changing its search engine results page to promote mobile-friendly results when relevant. But this is less of a concern than it may at first seem to be. Though every Google algorithm change throws the marketing world into a frenzy, Google’s standards for a ‘mobile-friendly’ site are fairly straightforward.

In fact, they’re so straight-forward that you can test your website with Google’s simple tool. Google has been gauging mobile-friendliness through its AdSense portal for some time now; it’s not as nebulous a concept as, for instance, their “page quality” metrics or “site authority” scoring.

All of the above is not to say that a mobile website design isn’t important, nor that mobile website users should not be targeted. For e-commerce websites, the mobile user experience has to be streamlined, attractive and usable. For the purposes of improving user experience, a solid mobile platform is absolutely important.

But it is to say that, for the purposes of mobile user behavior, social media advertising may actually be more important to the average marketer and have more of an overall impact on the average consumer. The vast majority of mobile users are not looking for e-commerce sites or sorting through search engine results, but are instead flipping through their social media accounts and checking their email. It is there that the company needs to reach out to them.

Jenna Inouye

Jenna I. is a freelance writer, programmer and web developer, focusing on the areas of digital marketing, technology, gaming and finance. Hire Jenna through WriterAccess or contact her directly.


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