Author note: the following article was originally published on the Richmond Times Dispatch. I’m reposting my original article below with the intention of adding to this piece over time.
As a business, it’s important to not only understand who the customer is but also their journey from first touch through to sale. It’s a journey that likely includes multiple touch points across several different devices including smartphones, tablets and desktops. We call this the “cross-device experience.” Understanding the role each one plays is key to optimizing your customers’ journey and improving business results.
Tracking visitors across multiple touch points
Before mobile devices with full web browsers, the entire customer journey took place on a single device: the home computer. This allowed marketers and web analysts to track a visitor’s first and final website interaction through cookies placed on their web browser. It was a simpler time.
As technology improved and internet powered mobile devices hit the scene, the user experience became more fragmented. A single customer could see your banner ad on one device, a social media post on a second device, and your Google ad on a third device. Every touch point was part of that customer’s journey. This makes it very challenging, in some cases even impossible, to fully understand ROI on various marketing channels when the user experience is split across so many different devices.
Desktop vs. Mobile
For the client sites we analyze, we generally see more time spent, more pages viewed and higher conversion rates on desktops compared to tablets and smartphone. We find users are more patient and willing to poke around a website while browsing from a desktop computer (this includes laptops).
There are a few reasons for this. The size of the screen, keyboard and mouse play a major part. Users are also more experienced operating from desktop devices (most have been doing so since the 90’s).
Desktops are usually given priority by their developers in terms of design and functionality. We tend to think of desktop users as our primary audience and mobile as a secondary, less significant audience. The result is a more desktop focused website with mobile treated as an after-thought.
Finally, the web development community as a whole is not as advanced at building an optimal mobile experience. This is due in part to desktop web design having a ten year head start on mobile site design.
All this leads to a more fluid and convenient experience on the desktop. The result: higher website conversion rates for users on a desktop computer.
So where does that leave our smartphone users? If your website is like most, the percentage of visitors reaching your site from a smartphone has increased each year. Depending on your industry, you may see anywhere from 15% to 45% of visitors coming to your site from a smartphone. That’s a significant segment of traffic that can’t be ignored.
Smartphone visitors are generally less patient and less likely to convert than desktop or tablet. This behavior exists for several reasons.
First, most mobile websites are just not that good (as stated above, they are too often treated as an after-thought). Second, small screens and touch interfaces offer less room for error for the user, meaning someone is more likely to leave if they can’t immediately accomplish what they want. Third, smartphone use tends to be more recreational in nature. This means if a user is on a mobile device, they’re less likely to be in a buying mode. Instead, they’re looking to consume content. They want to go on Facebook, browse Twitter, or watch videos on YouTube.
This positions mobile as an ideal amplification and discovery channel.
Amplification occurs when a user shares, retweets, or links content created by someone else. When this happens at a huge scale, which is rare and very hard to achieve, the content becomes viral (content does NOT need to go viral to be amplified).
Discovery is the moment each individual sees the content for the first time, regardless of whether they amplify the content any further.
You can further increase your chances of people discovering and amplifying your content by paying to have it stay in people’s newsfeeds or shown to people outside your direct network.
So while conversions still occur on a mobile device, they occur at a lower rate. Therefore, a well-rounded mobile strategy should skew towards amplification and discovery while a desktop strategy should skew towards final conversion.
It’s important to note that these trends are always evolving. Soon, users could become as comfortable and as likely to purchase on a mobile device. When this happens, desktop users will become the after-thought, and our main strategy will be centered almost entirely around mobile.
I encourage you to spend some time learning about your customers’ journeys. How and where are they likely to discover you? How long does it take for them to make a decision and how visible should you be throughout that process? Answering these questions will help shape your mobile and desktop strategy and improve the cross-device experience for your customers.