Desktop Steers Clear of the Mobile Iceberg

Statistics show that we are less likely to walk down the street, ride the subway, go to the bathroom, or watch TV in the evening without a smartphone or tablet to occupy us. For the first time, mobile’s share of total device time is now greater than desktop’s.

One might think this wave of change is pervasive, reaching into all facets of our online lives, but a quick study of four PJA client websites – in B2B, consumer financial services, office solutions with ecommerce, and higher education verticals – suggests a mobile-only future might be some ways off. 

For these sites, desktop remains, by a wide margin, the primary pathway for getting to, absorbing, and acting on business information. Mobile plays a second-level role (about 12% of visits versus 80% for desktop, holding steady between 2015 and 2016) with metrics suggesting quick fact-gathering through scrolling rather than clicking, and lower conversion to purchase or other valued action. 

These findings are not presented to challenge statistics about the smartphone takeover but rather put them in perspective. The sites chosen are variations of a common theme: digital representations of businesses seeking to attract interest, engage, and enable key actions like purchase or account check-in.   

Desktop devices are stationary, large screen, and positioned at the center of most people’s working days, complementing the role of such sites.  Mobile, at this point in time and in this context, plays a secondary role.

Nonetheless, brand owners and marketers need to know whether other points in the buyer or customer journey could potentially intersect with mobile behaviors and strategize accordingly.

Some cases in point:

  • A higher ed client saw organic search traffic from mobile devices double between 2015 and 2016. One likely reason: outdoor advertising spend also rose in the period. These visitors turned out to be highly engaged with the mobile responsive landing page. 
  • Mobile-first sites, built by PJA, are driven by geo-targeted search to insert the brand into in-aisle store shopping activity. Bounce rates on these sites have remained low, and with constant A/B testing are always getting tweaked to serve the experience users want.
  • Mobile may not be used as often as desktop to finalize an online sale, but for a telecom client, it is the primary way users search for, revisit, and learn. Here, the context is all about mobile – the product is smartphone plans – and therefore ad spend goes where users are.  

The main takeaway is that contexts for using mobile or desktop are not, by any means, in opposition to one another, but are part of a continuum – where one leaves off, the other comes into play based on convenience.  The more a brand can learn from and act on their own prospects’ device behaviors on the journey to purchase, the better they can build experiences and buy media to intersect with those habits.

What about tablets, you may ask. Aren’t they the logical overlapping point adept at both mobile and desktop duties?  Weren’t they predicted to replace desktop by now? Interestingly, tablet usage on the sites we studied continue to run a distant third behind desktop and mobile. Reports of iPad sales declines further suggests that we’re pretty comfortable with our smartphone-desktop arrangement – whether tablets or some other technology succeeds in upending the balance is one reason why marketing won’t stop being fun for a long time to come.