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Mobile vs. Desktop Browsing: Is Time Spent On Site a Useful Metric?

By | May 18, 2012

As smartphone and tablet adoption increases, businesses are finding that they have to track and optimize their sites for additional metrics. While desktop browsing still far exceeds mobile browsing, mobile Web usage is expected to overtake desktop usage by 2015. Businesses that have begun tracking mobile metrics and optimizing for mobile behaviors stand to benefit the most from this revolution in Internet access.

Mobile Behavior

Time on Site: Mobile vs. Desktop Visitors

One key metric for measuring visitor engagement is the time spent on site. Typically, more time spent on a website means that more pages are likely to be visited, leading to an increased chance of conversion.

Mobile users tend to spend less time on site than desktop visitors do—in some cases, as much as 40 percent less time. Many factors contribute to this, including:

  • Simple Navigation
  • Quick Conversion Funnel
  • Savvy Navigators
  • Increased Download Speed

Simple, Streamlined Navigation

A best practice for a mobile site’s homepage is to place the navigation menu at the top so that visitors can easily navigate as soon as they land on the site. Many sites also replicate the same navigation menu and place it in the footer on internal pages of the site. Adding a site search, especially with auto-complete functionality, is another good practice for mobile sites.

Quick Conversion Funnel

Mobile visitors who are ready to convert want a quick conversion funnel, so it’s best to map out how a mobile site will have the shortest path to conversion possible. It may be as simple as including a click-to-call phone number in the header, having a prominent call-to-action button linking to a lead generation form in the content of each page, or integrating PayPal’s Express Checkout for Mobile Devices.

Savvy Navigators: Mobile vs. Desktop Visitors

Sometimes visitors spend less time on a site because they know how to find what they seek right off the bat. Today’s mobile users include a large percentage of tech-savvy individuals who may know how to navigate websites better than those still tethered to personal computers. As smartphones penetrate deeper into the market, this factor will become less significant.

Download Speed: Mobile vs. Desktop Visitors

Smartphones employ the latest technology, while many desktop visitors may be accessing the Internet on older, slower systems. This means that what appears to be a difference in time spent consuming content may actually represent a difference in download speeds, with mobile users able to receive and consume content faster than those using a desktop computer.

Mobile Devices are Not Created Equal

When analyzing mobile behavior by device, one key insight emerges: smartphone and tablet usage varies. In fact, tablet behavior more closely correlates with that of desktop usage than that of smartphone usage. Businesses seeking to maximize the value of their mobile market should segregate their data to allow for a better understanding of the needs and behaviors of users on different devices.

Time on site can be an important indicator of visitor engagement, but as the above factors indicate, it must be considered within the context of the user, the device used, and the site goals. Businesses should be tracking time on site by device and optimizing for mobile usage in order to respond to this rising market that will soon eclipse desktop browsing.

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About Jonathan Levey

Jonathan Levey is an online marketing specialist with extensive experience in local search and mobile website design and development. He has helped create highly functional mobile websites for companies in the healthcare, technology, and manufacturing industries, including e-commerce-ready platforms. A graduate of Indiana University, he majored in sport marketing and minored in business. Prior to joining Fathom, Jonathan served as Director of Promotions for the Lake County Captains, a Class A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, and oversaw the website and social media. He currently serves on the board of trustees for the Business Careers in Entertainment Association and enjoys sports, watching movies, and traveling.

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