Last Updated on April 28, 2015
With all this talk about Mobilegeddon, I decided to take a look at mobile traffic trends over the past three years. Specifically, I looked at Google organic searches via mobile devices. I compared those searches to Google organic searches via desktop, tablet, and mobile organic searches from other search engines, and any other traffic pattern over the past few years that seemed worth analyzing.
Our Sample Size
Forty different companies were kind enough to grant access to their Google analytics profiles for this post across a variety of industries: nine e-commerce, seven B2B, six medical, five retail, five educational, four destination/tourism, three automotive and two financial. It looks like we’ve already missed some big organic mobile opportunities based on the data I’ve seen over the past few days. It also raises some interesting questions. Granted this is a very small sample size compared to Dr. Pete’s great Day 1 Post-Mobilegeddon analysis, but mobile traffic data from these companies did offer some interesting insights to predictions that failed, opportunities missed, and lessons to be learned.
Tablets are Mostly a Non-Factor
Remember when tablets were going to take over the world? I remember the day I jumped on the tablet bandwagon well. “Yes, I’ll take your most expensive iPad, please. Make sure it has retina display. My retinas need stuff displayed, ya know! And while we’re at it, I’ll take one of those keyboard adapter thingees for it, too. This baby is going to replace my laptop! Yeah, right.” That iPad is now my kids $1,000 video game machine. (On the plus side, my youngest son has real potential as a professional video gamer.)
I’m not saying we shouldn’t factor tablets into the equation when building websites (far from it). But we just didn’t see the hockey stick adoption rate people were predicting a few years ago. In fact, the percentage of visitors via tablets has essentially been flat-ish over the past year while mobile climbed dramatically and desktop traffic dropped in comparison. My website sample group averaged about 8% user traffic via tablets, with the highest U.S. company in our sample receiving 12.4% of its traffic from tablets. I only track one Canadian company currently, but it received a whopping 24.6% of its traffic via tablet. I don’t know what to think. Do Canadians get discounted iPads at Tim Hortons restaurants?
There Were Some Sizable (and Odd) Jumps in Mobile Organic Traffic
I discovered some very odd jumps in mobile organic traffic. The largest single jump on average occurred in late July of 2013 (see the screenshot below).
In about half of our group, we saw large spikes in mobile organic traffic in late July of 2013. I didn’t remember any mobile-related stories from this time period, so I went back to see what happened. I barked up several trees to figure this one out (see barked at trees below).
Google’s Enhanced Campaigns launched on July 22rd, 2013 (Search Engine Land)
The Knowledge Graph Exploded on July 19th (Moz)
Did Something Else Happen that We Missed? (Search Engine Roundtable)
Are We Measuring Mobile Very Well? Here’s How (Occam’s Razor)
While the screenshot above is one of the more extreme examples, many others show a pretty substantial increase in organic mobile searches starting in July 2013. This doesn’t time with any iPhone releases, increase in 4G service or other factors I could think of. But then I had a great conversation about it with James Svoboda of Webranking. He saw similar spikes with some of his clients and started poking around as well. During this process he reached out to his friend Jeff Sauer , who reminded us about iOS 6 traffic showing up as direct traffic until late July 2013. I totally forgot about that. Thanks for the hat tip, Jeff! But even with that mystery solved, we still see a pretty massive increase in mobile traffic (just smooth out the left side of your mobile traffic growth) in the examples below and take a look at the rise of mobile across a variety of industries.
How does your mobile growth compare? Does your tablet traffic look relatively flat as well? This screenshot below is pretty representative of tablet’s flat line and mobile’s rapid rise.
Some VERY Mobile Un-Friendly Websites Have Massive Mobile Traffic at Risk
I’m worried about a few of the companies in our study. A few of them have the majority of their traffic coming from Google organic via mobile devices. I haven’t seen any drops in traffic for them as of yet, but it’s still very early. They are in very competitive markets, as well. Even if it isn’t viewed as a penalty, per se, it allows for their competitors to potentially leap frog right past them.
Google = Mobile Searches
Sure, I expected Google to be dominant on mobile. But I didn’t expect this. In our sample group, Google drives an overwhelming 94% of all searches via mobile devices. I only have one profile (with a decent amount of traffic) where Google represented less than 90% of mobile searches (shown below).
They Can Hear Us Now
The good news from all of this is that we now have awareness and a sense of urgency from our clients when it comes to mobile. It might even become a priority! Here’s a quick quote from a publisher that summarizes his view of the transition from print to online from an economic perspective.
“We’re trading print dollars for desktop dimes and mobile pennies.” – Unnamed Publisher
This view reflects the low priority a lot of companies have for mobile. What they don’t see is that money follows the eyeballs — and those eyeballs are looking at their phones like never before. For example, the newspaper shows up to my house everyday. I can’t get it to stop. So each morning I walk my newspaper from the end of my driveway to the recycle bin. Then I sit down for breakfast and read the news of the day on my laptop or phone. But now that mobilegeddon has shaken the trees a bit, we have the perfect opportunity to help our clients better use mobile as an important long-term channel for business. And this isn’t just for publishers. Look at the industries listed above. Mobile matters. And mobilegeddon helped bring that message to the masses. Now it’s time to do something about it.
What to Do Next
It starts with gaining better understanding of your mobile traffic and its impact on your business. Last week I wrote a blog post that included two free Google Analytics mobile dashboards. Just click on the dashboard links in the post and add them to your GA dashboard gallery. Paying attention to your mobile traffic with dashboards like these is a good way to start understanding how mobile traffic is impacting your business. I’m sure you’ll start getting some great ideas about what you can do to improve your mobile presence and user experience. And just in case you haven’t seen Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tool yet, here you go. I’m sure there will be plenty of new articles about mobile SEO in the near future and a ton of great advice to help you along the way to mobile dominance.
(Smartphones image via Creative Commons.)