Gavin Hirst - Thursday 21st April 2016


Mobile is the future but it’s not all about smartphones

Here at Digital Hothouse, we’re huge advocates of mobile-first thinking. We have seen the trends over time. Mobile is outgrowing desktop usage and is now responsible for close to 60% of all internet traffic. In a recent blog post for Moz, Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting looked into some interesting trends that show that whilst mobile is on the rise, it’s not just smartphones and tablets that we need to focus on.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop

When we talk about ‘mobile’ we have traditionally referred to smartphones or tablets as opposed to desktop usage but over the past 2-3 years, what we should be thinking of as mobile has drastically changed. The rise of smart TVs, wearables and the internet of things has changed the way that we as digital marketers should think about our content and how it is going to be consumed. This chart below shows an interesting trend: around 3 years ago, smartphone, tablet and desktop represented around two thirds of all installed internet devices. By 2020, it is predicted that this will have fallen to around 25%.

Chart showing the rise in mobile installed devices

Whilst this is slightly misleading to some extent (many of these devices will have very low engagement i.e. smart fridges etc), it definitely indicates a shift in the way we as users will consume content in 3-4 years’ time.

If we take out those devices that will have little or no user interaction (no keyboard), we can see that mobile, smartphone and desktop still make up less than 50% of all installed devices by 2020.

Rise of mobile installed devices with keyboard

So what does this mean for companies and digital marketers?

The rise of voice search

With so many ‘mobile’ devices available, we are seeing a definite shift in search trends and a move towards more voice searches. Eric reports in his blog that in a recent keynote with Gary Illyes from Google, Gary indicated that the number of voice searches Google received in 2015 was double that of 2014.

With the rise of smart TVs and wearables, people are definitely shifting behaviours. We see this with our own clients and the way that people are searching and the rise of natural language search queries is an important element of the work that we do here at Digital Hothouse. Understanding how people naturally search, and how this differs from the way they might type a search query is crucial to staying ahead of the competition. These graphs only highlight further still the importance moving forward of ensuring that natural language search is an important element of your keyword research strategy.

Google’s RankBrain algorithm appears to be at the heart of this shift in behaviour. RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm that lets Google better understand search queries by learning over time the different ways that humans express themselves. It then processes the more complex queries and translates them into something that Google’s regular search algorithm can better understand. Translating more complicated, natural language search queries into something that can be understood by the regular search algorithm seems to be at the heart of this.

Mobile Apps

Eric’s article features some fantastic insights into who is winning the mobile battle, including all the big players and is definitely an article you should read. One other big takeaway we took from the article and something we have worked on with a number of clients is the rise of mobile apps.

App usage is the fastest growing segment in terms of digital media time spent (compared to mobile browser and desktop). Whilst there is growth across all three segments, mobile app usage is up a whopping 90% since 2013 (compared to 53% for mobile browser and 16% for desktop). That’s big.

Growth in mobile app usage - time spent

The amount of time people are spending using apps is growing way, way faster than any other segment. Smartphone app usage currently has a 44% share of all digital activity on a smartphone. That’s not 44% of your time on a mobile device being taken up in apps. That’s 44% of all digital activity is consumed in apps on a smartphone. When we look at smartphones alone, that number rises to 71%.

It’s no wonder Facebook and Google jumped onto this so quickly.

Chart showing mobile app installations

We can see from the chart above that 8 out of the top 9 apps are owned by Facebook or Google with only Pandora Radio breaking things up and Apple Music sneaking into the top 10. Facebook continues to dominate the market as the number 1 installed app with 48% of users who have it installed calling it their number 1 app.

Whilst these numbers highlight the importance of companies embracing the app space, where a lot of companies struggle is to maintain regular usage of an app once installed. According to Google, “only one quarter of installed apps are used daily while one quarter are left completely unused.”

And therein lies a problem. How do you keep people engaged with your app once you get them to install it?

App indexing

One thing that we work on with our clients is app indexing. With over 50 billion links within apps indexed by Google currently, this represents a great way not only for your app content to appear in Google search, but also for Google to present ‘install’ buttons for users who have not already got your app installed, directly from search.

App indexing is an important part of your SEO strategy. Ensuring links within your app can be indexed and crawled can lead to increase visibility, downloads and app engagement. These are also ranking factors for Google so ensuring your apps are indexed is an important element of your SEO strategy.

Conclusion and takeaways

It has been evident for some time that there is a big shift towards mobile. People have been talking about mobile-first design for a few years now, however what is also clear from Eric’s fantastic article is that there are other factors at play. You can’t just consider traditional mobile devices like smartphones and tablets when you are creating content. How people consume content is changing and you need to make sure your digital strategies reflect these changes. Voice search is going to continue to grow and don’t be surprised to see the number of voice searches recorded by Google double again this year.

Our biggest takeaway is to go and read Eric’s article. It also covers some other key areas such as site speed and the introduction of AMP and Facebook Instant articles which we have covered in some of our recent blog posts.

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