Reality Check: Do You Really Need a Mobile Website?

In 1899, Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver gave a speech in Philadelphia that captured the nature of his fellow Missouri-ans:

“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Hence Missouri’s nickname: The Show Me State

As I get older and more skeptical, I’m beginning to think Vandiver and I may be related.

Fact-Checking Stats about Mobile Websites

One of the biggest trends in web development these days is towards mobile optimized websites.

The theory is that someone visiting your site on a mobile device will have different priorities than other visitors, and you need to cater to those needs with very different layouts.

It certainly makes sense.

But I wanted to see some data anyway.

So I dug into our vast store of google analytics data and pulled numbers from sites in 5 different industries.

  • Software
  • Law
  • Retail / eCommerce
  • Goverment
  • Professional Services

I focused my digging around 2 key questions:

First, is Mobile website use really on the rise? I’ve had a smartphone for many years, and so have most people I know. Is it possible that we’ve reached some degree of saturation, and mobile web use has leveled off?

Second, does having a mobile optimized website really improve customer experience? It certainly seems to make sense, but it couldn’t hurt to check the facts for ourselves, right?

Question #1 - Is Mobile Website Use Really on the Rise?

For this question, I started by pulling data covering January 1 2012 to December 31 2012. This give us a clean year’s worth of data, and minimizes the influence of any seasonal swings in business.

First, I wanted to see the overall percent of traffic to the sites from mobile devices.

The number varies substantially by industry.

A big surprise for me was how much mobile use there was for the law website.

The high retail number wasn’t much of a surprise.

So now that we had a bulk number, how could we measure if it was on the rise?

I pulled data on percent of total traffic from mobile devices. As you can see from the graph below, the percent of traffic does seem to have trended upwards during 2012.

I also compared a few key indicators (you can see these number in the top left of the above graph).

First, I ran the math and found the avg. monthly change in percent of total traffic from mobile devices. 4 out of 5 websites showed positive average increases, some as high as almost 3.5% per month. That’s huge.

I also wanted to find the biggest fluctuation, so I compared the month with the lowest percent of mobile traffic with the highest. This gives us a sense of how volatile the numbers are. Numbers ranged from almost 10% to about .5%.


It certainly seems that the simple answer to my question is “Yes - mobile web traffic seems to be on the rise across industries.”

Question #2 - Does a Mobile Website Really Improve Customer Experience?

I had a feeling the answer here would be a resounding yes, but I wanted to look at the data anyway.

It’s important to note that none of the sites I looked at currently have a mobile-optimized presence. Each of them displays the same site layout on any device. This was important to ensure that the data faithfully represented the answers to our questions.

I looked at three things:

  1. Bounce Rate
  2. Avg. # of Pages / Visit
  3. Goal Conversion Rate

I figured that bounce rate would be an easy comparison. If mobile users bounce more often than desktop visitors, we can probably assume their experience of the site isn’t as good.

Average pages / visit could be misleading though. Mobile users are assumed to be more task-oriented. So visiting fewer pages wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

But goal conversion rate wouldn’t lie to me. If mobile users complete goals less often, then it’s clear the site has a problem getting what it wants out of mobile users. And heck - mobile users may even complete goals more often if the theory about being more task-oriented is true.

Here’s a graph of what I found:

According to the numbers, desktop sites produced a better visitor experience in every category and every industry.

Key Takeaways

So it looks like we have a resounding “yes” to both of our questions.

Yes, across industries, it seems that mobile website use is still rising. And yes, it does appear that the experience of a mobile website user is not as positive on a non-mobile website.

So for the website owners out there, if you haven’t been making plans to create a mobile  version of your website, it’s probably time to start that conversation. You’ve got a lot of options for executing.

We’d be happy to talk to you about it.