There’s a good chance that you have a cell phone within arm’s reach right now, maybe in a pocket, next to you on your desk, or even in your hand as you read this post.
Even so, when you imagine a reader interacting with your site, do you tend to picture a person browsing on a laptop or do you see a commuter reading on her phone? Getting a clearer picture of how readers discover content via devices starts with checking in with the data.
As recently as 2013, peak daily mobile usage only accounted for 20% of traffic. Parse.ly network data shows that on average over 65% of traffic to publisher and brand sites in 2017 was “pure mobile.” Now, at the beginning of 2018, mobile and tablets drive 73% of traffic to our network.
With the mobile audience growing faster and bigger than ever before, it’s essential to understand the habits unique to those readers. Here’s what the data suggests about people’s habits when it comes to when, where, and why we’re on our phones.
When: Desktop during workdays, mobile all the time
The times that people are more likely to browse on mobile vs. desktop vary. Desktop still has a weekday cadence (following peoples’ work schedules), whereas mobile is “all day every day,” including some morning and night-time peaks. People also tend to use tablets on weekends.
We also consistently see a drop-off in desktop traffic between 5:00 pm and 5:30 pm in every local timezone in the U.S.. Of course, this makes sense because many people head home from work around 5:00 pm.
Desktop ended 2017 at only 25% of total traffic across all our publishers, and kicked off 2018 at only 23% of traffic. This does vary quite a bit on a publisher-by-publisher basis. For example, some international publishers are almost all mobile traffic, and some subscription or workday reads lean desktop. However, overall, it’s a safe bet that mobile and tablet have firmly overtaken desktop for “casual” news reading.
Where: Five big movers of mobile traffic in 2017
When you break down the services or referrers that drove mobile growth in 2017, five bigs ones stand out. People are discovering content on mobile devices via:
1. Plain old Google Search
Google experimented a lot with highlighting premium publishers in their mobile search experiences, and unifying Google Search with Google News, which drove more traffic back to publishers’ sites.
Traffic from Google AMP increased by 87% in 2017. Not only that, but making AMP available to other platforms contributed to mobile growth. AMP drove 3% of visitors to our network by way of non-Google platforms, including Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
2. Google’s non-search connected services
These services include Google Now and Google Play Newsstand, mostly on Android. Though these services did not grow the most out of the five listed here, the absolute number of visits delivered was substantial, and contributed to Google overtaking Facebook as a primary source of traffic. AMP and Android platform dominance propelled Google’s shift from news search to content discovery.
Flipboard was the big independent (read: not Google or Facebook) traffic source growth story of 2017. Especially in the latter half of the year, as they launched their formal partnerships with major publishers, Flipboard grew over 300% over the year in mobile.
Twitter and Flipboard are now sending similar levels of mobile visits to publisher sites. Twitter has reinvested in news partnerships, mobile speed, and their mobile apps. Notable changes to the app include the shift to the 280 character limit, AMP embeds, and algorithm changes.
Instagram also cracked our top-10 list for traffic sources overall for publishers, driven by the platform’s move this year to allow linking to external web-based content from Instagram stories. With the copycat stories feature, Instagram ultimately took the wind out of Snapchat’s sails.
Why: We feel the need, the need for speed on mobile
Speed heavily factors into why people are browsing the way they do on mobile.
With people using their phones everywhere—in transit, waiting in line, you name it—it’s likely that they’ll be off wifi and on a network. The speedier the network connection, the better the experience. This resonates with a finding from a recent Pew Research survey: half of Americans say an unlimited cell data plan would help them get information to make decisions.
People also trust content that loads quickly, according to the American Press Institute:
“A majority of digital news consumers report it is very important to them that ads not interfere with the news (63 percent); that the site or app loads fast (63 percent); that the content works well on their mobile phones (60 percent).” — American Press Institute
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Flipboard, and others were right, we think, to focus so aggressively on mobile page speed improvements. For example, Google recently re-emphasized the fact that their search algorithms would penalize slow sites on mobile.
It’s worth noting that just because people want content to load quickly, that doesn’t mean they want to move on from content quickly. Long-form articles get more than twice the engaged time of short-form articles on cellphones, according to a 2016 study from Pew Research.
Keeping up with the pace of mobile growth
With the fast growth of mobile, and especially now that Facebook referrals are declining, building direct mobile channels allows publishers to meet readers where they are.
People still spend a lot of time checking email, and having a “daily read” newsletter is a great way to drive traffic to your mobile site, without requiring a native iOS or Android app strategy. According to a study by Campaign Monitor, 41% of email opens happen on mobile devices, exceeding the amount of opens on both desktop and tablets. If you can’t build your own app, integrate your content into users’ habitual engagement with their email app.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that readers are less likely to click through on mobile. Campaign Monitor reports, “As more people consume email on mobile devices, the standard for compelling content is higher than ever.”
As mobile grows, checking back in with the data helps ensure that you’re connecting with readers when and where they are on mobile, and delivering content that resonates with them.