Mobile vs. Desktop – The Race For Domination

March 18, 2019

Mobile browsing has been around for quite a while now and it’s been a real paradigm shift for many people in the business, especially lifelong desktop users. In the past, media owners could simply make a few adjustments so that their websites are adaptable to the smaller, vertical screens of portable devices and that was good enough. For better or for worse that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as the advancement in hardware and connectivity has lead to an exponential increase in mobile activity. Today we’re seeing more and more publishers picking up the pace and creating a tailored experience for phones and tablets, using the technology to their advantage.

One thing is for sure – the mobile web is here to stay, so it’s imperative for publishers to get involved sooner rather than later if they wish to stay relevant.

What are the key differences?

  • Page layout – landscape vs portrait mode. This may seem insignificant but when size restrictions are also in play it’s actually a key factor to the rate at which content can be assimilated.
  • Real estate and input. On mobile, you’re dealing with a smaller screen and a set of thumbs, instead of a mouse and keyboard. Consequently, there’s only room for the essentials and many desktop features are simply incompatible with these platforms.
  • Navigation. There really aren’t that many options available here and standard navigational widgets are counter-intuitive on handheld devices. Users usually have to scroll all the way down to a page to find any additional links and in most cases, that’s not quite as effective.
  • Loading times. There are quite a few variables when it comes to speed but generally speaking, users would be dealing with lower tier hardware and a less reliable connection. Make sure to reflect upon this when considering the technologies and media you’re using.
  • Interaction. Although not universally true, there’s an observable trend for mobile sessions to be shorter and more repetitive in comparison to their desktop counterparts. Another aspect of the mobile experience is also the higher rate of scrolling (or swiping), with content being delivered into smaller portions at a time.
  • Advertisers. There’s quite a lot of capital going towards the promotion of apps and in most cases, these campaigns are delivered exclusively to mobile users. Of course, desktop visitors own smartphones as well, however securing conversions is way more consistent with the direct transfer to an app store, that’s only available on a mobile device. Also, some campaigns are targeted towards customers of specific brands, operating systems, and other data points collected by in-app analytics.

Interpreting your mobile data

Before going into the details it’s worth mentioning that you should always try to separate your desktop and mobile reports from each other if you wish to get adequate readings. In Google Analytics you can simply use the segment presets, while to do this with your ad server you’d need to create separate instances for each set of placements per device type. Once that’s established you may notice that both platforms have slightly different characteristics, but in most cases, that’s completely normal. Let’s go through a few examples.

  • Viewability. You should often expect fluctuations here due to the fact that a vertical feed structure creates somewhat different conditions. On desktop you can have content and ads sitting alongside each other thanks to the popularity of using sidebars, which is almost never the case on mobile. Instead, you will usually see a distribution of ads in between paragraphs, resulting in a rather linear, alternating configuration. For that reason, diminished viewability rates on mobile are a common occurrence, as users are forced to skip through ads in order to reach the next batch of information and thus keeping them in view for shorter periods of time. On the other hand, you may notice that placements on the upper end of the page are less diverse in their score on average, as the website’s hotspot is spread over a larger area in comparison to desktop.
  • Pages per session, duration, and drop-off. Having lower stats in these areas is not a certainty, however, don’t be surprised if that’s the case with your website. A lot of users are browsing the web on their phones in between other activities or are simply looking up specific topics, where a quick session is exactly the intent, so, all in all, that’s a successful interaction. Don’t let these metrics discourage you, these are still users you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise and scale should be your number one priority.
  • Search traffic. While good rankings are universally important, publishers should pay twice the attention to their traffic source percentages on mobile, as search is your absolute best bet for attracting users consistently. Again, this correlates with the attention span required for an average session and the time available to your mobile audience. If you’re seeing relatively lower numbers in customers coming in through search (regardless of the total amount), it’s likely that there’s an issue that you need to investigate right away.
  • Monetization & performance. Make no mistake, even though there are certain drawbacks to mobile monetization, the one thing that brings value to advertisers above all else is attention. With an increasing amount of engagement being observed on portable devices, there are massive budgets spent in that direction and you may even find your CPMs on mobile to surpass your other inventory.

The good, the bad and the confusing

A common question we’ve encountered is if it’s bad not having a strong presence on mobile and the answer is – not necessarily. It really depends on the type of publisher, but on the whole, it’s simply one more way to reach your audience so it’s always a good thing to have available, if possible.

And when it comes to optimizing on mobile, there are two fundamental things to consider:

Speed

Although having fast load times won’t increase engagement or make you more profitable on its own, it can certainly have the opposite effect if neglected. Creating excellent content, only to have it delivered poorly and suffer the consequences can really be discouraging, so make sure you’ve got both hands on the wheel. For small businesses that can be a real challenge, which is one of the reasons why we’ve now got such things as AMP.

  • AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). If you’re not familiar with the term yet, well, you’ve got some homework to do. Still, in its early stages, Google’s open-source publishing framework is meant to help increase user engagement by making pages lightning fast. It creates a ‘lighter’ version of a page, stripping away everything but the essentials, so that a page is super responsive even if heavy media is used. Publishers are already seeing great results with this and even though there are limited options for monetizing them, AMP pages are achieving great results in terms of performance. It’s also 100% free, so you should definitely give it a try if you haven’t done so already.
  • Monetization technology. For the most part, there’s virtually no difference in the way you’d approach monetizing mobile pages, as compared to desktop ones, with one small exception. We already mentioned that mobile ads are usually in-view for shorter periods of time, so you should also consider how this is affected by the back end. Having complex setups, massive stacks and repeated tiers can lead to placements being sent out of view before a creative was even displayed. With that in mind, try to focus on a streamlined setup that’s effective rather than throwing everything you’ve got in the mix.

Ad sizes and placement

ou’ll primarily be dealing with just two ad sizes on mobile – 320×50 and 300×250. These are pretty much baseline at the moment and while there’s a wide variety of others for you to experiment with, we recommend not doing anything larger than that, as those can compromise user experience significantly.

300×250 ATF. Placing 300×250 banners at the top of pages was for a long time against Google policies, but the ban was lifted in 2017. Even though it’s not technically an offense anymore, this practice is something to be cautious with and definitely doesn’t make sense for each and every website. You need to consider what that page would look like upon landing and figure out if a banner of that size would overwhelm the content. A good rule to go by is to have at least as much content in view as the ad itself replaces. And don’t forget that for the ad to be viewable you don’t really need all of it on the screen – just 51%! If you’re just not sure what the right move is, you may want to play it safe and have the good old 320×50 (or 320×100) on top, which overall performs similarly.

On the other hand, 300×250 placements on mobile hold enormous value for advertisers, as they’re virtually impossible to overlook. You can use this to your advantage in order to secure direct deals with advertisers relevant to your content.

As for the positioning of ads, unfortunately, mobile browsers don’t really provide much room to breathe. Nevertheless, here are a few tips on the dos and don’ts of mobile ad layouts:

  • Keep ads in the upper section. Spreading your placements evenly throughout the page may look great, but it’s counterproductive. Mobile articles can be quite long, so keep ads in the upper areas for the added viewability.
  • Have at least one ad outside of the main container. Especially if your pages vary in length, you should place one ad spot at the end of each article, so it’s displayed 100% of the time and thus generate maximum impressions.
  • Label your ad slots. Consider indicating the ad containers, so that in case a blank occurs users won’t disengage thinking they’ve reached the end of the article.
  • Place ads around comment sections. If your users are engaging in regular discussions, chances are that any ads placed in the comments widget area will be more viewable.

You may also want to experiment with different ad types such as Adhesive or Native, which can help you overcome some of the limitations of mobile web monetization.

If you’d like to find out more about how to achieve sustainable growth across all devices, get in touch with one of our reps below!

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