A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

A Look Under the Hood: Our Mobile Statistics

I’m not breaking any news here when I tell you that mobile is exploding.  Smart phone sales have overtaken sales of PCs.  There are nearly a billion smartphones worldwide.  10% of all web traffic now comes form mobile devices.

This is all important stuff for us to follow.  But as big of a deal as these overall industry trends are, at the Brick Factory it is more important for us to understand what is going on in our own world of non-profits and advocacy groups.  How is the move towards mobile impacting our clients?

In an effort to answer that question, we took a detailed look at how mobile usage of the websites we manage (65+ sites) is evolving.  We did this by comparing accesses from mobiles devices (defined as smartphones and tablets) in February 2010 to data from February 2011 and February 2012.  While we can’t publicly release all of our findings, we did want to share some aggregate data.

Overall Mobile Traffic

As the chart below shows, the percentage of site traffic from mobile devices has increased dramatically over the last two years.  Mobile traffic to the sites we looked at doubled from from 2010 to 2011, and then again from 2011 to 2012.  In February 2012, 8.8% of all traffic came from mobile devices.  This is pretty consistent with overall industry trends, which estimate that 10% of all traffic comes from mobile.

Mobile Traffic as & of Total Internet Traffic

In analyzing the data,  a critical point is that  desktop traffic did not drop.  Overall traffic and desktop traffic increased form year to year.  Mobile traffic just increased at a higher rate.  This is important, as, at least for our clients, mobile traffic isn’t taking away from desktop traffic.  It is helping to expand the audience for our sites.

Browsers

For this study we used Google Analytics definition of mobile, which counts the iPad as a mobile device.  The chart below shows the top mobile browsers for the sites we manage for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Mobile Browser Breakdown

Here is another view of the data which makes it easier to see how things have changed over time.

Mobile Browser Breakdown

The story hear is that Android, iPhone and iPad are the dominant players.  This consolidation makes things a bit easier for developers like us.  Being able to focus on a few big devices/platforms makes it simpler for us to develop solutions that work on nearly all devices.

As you can see from the data, the introduction of the iPad has had a huge impact and is really what is driving the growth in our mobile stats.  In two years the iPad has gone from not existing to a 35% mobile browser market share.  We really haven’t seen much traffic yet from other tablet devises.  This is important to understand as you plot your mobile strategy, as designing your website to work on an iPad is a much different task than designing for iPhone or Android.

Rise of iPad

Site Comparison

The percentage of visitors accessing from mobile devices varied dramatically from site to site. For some sites, 25% of users came from mobile devices while others only saw as little as 2% coming from mobile. Not surprisingly, sites with a news focus tended to attract a higher percentage of mobile users than more static sites.  Sites with mobile friendly designs also attracted more mobile visitors than sites without.

The chart below shows the percentage of accesses for all of the sites we looked at.  Each row represents a site.

Site by Site Browser Data

Bottom Line

Our traffic data shows that mobile browsing has increased dramatically over the last few years.  The data for the sites we manage is in line with the overall industry trends.  When we look at this data in 2013 we expect mobile accesses to have doubled again and to represent 15-20% of all site traffic. 

As a digital agency, the ramifications for us are pretty clear.  Making the sites we build mobile friendly is no longer just an option to consider.  It is a requirement.

Thanks to Ashley Montague for compiling the data for this blog post and Freddy Trejo for the awesome graphs.

Grading the GOP Presidential Candidates on Mobile

Back in the heady days of June 2011, I posted an analysis of Presidential candidates use of mobile in their campaigns.  My research showed that at that time only President Obama was making much of an effort in the mobile space.   With the end of the Republican primary in sight, and having recently done a deep dive on President Obama’s mobile optimization efforts, I figured it would be a good time to take a another look at how the remaining Republican candidates are using mobile.   This time out, I took a look at four primary criteria:

  • Does the campaign have a version of their main website optimized for mobile?
  • Does the candidate offer supporters a way to sign up for SMS updates?
  • Does the campaign have an official iPhone or Android application?

The results sort of speak for themselves.  Romney’s mobile optimized website is the only current mobile initiative by a Republican candidate.

Candidate Mobile Site Text Updates iPhone App Android App
Newt Gingrich No No No No
Ron Paul No No No No
Mitt Romney Yes No No No
Rick Santorum No No No No

Mobile Sites

While extremely simple, the Romney campaign actually has a pretty good mobile site.   The homepage design is clean and presents the user with obvious choices.  Visitors can click to get to the desktop site if they so choose.

home

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Barack Obama and Responsive Design

President Obama campaign website on desktop, iPad and iPhone.

There is little doubt that the 2008 Obama campaign was the most sophisticated digital operation in the history of politics.  It is not really close.

Given how high the bar has been set, there was a lot of hype surrounding the November release of the 2012 version  www.barackobama.com, which features a responsive design.    Responsive designs are all the rage these days, as they allow a site to automatically resize based on the resolution of the device the visitor accesses from.  This approach prevents web developers from having to create specific versions of your site for desktops, smartphones and devices like the iPad.

When well executed, a responsive design can be a thing of beauty.  Here are some great examples, with the Andersson-Wise and Boston Globe sites being particularly impressive, albeit in vastly different ways. 

When done right, a responsive design creates compelling user experience on all devices.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Obama site achieves that goal. 

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ESPN Ups Its Mobile Game

As a sports fan and iPhone user, one of the sites I frequently access on my phone is ESPN.com.  ESPN recently launched a new mobile site for iPhones, which is more robust and app-like than just about any mobile site I’ve seen.  As a reference point, below are screenshots of the ESPN mobile site in 2008 and today.

espn_before_after

While they may not look that different superficially, the site today is much more sophisticated and user friendly than it was in 2008.  It is all about the details:

  • The new ESPN mobile site has become much more video-focused the last few years.  As you browse the site just about every section has the option to play video on your phone.
  • In 2008, the ESPN site just featured one top story.  Now the mobile site has a Top Story slider that allows you to cycle through articles in a manner similar to the experience on www.espn.com
  • The mobile sites navigation system has been optimized to work really well for touch screens.  In 2008 it was a bit mysterious.
  • The search is featured prominently on the site today, and the results you get when searching by topic focus on delivering the most timely information first.
  • The MyESPN area allows you to customize the headlines you see by team/sport, allowing easy access to the topics you care about.

ESPN has worked hard to create a thoughtful mobile experience that focuses on getting users to the content they need without any tension.  For me, the simplicity and focus on content of the ESPN mobile site is a not reprieve from the clutter that you find on ESPN.com and other news sites. 

Are 2012 Presidential Candidates Embracing Mobile? Not So Much

We’ve all seen the stats about the explosion of the mobile web.

There are four billion mobile phones in use globally.  One billion of these are smart phones.  By 2014, more people globally will access the Internet from a mobile device than a desktop computer. 

Depending on who you talk to, mobile is either the next big thing or the big thing right now. 

Given all this, I’ve fully expected the 2012 Presidential candidates to break some ground in their use of mobile.  It is still really, really early -  many candidates haven’t launched version one of their full websites yet and mobile is a technology that lends itself to the ground game.  The cool stuff will come later. 

But taking an early look at the state of things, the situation is pretty bleak, with most candidates not even doing the basics well at this point. 

I analyzed the mobile programs of the fourteen candidates who have either formally announced or launched formal exploratory committees.  Here are the key takeaways:

  • Only three of fifteen candidates (Newt Gingrich, Roy Moore and Barack Obama) have a version of their website that is optimized for mobile.  And frankly the Roy Moore mobile site is so poorly done they would have been better off not doing it (screenshot at the bottom of the page).
  • Only four of fifteen candidates (Gary Johnson, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) offer ways for users to sign up to receive updates via text message
  • Only one candidate (Barack Obama) has built an official campaign app that is available for the iPhone. 
  • Barack Obama is the only candidate deploying all three of these strategies.  No other candidate is using more than one. 
  • On the Republican side I expected the well funded candidate to have much more robust mobile strategies than the long shots.  This isn’t the case at this point, as none of them are really doing that much at this point.

Below is a full table showing all the relevant data, as of June 20, 2011.

Candidate Mobile Optimized Site Text Message Sign Up Mobile App for iPhone
Michelle Bachmann No Yes No*
Herman Cain No No No
Newt Gingrich Yes No No**
Jon Huntsman No No No
Gary Johnson No Yes No
Fred Karger No No No
Andy Martin No No No
Jimmy McMillan No No No**
Roy Moore Yes No No
Barack Obama Yes Yes Yes
Ron Paul No No No**
Tim Pawlenty No No No
Buddy Roemer No No No
Mitt Romney No Yes No**
Rick Santorum No No No

*Michelle Bachmann has an app for her most recent Congressional race.
**Various candidates had apps created for them by supporters or companies seeking to capitalize on their popularity. 

Like I said, it could be too early to be looking at this stuff.  Great things may be on the horizon. 

But at this point it is hard not be underwhelmed by the strategies being deployed by every candidate, with the notable exception of Barack Obama. 

Note: If I missed anything, please let me know in the comments.  I’ll update the table periodically as new candidates announce and new versions of the sites are launched.

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