Mobile Visitor Trending and The Impact On Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Campaigns

The impact of mobile visitors on paid search ROI.

All you have to do is look around you right now to see the power (and promise) of mobile technology. Everyone is holding some form of mobile device, whether that’s a smartphone like an iphone or blackberry, or a feature phone (which is a marketing term for a standard cell phone with relatively basic functionality). And as mobile devices gain traction, more and more people are accessing the web via mobile browsers to research information, buy products, sign up for your services, contact local businesses, etc. It’s becoming hard to ignore that fact.

Based on what I explained above, here are two important questions to ask yourself:

1. Do you know how many mobile visitors are browsing your site?

2. Are those mobile visitors able to accomplish what they need to do on your site (and what you want them to do)?

Some Examples of Mobile Trending

Let’s take a quick look at mobile trending since January of 2009 for three sites that I control. Although the percentage of total site traffic still isn’t staggering, the trend is clearly on the rise (and especially over the past six months).

The Increase in Mobile Visits Since January 2009:Trending of mobile visitors since January 2009

Trending of mobile visitors since January 2009

Trending of mobile visitors since January 2009

Note: To view mobile trending, I used a regular expression in Google Analytics to include only screen resolutions under 320×480 (which is a smart method of filtering mobile visits documented by Craig Hordlow on iMediaConnecton). Although Google Analytics added mobile tracking in October of 2009, that doesn’t give us enough data (due to the timeframe). You can filter mobile visits a number of ways, but I like the screen resolution method when looking back in time.

How This Impacts Your Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Efforts

If more people are visiting your website via mobile devices, and you are paying for some of that traffic, how does that impact your ROI? I’ve provided three points to consider below with regard to mobile visitors and paid search.

1. SEM Targeting (Along With Other Campaign Targeting)
There are times that search engine marketers do a great job mapping out campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and ads, but still the campaigns aren’t driving the ROI that they were expecting. For some of these campaigns, unintended mobile visitors could be dragging down your return. I recommend checking your campaign settings to see if you are targeting mobile devices and then checking the user experience for those visitors. You might find that those visitors have a horrible user experience when visiting your website (such as your site design breaking when it renders on mobile devices). For example, if you have a nifty JavaScript-based hero image that’s not rendering properly or a slick flash element that cannot be displayed (with no alternative content). Heck, your navigation might not even be showing up. From an analytics standpoint, you can typically identify a serious issue by checking the bounce rate for any given ad group in SEM. If you see a high bounce rate, then you would obviously want to dig deeper to learn more. For example, you might see a bounce rate of 85% or higher for certain ad groups. While checking your campaign settings, you might just find that mobile targeting is turned on, and more importantly, that your site isn’t ready for it. This is why I typically recommend setting up separate campaigns targeting mobile users versus mixing mobile and desktop targeting (but that’s for another blog post).

In case you are wondering what a broken site looks like in a mobile browser, I’ve provided screenshots of sites not rendering or working properly below:

Visitors Won’t Be Able To Get Very Far If They See This:

JavaScript inhibiting the proper display of a website on mobile browsers.

Unless You Are Selling Blank Boxes, This Won’t Suffice:

Tiffany's content not rendering on mobile browsers.

The Screenshot Below Might Look OK, But I Added Three Products To My Shopping Cart & The Site Wouldn’t Actually Add Them…

Mobile e-commerce not working on mobile browsers.

A Note About The Google Content Network & Mobile Applications
The Content Network can be a very powerful driver of traffic for your website, however, it also presents some challenges. For example, if you are targeting mobile devices across the content network, then your ads can show up on mobile applications too. Given the widespread use of some mobile apps (across iPhone and Android), you might end up with a lot of traffic via mobile visitors. If your site cannot handle those visitors, you’ll be throwing away a lot of money…

2. Obstacles to Conversion
Based on what I explained above about sites not rendering properly, you can imagine the impact on conversion. Actually, there won’t be any conversions from mobile visitors. :) But let’s say your site does render ok and mobile visitors are able to browse your website. That’s great, but can those visitors accomplish what they want to on your site (and what you need them to do in order to convert?) When I’m helping clients with analytics, I often talk about conversions and events, which are actions that are important to your company. These actions provide value and do not represent meaningless numbers. For example, revenue, downloads, requests for more information, contacting your sales department, subscribing to your RSS feed, etc.

So, if you are focusing on outcomes (conversions, events, etc.), then you probably want to make sure that mobile visitors can reach those outcomes. For example, if you run an ecommerce website, can visitors purchase from your site? If you focus on lead generation, can visitors contact you via the site, if you want people to download your ebook, can they submit the form that gets them to the download page? The quick way to understand how your site performs across mobile devices is to test it directly from those devices. You might find some interesting things as you traverse your site on a mobile device…

Excellent Examples of Providing Content Targeted for Mobile Visitors: provides one of the best mobile shopping experiences on the web: You can read more about and Mobile e-Commerce in a previous blog post of mine.

Mobile e-Commerce and
Mashble Provides a Mobile-Optimized Version of the Site Content:

Mashable's mobile-optimized content..
Best Buy Also Provides a Streamlined Shopping Experience for Mobile Visitors:

Mobile e-Commerce on Best Buy's website.

3. Video and Rich Media for Mobile Visitors
Online video is booming and it can definitely be an important component to your content development strategy. However, be very careful if your content relies heavily on video (when it comes to mobile visitors). Most of the visitors from mobile will not be able to see that really cool video on your landing page, and worse, that video element could end up breaking your page as it renders. I’m not saying to exclude video from your campaigns. You should just understand your audience and the targeting capabilities available via SEM. Then you can plan accordingly. For example, you can create a landing page for mobile visitors, you could redirect all mobile visits to a mobile-ready section of your site, etc. The worst thing you could do is spend $10-$20K on a killer video only to have it inhibit the very thing you are looking to do…convert visitors.

Your Next Mobile Steps
Mobile is rapidly growing and you should expect more and more visitors from mobile devices as 2010 progresses. If you are running paid search campaigns, understand the targeting capabilities available and adjust accordingly. Work with your development team on testing and refining your landing pages and site content to ensure they are mobile-friendly. You never know, you might be able to implement some minor adjustments that can make a big difference conversion-wise.

Just look for that 95% bounce rate and then dig deeper. :)