Let’s start at the beginning

First off let’s establish the data we’re dealing with. We used the exact same methodology as last year; so, through the use of the Google Analytics API, VBA tools and Excel wizardry we exported weekly visits by device from 2011 and 2012. We also set the same criteria as last year:

  • All profiles used in the analysis had data for both 2011 and 2012.
  • Profiles used in the analysis were active in every month of both years (the increases were not due to profiles only starting to collect data in April 2012 for example).

(Note that this year we were hamstrung a little by the fact that Google Analytics only introduced ‘tablet’ as a dimension at the end of November 2011 so the graphs below start from that time.)

At the end of this exhaustive analysis we had a data set comprising over 550 websites, predominantly UK-based and including over 750m visits.

Not to encourage geographic stereotyping, but the stats were crunched by our German analyst, Kai, so you know the data will be accurate, reliable and 100% without humour (Only joking, vielen dank Kai).

I’m pleased to say that all the blood, sweat and (mainly) tears were not without due cause and the fascinating results are below. To avoid any particularly large sites skewing the data we opted for an unweighted average ratio (of site traffic) rather than pure visit numbers.

Chart 1 Percentage of traffic per device from November 2011-December 2012

Percentage of traffic per device from November 2011-December 2012

The most striking observation, and happily for me given the subject of this blog, is that the proportion of traffic coming from tablets has increased from approximately 2% to upwards of 13% over 13 months.

That’s a staggering increase. Over the same time period, the proportion of visits coming from mobiles increased from 11%-18% whilst the proportion of visits from desktops decreased from 87% to 69%.

Now if you have an ounce of analytics nous, you’ll notice that the last two weeks of 2012 see a big old shift in the ratios – these, as if you need reminding, are the weeks before and between Christmas and New Year when many offices are closed/employees are on annual leave. This has exacerbated the huge drop in percentage of visits from desktops.

The first take-home point of this blog is thus so: mobile and tablet devices are more sociable and more often accessed outside of the work environment, making them absolutely crucial in the B2C market.

If you are a B2C business, you should already know that tablet and mobile site experiences are imperative as we go forward, so if a mobile optimised site isn’t already high on the agenda, bump it right up!

Observation #2 is that during the Christmas periods in both 2011 and 2012, there was a big spike in the proportion of visits from the mobile devices (as noted above, they’re more social). If this hasn’t occurred to you already, this represents a huge opportunity for advertising over this period.

You need to ensure that you’ve tweaked your budgets to more accurately reflect the percentage of visits by device, so consider giving mobile and tablet campaigns a greater chunk over this time.

Christmas is special

As we mentioned above, it’s a bit unfair on poor old desktop when we consider the Christmas effect. However, even if we ignore the last couple of weeks of 2012 and write them off as ‘special’, we’re still left with a very impressive increase in tablet traffic:

  • Tablet ratio from end of Nov 2011 to mid-December 2012: increased from 2% – 10%.
  • Mobile ratio from end of Nov 2011 to mid-December 2012: increased from 11% – 13%.
  • Desktop ratio from end of Nov 2011 to mid-December 2012: decreased from 87% – 77%.

As we saw last year when looking at phones and tablets, people see their mobile devices (and more specifically, their tablet devices) as extensions of their desktop device; fully prepared to research, buy and read on them all.

In fact, in a separate piece of analysis conducted by our Head of Search Alistair Dent using our AdWords data, we identified that the average ROI for tablets in December was 5.8. This is compared to 5.0 for desktops and 2.4 for mobile.

It’s so important it’s worth reiterating again; if you are a B2C business, make sure you’re optimising for tablet. Make sure you have tablet-specific PPC campaigns (or make sure your agency is doing this for you!).

Make sure your site is responsive and renders as beautifully on tablets as it undoubtedly does on websites. Naturally, as tablets and mobiles become more prevalent, they will become cheaper. This – plus the proliferation of ‘mini tablets’ at a lower price – will mean that we can only assume this rise of mobile device visits will continue to rise.

Death of the desktop?

Proportion of site visits by device type

Now, while there has been an exponential increase in mobile and tablet visits over the past couple of years, it’s important to put this into perspective. We’ve plotted the ratios of visits per device for the same time period on the same axis below.

This time, the striking observation is that desktop still reigns pretty dominantly over the other two devices and accounts for over three quarters of all website visits.

Take home-point three? Don’t throw away your desktop site just yet! Whilst mobile phone and tablet traffic is steadily growing, desktop should still be your focus. So in terms of optimising your website and assigning budget, make sure you have your priorities in order; it’s not quite the death of the desktop just yet!

It’s also important to note that, last week, Google announced changes in AdWords that mean ads target people by situation, rather than by device – it’s view is that the distinction between tablets and mobiles is becoming less clear; and that we use mobile and tablets at home or at work as much as  we do when we’re out and about.

One of the changes is particularly significant – you can no longer run mobile-only campaigns, or tablet-only campaigns (which isn’t great news for some – retailers in particular -  where conversion from tablets was nearly 20% better than from desktops).

Take home points

So for all you lazy-bones who only looked at the graphs and the emboldened text alone, this take-home summary is for you:

  1. Tablet and mobile phone traffic is rising. Fast. Make sure your campaigns are built with both devices in mind. Whether that’s mobile and tablet-specific sites, or utilising responsive-design, or a bit of both, it’s absolutely crucial that mobile / tablet experience is as good as desktop.
  2. At Christmas, the proportion of mobile visits jumps substantially, representing a great opportunity for smarter advertisers to get ahead. Tweak PPC budgets to ensure you’re not budget-constrained at such a lucrative time of year. Set yourself an Outlook reminder for 10 months’ time now!!
  3. Don’t disregard desktop! Although the proportion of visits accessing sites from desktops is on the wane (and with more powerful, better tablets and smartphones this is only likely to continue), it is still the dominant device.

    Ensuring that your website is optimised for the best possible website experience on desktop is still the absolute key to becoming a successful ecommerce business.

So there you have it. I doff my cap to you industry commentators, another fine prediction.

I haven’t heard too much about what 2013 is destined to be yet (and a year must be destined for something) so please share your thoughts and ideas below for what’s going to be up and coming this year!