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For many years, digital marketing has compared mobile and desktop conversion rates. While smartphones are effective lead generators, the desktop’s historical reliability may result in more conversions.

The Mobile Popularity Paradox: Is Desktop Landing More Conversions?

Phillip Reinhardt

Mobile marketing is in—but other digital marketing platforms aren’t necessarily out. Especially desktop. Business owners are well aware of mobile marketing’s visitor-attracting potency across the e-commerce world. They’ve entirely redefined the online buying experience—kicking off the modern consumer’s pathway-to-purchase over the smartphone.

Smartphone marketing statistics justify the mobile-first approach, too: An whopping 24 percent of United States’ e-commerce spending stems from mobile. Here are a few other compelling stats supporting our small, sleek devices like the digital marketing kingdom’s monarch:

  • 50.3 percent of e-commerce website traffic comes from mobile.
  • Facebook made 69 percent of its 2014 revenue from mobile advertising, alone.
  • Mobile advertising revenue, itself, stands at $68.7 billion.

It’s important to know that roughly 90 percent of sales occur in physical stores, however. E-commerce might be booming—much in the way mobile marketing is—but, at the end of the day, customers still gravitated towards the cash-wrap.

They’re using the digital world, however, to compare product prices, access coupons, check reviews and explore new products. As you’ve probably guessed—here, mobile pulls ahead once more due to geo-location services capable of dishing out prime storefronts in local areas.

But is the consumer’s journey ever really a straight line? Sure, marketing experts agree upon its zigzag tangents, cross-channel diversions, and online-to-offline avenues. But is it possible that even today’s smartphones—ever adapted to our bustling world—are missing key turns?

Put on the brakes—because there’s a new statistic raising eyebrows across numerous industries:

Mobile conversions are growing in number. But desktop conversions are worth 93 percent more.

Desktop Beats the Odds

As a digital marketing staple, online purchasing points to e-commerce on desktop.

Desktop’s prevail over mobile in conversion value, for many, is definitely surprising. Traffic to e-commerce sites via mobile often experiences year-to-year growth spikes of about 125 percent, busting down barriers in today’s most lucrative industries—such as:

  • Software and technology
  • Real estate
  • Financial services

If mobile consistently tops the charts, though, why does desktop own the conversion cash cow? Perhaps, one might think, the age-old computer experience’s conversion value is simply hanging by a thread—soon to be overtaken by the smartphone’s speed, portability, and higher usage rates.

But, the numbers don’t lie: Out of 10 million ad clicks—initiated over 100 consumer accounts—desktop wins the game. Really, it demolishes the board: Desktop’s 93-percent lead in value is already telling—but its 60-percent-higher lead amount than mobile further enforces the big picture.

Desktop’s Conversion Superiority Isn’t an Outlier, Either

Between B2C and B2B e-commerce strategies alike, usability and utility determine conversion.

The mobile-versus-desktop conversion comparison examination wasn’t confined to online shoppers and brick-and-mortar digital advertisers, either. The statistics above account for B2C and B2B companies, both.

While lead conversion potency was calculated by average e-commerce order value in the B2C area, B2B conversion value was derived from two factors: individual lead values derived from the vendor, client and organization ROI potential, and each entity’s likeliness to complete a purchase.

A Historical Outlook: Desktop’s Conversion Value

For many years, now, desktop really has proven itself as the primary home of high Average Order Value. It never really was in danger of being overtaken by mobile e-commerce campaigns, either. But why?

The primary answer might seem contrived, placating mobile-first campaign-crafters with seemingly stock answers—but it’s an answer which has repeatedly withstood the test of time and trial by scrutiny, much like the desktop computer itself:

Bigger screens land bigger conversion rates.

This isn’t necessarily confined to a mobile-and-desktop realm, either. Large-screen smartphones see more ad clicks, online purchases, and conversions than small-screen smartphones. Tablet conversion clicks, meanwhile, occurred about 86 percent as often as desktop conversion clicks.

Snuggly sitting as the missing link between screen sizes, tablets metaphorically looked down at their smaller sibling: Large-screen phones landed conversion clicks 63 percent as often as desktop computers.

The Conversion Path Problem: Mobile Hindrances

The consumer’s journey to branded shopping portals, across several channels, isn’t so clear-cut.

Once identifying screen size as a primary conversion factor, one can examine smartphone marketing with a closer lens. Studies examining global consumers, time and time again, result in the same, bottom-line, factor hindering smartphone conversion: lacking browsing experiences.

Let’s take a look at a study that examined these global respondents in terms of preferred mobile buying options. While the visible price has historically been considered to be the main incentive for mobile-based buying, consumers tell it another way.

After examining 1.2 million consumer interactions with its mobile website, Qubit discovered that price isn’t nearly as important as we thought. 47 percent of respondents stated they’d make more e-commerce purchases if their browsing experience was better. 44 percent of respondents answered in a similar fashion: They’d buy something if it were ‘easier to find what they wanted.’

These results make sense when examined next to our above-mentioned screen-size caveat to digital selling. Consider this: Bigger screens result in more conversions, but this doesn’t mean consumers are afraid of purchasing products on mobile. It means that one’s user experience is the real conversion-driver at play.

The Path of Least Resistance

Upon this notion, it’s important to acknowledge the mobile platform for its strengths. Mobile is accessible, easy to use and more familiar than desktop. It offers a more effective conversion path than desktop, too—desktop, itself, succeeding when cross-channel purchase funnels, long form-fills, and subscription-based conversions are considered.

Consumers might convert less when using a smaller screen—but they’ll use a smaller screen to pursue products and services. Buyers tread the paths of least resistance, initiating their product demand cycle on the most accessible platform they have: their smartphone. Convenience’s priority doesn’t stop, here, however—as smartphone users continue to display ease-of-access, speed and ease-of-use as priorities:

  • 57 percent use a branded app to browse products.
  • 40 percent browse mobile sites to avoid holiday rushes.
  • 80 percent search product reviews and prices in physical stores.

The Burnout Point

So where, exactly, does the consumer’s journey bottom out? In most cases—it’s at a branded site’s mobile landing page. These locations are unfamiliar territory to Google-bound explorers—even if they indeed have the product or service demanded. The conversion funnel simply becomes too inconvenient, especially on a small screen. Even if a mobile shopper makes it past the landing page, they’ll likely burn out soon after:

  • 43.8 percent will view a product page.
  • 14.5 percent will use an Add-to-Cart function.
  • 3.3 percent will complete a purchase.

Interestingly, customer sessions reaching product pages are much higher than the other “micro-conversion” points. This is a notable benchmark digital marketers can extrapolate meaningful data from—examining further behavior across other channels, whether they’re a social media site, an app, SMS or digital map.

It should be noted, however, that many of these would-be buyers flock to a particular destination—one beyond digital channels completely.

The Jump to Desktop

Online shoppers prefer ease-of-usability, platform-hopping to travel the path of least resistance.

Assuming a consumer isn’t out and about, they’re incredibly likely to fire up their desktop computer. Here, ease-of-access, speed, and usability—once more—are their main motivators. Even if a brand’s mobile website offers a clear-cut experience, mobile-grounded consumers are still squinting at small screens.

This is why desktop lands the most conversions. It’s simply more user-friendly, as a website browsing vehicle than an iPhone. While mobile is a great platform for idle browsing, research and affirmation of one’s product and service choice—they’re not nearly as effective as buying platforms.

Not only do their small screens inhibit maneuverability on landing pages, refined search pages, product pages, and log-in pages—they greatly handicap the checkout process. Specifically, they’re restrictive enough to frighten off potential customers flinching at small debit card input fields floating around multi-input shipping address line prompts.

In Defense of Definition: Breaking Down Conversion’s Meaning

We will say this: While desktop nets more conversions, it stands to reason that “conversion,” itself, is a very broad term. Indeed, the desktop does still provide more cumulative value than mobile in the conversion game—but smartphones should still be acknowledged for their slice of path-to-purchase contribution.

This slice isn’t necessarily restricted to quick-and-easy browsing, either. When the conversion is segmented by visitor type, visitor intent, and visitor-retailer relationships, smartphones are justifiably not only responsible for a reliable journey—but for a percentage of immediate and future conversions, directly.

E-commerce analysts agree that conversion rate, in the strict definition, isn’t a very good metric to focus on. Before understanding how smartphones can be credited for tangible conversions, we’ll need to explore why conversion, as a metric, needs to be decompartmentalized.

Reason One: Conversion Doesn’t Equal Performance

Unfortunately, many digital marketers make the mistake of equating pure conversion numbers with overall webpage performance. While clickthrough can certainly indicate efficiency where landing page attraction, menu reliability, and content SEO—the end of the consumer’s journey, where purchases come into play, skew the numbers.

Let’s take a look at this hypothetical situation:

  • On one day, a website has a five-percent conversion rate, based upon 2,000 website visits and 200 website sales.
  • The next day, the same website has a 10-percent conversion rate—double that of the day before. This is based upon 500 visits, and only 100 website sales.

Once more, the second day appears to be better—conversion-wise—but the breakdown paints another picture. The first day, overall, was more valuable to the brand—as the website had 2,000 visits. A percentage of all website visitors convert, eventually, and this percentage increases as visits themselves increase.

It stands to reason, then, that a mobile-user’s trip to these websites—even if they never reached the checkout line—still resulted in sales, later down the road. Even if we remained true to our “mobile checkouts equal mobile conversions” rule, who’s to say that the slice of these later-returning 2,000 visitors purchases from their desktop?

Over an annual period, it’s certainly possible that high-visit days, on mobile, contain a “hidden” number of actual mobile conversions—they simply won’t convert for another few weeks.

Reason Two: Conversion Rates by Customer Type Vary

The reason website visits can vary wildly is because every customer is different. Not everyone traveling to a branded site is looking to buy—and marketers should take note of this. First-time site visitors, who’ve never purchased from you before, are much less likely to buy a product or service than a pre-existing customer.

Conversely, pre-existing customers are also less likely to be influenced by small conversion tweaks to spend more money. Not segmenting these groups, then, does a disservice to a brand’s outlook on conversion effectiveness in general.

Another differentiator between visitors stems from the direction they’re arriving from. Studies show that direct visitors—those who didn’t arrive, cross-channel, from social media, a mobile app add or some similar place—tend to convert more often. Why? Because direct visitors tend to be pre-existing customers.

Reason Three: Customer Visits by Customer Intent Vary

Not all website visitors, either mobile-based or desktop-based, even want to buy anything. They may be looking for a phone number, a local area map location, seeking job opportunities, seeking a social media page, checking an order status—and many more reasons.

Because of this, it’s unwise to look at headline conversion numbers only. Visits don’t equate to potential sales. This might be true for purist PPC landing page campaigns, but it definitely doesn’t apply to site-wide conversion. Because there are numerous reasons for website visits, it’s even difficult to pin down which elements attract which platform-users—mobile or desktop.

When holding this factor next to the first two—and especially the first, those unseen long-run conversions—it’s even more difficult to determine mobile’s more subjective conversion contributions.

Credit Where It’s Due: Omnichannel Conversion

To get a clear view of mobile and desktop conversion rates, you'll need to examine consumer behavior across many channels.

Fortunately, there are several paradigms of evolved marketing which account for the depth of conversion statistics—helping account for misleading numbers by rectifying the above-mentioned segmentations.

Several published conversion rate compilations point to omnichannel marketing, taking account for various brand-connected channels, delivery features, offline click-and-collect factors and more. In one report, a history of consumer mobile search needs was analyzed, highlighting the top reasons mobile-users don’t convert when visiting branded websites:

  • 20.2 percent had security concerns.
  • 19.5 percent couldn’t see product details.
  • 19.3 percent had navigation difficulty.
  • 19.6 percent couldn’t compare products via multiple windows.
  • 18.6 percent had difficulty with search detail inputs.

Let’s look at these statistics next to one of the most reliable omnichannel tools for cross-channel data analysis: Google Ads.

In 2018, Google Ads conversion benchmarks and clickthrough rate indicated that Google Ads conversion on mobile was 3.48 percent via search network. It was .72 percent on the display network. Unsurprisingly, the search network was higher because consumers search with intent—entering a brand’s name and product directly. In the display network, consumers only responded to text and banner ads.

Branded search, it seems, is the underlying consistency capable of bringing consumers across channels—even when a mobile website has the cards stacked against it.

How to Rectify Mobile and Desktop Conversions

It’s important to note that, even when conversions are segmented and viewed through the omnichannel lens, desktop—in many cases—still lands more brand fans. Still, digital marketers would be wise to dissect the conversion-split between both platforms. In doing so, they can target their campaign’s strongest pathway-to-purchase elements—as well as platform-based weak spots.

Segmenting Your Conversions Further

Once you’ve utilized the three reasons for unclear conversion stats, you’ll be ready to break down the numbers further to get a clear, actionable depiction of your platform conversion rates. Remember: Different types of shoppers, each with different intents and relationships to your brand, will impact perceived conversion rates.

So, to begin in-depth conversion segmentation, analyze which website visitors are there for the first time. Log repeat visitors as well as customer conversion registrations. Then, refer to cross-channel conversion rates from social media, affiliate marketing, and display advertising and natural search.

Segment search-based conversion, on both platforms, by paid search, branded search, long-tail search, and generic search. Once you have, jump into your website’s conversion rates by product category type. Be sure to account for product differentiation aspects, too, like high-volume commodity purchases versus low-volume, high-cost products likely to be bought in-store.

Before long, you’ll be able to narrow down each platform’s conversion rate contribution. This view can be used to change your brand’s product promotion types, dramatically increasing conversion rates during product rollouts, holidays and more. Take pride in your customers—regardless of the platform, they’re browsing on! Both mobile and desktop are incredible assets to your digital strategy, they need only be recognized for their individual qualities.