When I lived in Kenya during the summer of 2007, one thing that struck me was the amount of people using cell phones for computing tasks. At a time when smart phones were just catching on (the first iPhone was released that June), it was common to see people using phones for just about everything. I was sporting a slick Razor that could store a dozen songs and that’s about it, so my laptop was everything. Things were different in Kenya. From the businesspeople in Nairobi to the people in the village hours away from the nearest major city, phones were used for everything from bank transfers to email. When I returned to Kenya in 2009 with my iPhone look-alike, the mobile market had expanded:
Things are going to be a lot different my next visit. Desktop’s grasp on the market fell steadily until mobile flipped the script at the end of 2013. Mobile devices now account for over 70% of internet use in Kenya. Let’s take at the same data in the US:
While many US users have been holding tightly to their desktops, there is no denying the mobile uprising. In Kenya, mobile devices are the primary – and usually the only – device for many Internet users, while US consumers tend to have an arsenal of devices. Even with a lower percentage of web visits completed on mobile devices in the US, the time spent on the Web using mobile devices surpassed desktop earlier this year.
Mobile has shown that it is on the rise and is already a large part of internet marketing. If this is news to you, the time to act was yesterday. We have a lot of learn from developing countries such as Kenya and paint of picture of our mobile future by looking at their past. Some of the biggest signs of the time are the ways in which Google has supported mobile devices.
Google Behind Mobile
Many online marketers have been resistant to give mobile its due credit, but users are making it clear that mobile cannot be ignored. Desktop shows no signs of becoming irrelevant by any means. In fact, the amount of web use on desktop is strong as ever, but mobile gains more momentum monthly and is taking up a larger percentage of the market. And why shouldn’t it? More and more, we seek instant gratification. If I’m walking down the street and want to get the lowdown on two different restaurants, I’m going to pull out my phone right then and there. When I’m sitting in Balboa Park and want to know more about the plants or a museum, I’m using my phone rather than waiting until I’m home. More than anything else: mobile is always convenient.
Although almost two years old, Google’s report on the multi-screen world provides some great information. For example, 40% of smart phone use was outside the home compared to 31% on desktops. The 45 page reports concludes with this: “Smartphones are the backbone of our daily media use. They are the devices most used throughout the day and serve as the most common starting point for activities across multiple screens. Going mobile has become a business imperative”. In recent years – and especially in the last few months – Google has taken action with this in mind.
As Internet marketers, one of the biggest changes we care about was the updated SERP, which signified a major step in the company’s shift to “mobile first.” Desktop SERPs are cleaner, while mobile results have similar data but presented much differently due to screen size. Dr. Pete wrote a great piece on the SERPs across devices, but the main takeaway is that above the fold real estate on mobile devices is severely limited, stressing the importance of ads, Local Listings, organic rank, and more. Since May, we have seen Webmaster Tools notifications for information regarding mobile devices, including smart phone redirects and smart phone crawl errors:
Additionally, one of our favorite tools – Page Speed Insights – notes both mobile and desktop web performance with mobile showed first.
What This Means For You
As marketers, we need to ensure that our clients’ online presence is consistent across devices. How are they showing up in SERPs on desktop and mobile, and what strategies can we employ to maximize visibility on mobile? More importantly, consider how sites are viewed on phones and tablets. At the very least, sites need to be friendly; we highly recommend responsive design. A younger, wiser me may have predicted the rise of mobile several years ago during my time in Kenya, but you know what they say about hindsight. Don’t look back on this period of time wishing you had acted. Now is the time to recognize the pervasiveness of mobile.