Comparing the Behavioral Aspects of Mobile vs. Desktop

mobile vs desktop


In 2016, we reported that there are 8 billion mobile devices worldwide, 46% of which are smartphones. By 2021, we anticipate an increase to 11.6 billion worldwide.

It’s no wonder that mobile search is on an upward trend and businesses are focusing on how to best optimize their sites to meet this demand. But we have to ask ourselves, is the rise of mobile search going to make desktop searches obsolete? Maybe not.

Studies show that while the mobile search may generally be more popular, there are instances where the desktop search is more appropriate. In fact, user behavior differs based on the goal of the search and consumers are more apt to choose a device based on their search goals. This means that businesses can best optimize their marketing strategies by understanding user behavior when it comes to mobile vs. desktop searches. Below is a list of ways that consumer search behavior changes depending on whether they’re using desktop or mobile.


The Use of Search Queries Changes Based on Device reported that consumers rely on search queries for assistance more frequently when searching on a mobile device, as opposed to a desktop. The queries typically contain keywords that answer “W” questions (who, what, where, when, etc.) related to their search. Location also makes a big difference. The study showed consumers are more likely to search from a mobile device if they’re utilizing a query that contains location information such as city, state, zip code, etc.  

Web psychologist and blogger, Nathalie Nahai, went so far as to say that 1/3 of all mobile searches are location based. In addition, she reported that consumers’ search queries change based on the device type. For example, mobile users typically have a more specific goal in mind when searching so they’re queries are more focused. Desktop users, on the other hand, use broader queries. MediaPost states that mobile users search brand-specific queries 50% of the time, as opposed to desktop users who only use brand-modified searches 42% of the time.  

Overall, the research overwhelmingly states that mobile users seek assistance with queries more often than desktop users. This could occur because they’re on-the-go and looking for quick answers.


User Activity Times Differ Depending on Device

Determining when your audience is most active and most likely to make a conversion online is one of the most important aspects of a company’s marketing strategy. If you know your target audience is mostly made up mostly of mobile users, you can bet that the best time to engage with them is either in the morning (6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.) or at night (6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.).

This is the optimal time to publish new content, send email correspondence, post a sale or a giveaway, etc. so you reach the most people. These times differ if your audience primarily searches from their desktop. Desktop users tend to be most active while they’re at work which is usually from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m..

First, you’ll want to first determine what device type your audience prefers to search with. Then, tailor your marketing strategy according to the peak times listed above.

Below is one of our case studies focused on women’s apparel and how search varies by device. As you can see, paid clicks were important in both cases, whereas the time clicked differs.


User Age Plays a Part When Deciding Between Mobile or Desktop

It’s no surprise that younger users (between the ages of 18 and 25) turn towards their mobile devices for searches in comparison to users 25+ who prefer using a desktop for a search. Generation Y has been called a “mobile-first” generation; over 85% of young people own and use a smartphone. This could be changing, as past generations are catching up and purchasing smartphones. More people 55 to 64 own smartphones in 2017 than ever before, and we can only expect that gap to close further each year.

User Conversion Activity Changes from Mobile to Desktop reports that mobile users are more likely to research on their smartphone or tablet, but if they’re looking to make a purchase, they turn to a desktop PC. This makes sense if you consider the nature of searching from a mobile device vs. a desktop.

If you’re running around and see a product you want more information on, you’re probably going to just take out your phone and do a quick Google search. On the other hand, if you know ahead of time that you want to make a purchase, you might wait to do so until you’re in a more relaxed environment (i.e. at home or at the office) with the comfort of your desktop computer, which typically makes viewing websites a lot easier.  

It makes sense, right? But even this appears to be changing. Probably the most interesting aspect about the study below is the idea that the rate at which people buy on desktop has decreased yet mobile has increased. This is not to say that more people purchase on mobile devices, but it does infer that the patterns are slowly changing. While this may surprise some, it shows there is a market for creating quality mobile pages for products. It’s more important now than ever before to create concise, short content for even something as complex as product purchasing.


Different Devices are Used Depending on the Stage of the Shopping Process

In addition to choosing a device based on researching and purchasing, users will change their device depending on which stage of the shopping process they’re in. In the beginning of the process, when customers are just starting to research a product, they might use a mobile device to get a general idea and compare their options.

Then, as they narrow down their search, they might switch to a desktop in order to read product descriptions and view photos. It’s only natural that they’d stick to a desktop when it’s time to make the ultimate conversion. Mobile devices seem to be sufficient when conducting initial research into products, but when it comes time to do the heavy lifting (i.e. comparing product descriptions and making purchases) desktops are definitely the go-to for users.


The Type of Device Determines the Amount and Type of Information Consumers Receive

While this doesn’t directly relate to user behavior, it’s important to note that the device a consumer searches from impacts the amount and type of information they receive about a company or product. Again, you’ll want to know if your target audience is composed of more mobile or desktop users so you can customize your marketing strategy accordingly.

For example, the screen size of a desktop computer is much larger than a smartphone. That automatically influences how much information a user is able to access. It’s much easier to view and read detailed product descriptions from desktop than mobile. The smaller screen really limits the amount of information a user has access to.  

In addition, if a consumer is searching a website for the first time and unsure of how to navigate it, they might be more apt to turn to the large screen of a desktop.  Along the same lines, if they open a new website on their smartphone and find it difficult to navigate or if it has a slow load time, they’re more likely to click the back button if they’re using a PC. Consumers are more likely to retain relevant information from a PC, partially because of the large screen and partially because they’re prone to using mobile devices in distracting environments. That  automatically limits their ability to understand and retain information.

The Takeaway

User behavior is absolutely dependent on the type of device a consumer chooses to search from, whether it be mobile or desktop. It’s important to understand the preferences of your target audience and then tailor your marketing strategy to meet their needs. You’ll want to consider mobile vs. desktop when designing your website, when posting product photos and writing descriptions, and before launching any promotions or sales, etc. You’ll also want to know the demographics of your audience as this will directly impact whether they prefer desktop or mobile and should be taken into consideration when determining how to best engage your audience. Our images and case studies above can help give you more insight into the differences between these two devices. Contact us if there is a specific study you’re interested in seeing!

Do you know any more ways that user behavior is influenced by searching on mobile vs. desktop? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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