12.16.14

Does the Mobile Web Apply to B2B?

BY JEFF ROBERTSON

All eyes have been on the mobile experience the past few years. Statistics routinely come out claiming mobile devices account for 50% or more of site traffic - Sports Illustrated recently redesigned their site expecting over 50% mobile traffic; CNN was over 40% mobile earlier this year and growing; retailers Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart were all hovering around 40% in late 2013.

But B2B and B2C are different animals. We’ve always theorized mobile traffic is not as pervasive in the B2B world. We decided to conduct a very small study of B2B websites to see how their numbers compare to the numbers in the news.

The Theory:

  • B2B companies sell to businesses (by definition), so they are more likely to interact with consumers who are at work, meaning more desktops/laptops and fewer phones.
  • B2B sales generally have much longer sales cycles - far longer than a transactional site like Amazon or an ad-based news site like CNN. In many cases, you cannot even complete a B2B transaction online - the sale requires some level of discussion and customization.

Because of this, B2B website usage is more for research, and research is generally easier on a larger screen.

Therefore, B2B websites will see far fewer phones browsing their sites, and the mobile users who do will focus on a narrower set of tasks (contact information, etc.).

The methodology:

  • I looked at the most recent 30 days of website analytics for six B2B websites
    Four sites are responsive; two are fixed-width
  • Note that I ignored tablet users in the numbers. Tablets are often considered mobile devices due to their portability. I am more interested in the user experience, however. Several devices out today can be a laptop or a tablet simply based on whether the keyboard is connected (Surface Pro) or how they are swiveled (Lenovo Yoga). This creates a very blurry line between the laptop and the tablet - the distinct line is between a relatively tiny phone and everything else. But for sake not muddying the waters, I left tablet out.
  • This is not a scientific study, unfortunately. With such a small sample size, factors like quality of the website design, content, information architecture, etc. may skew statistics. (In other words, do responsive sites really keep users on the page longer, or do those sites I used just happen to have more engaging content?)

First, how big is the mobile traffic gap between B2B and B2C?

Our B2B clients are seeing 10-15% mobile traffic. It’s a far cry from 40-60% seen by big B2C sites, but it’s actually more than I originally expected.

Does responsive design affect the percentage of mobile traffic?

The statistics don’t show a wide gap between responsive sites and fixed-width sites, though I should note the two fixed-width sites do have the two lowest percentages of mobile traffic by an ever-so-slim margin. (Again, this is not a scientific study.)

This is interesting as many have speculated Google ranks mobile-friendly sites higher in mobile search results, based in part on posts like this.

Update 12/10: Google now designates mobile-friendly sites in mobile search.

Does responsive design affect how mobile users engage?

Somewhat. Let’s look at the stats.

 

Responsive: mobile users

Responsive: desktop users

Fixed-width: mobile users

Fixed-width: desktop users

Bounce rate

74%

52%

78%

63%

Pages per session

1.9

2.5

1.6

2.5

Time on site

1:01

2:21

1:01

2:30

We do see a slightly higher bounce rate for fixed-width mobile users, though this may be more due to the site’s overall engagement than due to its lack of mobile design - the desktop bounce rate on these sites is substantially higher as well.

We also see a slightly higher “pages per session” rate for mobile users with responsive design. The time on site for mobile is the same for both responsive and fixed-width sites.

I was quite surprised by these numbers - I expected a bigger difference between responsive and fixed-width design experience. Mobile users look at less, stay less and bounce at a higher rate, but this does not seem to be greatly affected by the site’s layout.

Do mobile users look at different content than desktop users?

Yes.

Biggest gains in mobile traffic:

Home page

Some sites had as much as 50% of the mobile traffic hitting the home page while only 30% of their desktop traffic did.

Biggest losers in mobile traffic:

About the company

Mobile users visited “About Us” and “Management Team” pages less than half as often as desktop users on some sites.

In one of the biggest drops, one site saw 3% of desktop traffic visit the about page while only 0.6% of the mobile traffic did.

Contact

Resources

Interestingly, many resources such as white papers, webinars and case studies drew far fewer mobile users, percentage-wise, than desktop users.

These results varied from site to site, however. For example, on one site, a product summary page did very well on mobile - on another, it did terribly. These differences are most likely due to site design. The previous example is easily explained on a site with dropdown menus for navigation. On desktop, users hover over the “Products” menu and select the products they want. On mobile, hovering isn’t possible, so they have to click through to the product page before selecting a product.

I don’t think any useful conclusions can be drawn from this part of the study - it really requires a large amount of data with similarly built sites.

Takeaways

Mobile users do not make up the same percentage of users for B2B sites and B2C sites, but they are still a substantial group at 10-15%. Interestingly, in a very small sample of B2B sites, responsive design did not appear to dramatically affect mobile user behavior - this would certainly require more study (a single site where mobile traffic is randomly redirected to a responsive and fixed-width version of the content).

In short, as we always suggest, run user tests and study the numbers on your site before deciding what is and isn’t important - every site is different.

Jeff Robertson
written by JEFF ROBERTSON

Jeff Robertson is a digital marketer and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is partner and Chief Technology Officer at Carbon8, where he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, as well as oversees technical infrastructure.

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