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Desktop is Dead... Long Live the iPhone

To claim the desktop PC is dead may seem like an overly dramatic headline, especially considering there were still over 80 million new PCs shipped last year. Equally, and somewhat anecdotally, I am also sat at a desktop as I write this. However, contradictions aside, it doesn’t change the fact that the devices audiences are using to access and digest information online are changing and doing so at breakneck speed.

According to a recent Gartner report, the last quarter of 2013 saw PC sales fall by a massive seven percent. So, keeping in mind that we are spending more and more time online, what are we using to access our favourite anthropomorphised ‘cat playing the piano’ video or, more importantly, find the product we are looking for?

There are many factors contributing to the steady demise of the desktop PC but one aspect, which can no longer be overlooked, is the impact mobile browsing is having. According to KCPB, globally, mobile now accounts for just shy of 25 percent of all web browsing and Comscore adds that when you combine all forms of usage, including apps, mobile has seen a three-fold jump, to a staggering 57 percent of total internet usage, since 2010.

It’s important to note that the 25 percent stat referenced above is not uniform across the board and some sites will still be seeing far lower percentages. We know this from the analytics of our own client sites, where mobile is running between five and ten percent. But, with smartphone adoption continuing to increase and 4G being rolled out up and down the country, the trend is only going one way and it isn’t looking good for the desktop.

Today, every organisation has a digital presence but many still offer little or nothing to users trying to access it on the move. Business owners are aware that they need to be ‘social’ and understand that it involves Facebook and Twitter but often that is as far as it goes. Unfortunately, adding a couple of social links is simply no longer adequate. Audiences have evolved. Their expectations, wants and desires have evolved. Your audience isn’t sat at their desk anymore; they are on the move, on the train, sat on the toilet. All the while they are using their mobile devices to look at products, read the latest news and engage with their friends. If your website and other digital initiatives are not providing that engaging experience or offering easy to digest mobile content, it is safe to say you’ll be losing out to your competition.

So, What is the Answer?

The simple trick is to think more like your audience, to understand their lives, what’s motivating them, how they are choosing to interact with brands and most importantly, how they are choosing to digest content. One of the biggest challenges we have as an agency is explaining to clients that including war and peace on their website is unnecessary and could actually be doing more harm than good. We advise them to break it down, prioritise messages and ensure that key information is always at the user’s fingertips.

When you’re on the move do you really need to read a 1000 word history of the corporation? Do you need to understand the business’ CSR strategy from five years ago? Or is what you actually want the phone number or email of a relevant contact? No one is saying you should strip out all the content and leave a single page with your address and telephone number but by thinking about your priorities, and those of the user, you are able to establish the hierarchy of your content, the order, type and context of the content and how that will look on a mobile device.

I personally read lots of feature articles on my phone but only if the site makes it easy for me to do so. Many of the news sites have this down. Simple features, like being able to swipe to the next story or being able to backtrack after reading a related article all make it easy to digest the content I want to read. Our own site, for instance, there is a simple ‘next article’ button within a news item, meaning users don’t need to return to the landing page to read the next feature. That might seem like a tiny piece of functionality but it is precisely these little things that make the difference between a user spending 15 minutes on a site or 30 seconds.

Another issue, which we see all too often, is functionality like ‘hover states’, where the content or action is revealed when you hover over a link or area. This works perfectly with a mouse but fails spectacularly on a touch device because you only have the option to click. It is elements like this which make understanding mobile about so much more than screen size. We talk a lot about user experience – which, to many clients, sounds a little too much like bullshit marketing speak, and it can be. If your site is small and shallow, user experience or UX is unlikely to make a real impact but, if your site has five levels (it shouldn’t by the way) UX is vital to understand how the user will access the information and how enjoyable that process will be for them. The total dominance of touch screens devices has also opened up a number of new opportunities to interact with content in a different way that wasn’t possible before. Equally, considering the implications of smartphone ergonomics should have a significant impact on the layout and functionality for your mobile optimised site.

Building a new website is no longer about making a pretty brochure site, it’s all about the content, the usability, and the functionality. Understandably, It still needs to look good, but aesthetics are most definitely secondary to content. We tell clients the first question with a new site is what do you want to say? What do you want your audience to read about? Where are your profit centres and how can we ensure the site is working hard to meet your business objectives? We also say that websites work best when they form part of an integrated marketing strategy, which runs across the web, PR, advertising and other marketing initiatives. Integrating all your marketing activity ensures every element understands every other element and enables different disciplines to work together to achieve better results. For example, a new product video on your site will have some impact but it will have much more if you use social to direct people to it and if you use PR and outbound communications to promote its arrival.

Personally, I believe part of the issue is that many organisations see mobile as distinctly secondary to desktop, providing a lesser experience. Because of this, business owners and marketing managers still want their users to visit the desktop so they get to see all the flashier elements as they were intended. The problem with that is users can’t be told. If they want to view your website on the move, they expect to be able to do so and they expect it to be an engaging experience. There are no reasons why it can’t be, you just have to think carefully about what’s important to your audience and how you are going to deliver it. The use of mobile apps for specific businesses and platforms is already greater than mobile internet browsing as a percentage but if you can create a web experience which is more user friendly, perhaps that would no longer be the case, it would certainly be kinder on your budgets and easier to integrate with your existing digital offering.

Take Away

There is no turning back from where we are today. Desktops will not be making an unexpected resurgence and mobile usage, along with tablets, will continue their meteoritic rise. Accept it and move on. The next step is to take a moment and think about your users, talk to them, survey them, ask them what they want from you. What content is relevant to them, what do they want to read and most importantly, how do they want to digest it? Once you understand these things, only then are you able to build a web experience which will cause consternation with your competition and appreciation with your audience.

So, if you’re looking to communicate more effectively with your audience or wishing to instigate a content-driven marketing strategy, that maximises your return on your investment, talk to MTM, we can help.