How Device Specific SEM Can Lead To More Valuable Traffic

Segmentation is the key to success in most marketing activities. Simply recognizing that how traffic gets to the site tells us a great deal about its value should prompt analysts to dive into data. Doing so often reveals big opportunities in device segmentation.

Golden Tablets

I’m not talking about Joseph Smith’s discovery, I’m talking about Apple’s. The traffic from iPads is more valuable than traffic from desktops for many in the eCommerce sector.

Our data suggests the traffic from tablets as a class to be worth ~15% more than traffic from desktops. Traffic from the Kindle Fire seems to be less valuable, but that makes up a pretty small fraction of the total, therefore doesn’t degrade the overall value of the traffic significantly.

Different Demographics

Quite likely, the differences above are in part demographic. Folks with iPads are early adopters of technology with significantly higher than average household incomes.

The disparity with Kindle Fire may represent how ads are displayed on a generally smaller screen, but also, perhaps a function of the price point attracting a less affluent user.

Different Usage Pattern

People use tablets differently than desktop computers. I have heard from folks in the know that something like 80% of tablet traffic takes place between 6PM and 9PM in the tablet’s time zone.

More than 95% of tablet traffic happens over a wireless signal rather than a cell tower connection. Tablets are not, by and large, mobile devices. The tablet should be seen as a couch companion. People mostly use their online functionality while watching TV.

More Valuable & Less Expensive

Not only is the traffic on tablets more valuable than average, it is also less expensive by volume than desktop search. That is to say: the same bids on tablets put you “higher” on the page than they do on desktop. This is a function of the fact that few search managers are separating campaigns by device at all, and many of the ones who do have left tablets bucketed with smartphones.

In either case, the blended average traffic value is leaving opportunity on the table, and splitting tablets into a single “mobile” bucket with phones may be worse than doing nothing at all. Grouping tablet traffic with desktops may be an acceptable compromise for busy SEMs.

These facts should send online marketing directors for major brands scrambling to figure out whether and how tablets are being split out from traffic from other channels.

Also, those brand advertisers who spend significant money on television ads might consider whether the look and feel of the normal ad landing pages is consistent with the messaging in the commercials. Might there be an opportunity for a separate set of landing pages tied to the themes of the commercials running at the moment?

The Smartphone Conundrum

Your mileage may vary a great deal, but for many advertisers, particularly those with a wide range of products and services to offer, the online conversion rate for smartphones is a small fraction of that of desktop devices.

We have heard that this will all change with better, easier online payment types, and that NFC will make our phones the offline shopping credit card of choice. Perhaps. It’s also quite likely that it’s really hard to sort through lots and lots of different items on a tiny screen. That problem won’t be resolved until human eyesight improves and fingers get pointier.

We know that something like one third of all smartphone searches carry local intent, that is: the user is trying to find a physical location. For businesses that are online only these users are the wrong group on which to spend advertising dollars.

To advertisers with a wide brick and mortar footprint the online conversion metrics may not tell the whole story. Perhaps these folks are converting offline instead and the value of the traffic is materially understated?

It is worth testing with POS coupons to get a sense of this, but in the meantime, you might at the least restrict the degree to which that online to offline assumption is being spent within a reasonable geographic proximity to your bricks. Spending beyond online ROI metrics on smartphone traffic 100 miles from the nearest physical location is likely unwise.

Context Is Coming

If marketing hasn’t become sufficiently complex yet, might we think differently about our bids and even ad creative to smartphone users whose device is motionless vs moving 2 mph vs moving 30 mph vs moving 60 mph?

We must crawl before we walk and run before we fly, but SEM isn’t getting any easier any time soon.

None of these refinements will make much difference unless and until the mobile experience we offer our users improves. The average quality of mobile user experiences is low, and it is likely that there are heavy penalties coming soon for brands with poorly optimized mobile user experiences. There are rumors floating around that the penalty for high bounce-rates for organic listings in mobile and mobile QS in ads is about to be increased.


The big picture of all this is simply that we must not expect all users to be equally valuable to our business regardless of the device they’re using and the context in which they’re using it.

We need to market to them smarter, now, and build better experiences for all users in the near future. The growth rate of searches from devices other than desktops and laptops suggests that the penalties for ignoring these differences will only get bigger as the year progresses.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Scientist of RKG, a technology and service leader in paid search, SEO, performance display, social media, and the science of online marketing. He also writes for the RKG Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @georgemichie1.

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  • David McCormick

    Great points George. I completely agree that we need to be trying hard to improve the mobile experiences our clients are giving their users. Compared to other big changes we’ve had to talk our clients into adopting, mobile optimization is often easier since there’s no denying the fact that everyone and their mother has some sort of smart phone or tablet.

  • Jim Watson

    Some excellent points there George – thanks for a really informative article – will be putting some of this to use on Adwords shortly :0)

  • George Michie

    David, Jim, thanks for your comments.  There has definitely been a chicken and egg issue with mobile site experience.  Many companies didn’t want to invest until the volume and value became material.  The volume is there now, and growing, and to a degree the value is a product of the UX.  Some folks are stuck in a self-defeating loop:  “yes, there is traffic, but there aren’t many conversions, so why invest in the UX?”

    At the same time, we need to be mindful of the number of demands on our clients’ development teams.  We’d all like to have more developers!


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