Mobile Web: The $5 Billion Missed Opportunity?

After many years of anticipation, mobile seems to have finally arrived. Mary Meeker’s excellent report on the state of the mobile industry from February suggests the Mobile Web will be as large as the PC-based Web in terms of devices, users, and consumption as soon as 2014. 

The mania for the past year has been centered around apps, with over 10 billion downloaded to date, yet a critical aspect of the mobile phenomenon seems largely overlooked. 

Across our customer base we have been seeing incredibly fast growth in the percentage of user sessions coming from mobile devices, and it led us to dig into the behaviour of those users to see if there were fundamental differences between mobile users and those visiting from PCs. 

RAMP mobile web

The Mobile Browser as the “Killer App” ?

At the same time, we have begun to hear about “app fatigue” among major publishers, as the cost and effort to continue to build apps across all the different devices and operating systems have been putting pressure on the ROI for such efforts. 

The mobile browser seems to be emerging as the killer app for mobile devices as well, and its ubiquity seems proven out by the user stats. A recent study by Zokem puts the top three mobile activities today as messaging, voice, and browsing. HTML5 holds promise in delivering app-like content experiences within the browser, with the related cost advantages of a write once/use many profile. 

Mobile video is a category unto itself. Cisco’s recent Visual Networking Index study forecasted that 66% of mobile web traffic will be driven by video by 2015, and that video and browsing combined will make up a stunning 87% of all traffic. The format wars between Apple, Adobe, and Google will continue to pose challenges for publishers seeking to make video a part of the mobile publishing experience, and mobile bandwidth requires careful planning and implementation of transcoding of content.

The Four Pillars of Mobile Content Discovery

As background, RAMP has built a powerful solution for helping major media companies with search and SEO, and specifically video SEO. As we succeed with our customers, it occurs to us that we are creating a second order problem for them, and the problem can be defined as follows. The more successful a publisher is with search and social strategies, the more likely their content is to be discovered from a mobile device. 

The Mobile Web is radically transforming traditional web content discovery, and this is embodied by what we call the “four pillars” of web content discovery: email, Twitter, Facebook, and Google.  In addition to the massive number of mobile email users, the number of links discovered and shared across Twitter, Facebook and Google is massive. 

From Mary Meeker’s report, Twitter has an estimated 125MM mobile users and 40% of Tweets are mobile originated. Facebook has over 200MM mobile users, and they are twice as active as pc-based users.  Google’s integration of location and click-to-call has made mobile searching more productive than almost any other form.  According to our estimates, over 40B links are discovered via mobile devices every month, and these are users visiting web pages that by and large are not optimised for mobile browsers. 

Mobile Users Behave Differently

This observation led us to dig into user metrics across our customer sites and what we found validated our premise. For our customers who do not have mobile optimised sites other than perhaps a mobile home page, we found that mobile users had a 46% higher bounce rate (i.e. left the site viewing no additional pages) than pc-based users, and had 41% shorter session lengths (i.e. pages per visit, time per visit).

RAMP mobile web

While overall sessions today are still dominated by pc users, if the 2014 prediction is real, our estimates are that by 2014 more than 12% of all user sessions will be lost because of un-optimised mobile experiences.  To put this in perspective, The US online advertising market in 2014 will be approximately $40B.  12% lost sessions could mean as much as a $5B missed opportunity for publishers. 

Problems Still To Solve

That said, the Mobile Web is not a trivial problem to address. Large publishers typically have multiple content management systems and separate video publishing systems.  ideo consumption on mobile devices requires a particularly complex layer of transcoding and advertising approaches to make it mobile accessible.  Deploying dynamic device detection across an entire site is non-trivial. Mobile advertising today is also not ready to make up for the revenue generated by the pc-based web. 

Regardless, the limited approach to mobile content employed by most publishers won’t satisfy the majority of users in the future. This has caused us to re-think our own website, and in the next few weeks we will launch a mobile web experience as an in-house laboratory and share our results, as well as results from our customer roll-outs.

Tom Wilde is President and CEO of RAMP. RAMP is the definitive Content Optimization platform solution for major publishers, media companies, and broadcasters, which provides customers with workflow, discovery and engagement solutions to drive monetization of online content.