Interesting new findings about page views, time on site, and bounce rate across desktop and mobile browsers

Last month, I talked with Mac Slocum at O’Reilly Radar about mobile performance, and he asked me a couple of interesting question:

  • Are mobile users more or less tolerant of delays than desktop users?
  • Are users of one type of system more accepting of delays than users of another?

These questions are a gateway to a fascinating area of research, because they lead into a topic that we all have pet theories about (i.e. Chrome users are more tech savvy than the average person, while Internet Explorer users are less) but have little statistical evidence to back up.

I told Mac that I planned to do more digging and report back, so here I am.

Methodology

  1. I took five e-commerce sites (full sites, not mobile versions) that Strangeloop is currently accelerating and pulled their entire transaction volume over the past month — totaling hundreds of millions of unique visits via desktop and mobile. While desktop transactions outnumbered mobile transactions, the mobile numbers were still statistically significant: the smallest set of mobile numbers comprised around 200,000 unique visits and the largest set comprised about 20 million unique visits.
  2. I extracted the following data: page views, time on site, and bounce rate.
  3. I sorted the data into the following browser/OS groups: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, iPad, iPhone, and Android (phone).
  4. I calculated the averages for each metric and browser.
  5. I graphed the numbers and looked for trends. Some interesting patterns emerged:

Desktop vs. mobile performance: average pageviewsDesktop vs mobile performance: average time on siteDesktop vs mobile browser performance: average bounce rate

Three Key Findings

Finding #1: Internet Explorer users consistently view more pages, spend more time on site, and have a lower bounce rate than Firefox and Chrome users.

The average number of page views for IE users was 6.134, as opposed to 5.17 for Firefox users and 5.14 for Chrome users. IE users spent between 30-45 seconds longer on the site than other users, and their bounce rate was lower by 5 or 6 percentage points — a pretty significant difference. Could all of this substantiate the belief (among non-IE users, at least) that IE fans are less tech savvy and therefore slower and more ponderous web users than the rest of us? Or perhaps it’s a hardware issue — are IE users more likely to be using older systems with less processing power?

But what about that lower bounce rate? At around 35%, it’s a pretty strong number, especially compared to 41% for Firefox users and 42% for Chrome. A lower bounce rate generally signifies that people who come to your site find it relevant and worth sticking around to check out. Are IE users better searchers and more likely to arrive at the right destination, or are they simply more easily satisfied than other users?

Finding #2: iPad users are more similar to desktop users than they are to smartphone users.

While iPad users view somewhat fewer pages per visit than desktop users (4.54 versus 5.14, 5.17, and 6.13), their average time on site and bounce rate were commensurate with the desktop crowd. This isn’t a huge surprise. We know that most iPad users are browsing in the comfort of their home, and they consider their iPad to be more like a small laptop than an oversized phone. What’s interesting here is that, even though iPad performance lags behind desktop (it is a mobile device, after all, and it suffers from many of the same performance constraints as a smartphone: from low processor power to touchscreen lag), iPad users seem willing to stick around for a longer desktop-like experience.

Finding #3: iPhone users consistently view fewer pages, spend less time on site, and have a higher bounce rate.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Internet Explorer users we find iPhone users. In every sample group, iPhone users, on average, spent significantly less time on site (2:31 vs 3:20) and viewed fewer pages (2.41 vs 3.1) than Android, and had a higher bounce rate (60.76% vs 57.17%). The shorter time spent on site could be attributed to the (arguable) fact that iPhones are better-powered than other devices, but that doesn’t account for the page views and bounce rate. Do these validate all the stereotypes about iPhone users: that they — or should I say, we — are impatient, savvy web users who will bounce from a site if we can’t find what we want right away and aggressively search elsewhere? Or that we know what we want and can expedite a transaction faster and more efficiently than other users?

Takeaways

This research doesn’t directly answer Mac’s questions, but it does come at them sideways and raise some interesting — to me, anyway — questions about the types of people who use different technologies, and how and why they use them. We can’t answer these questions today, but these findings are food for thought and debate.

Your thoughts?

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