SERPs, Traffic and Trends: Mobile vs. Desktop in 2021 [Study]

The average amount of time spent on a desktop or laptop computer is gradually decreasing and the total number to view content online has increased. This shift in how people access information means search engine marketers need to adjust their strategy accordingly.

The “mobile vs desktop usage 2020” is a study that shows the future of mobile and desktop search. It predicts that by 2021, there will be a significant increase in mobile searches.

Google’s long-awaited and delayed move to mobile-first indexing for all websites begins in March 2021.

We’ve evaluated the search environment to see how mobile and desktop patterns have evolved in recent years to correspond with the transition, with two areas of concentration to lead our research:

  • We studied the traffic statistics for the 1,000 most visited sites from Traffic Rank’s Global Reports for 2018, 2019, and 2020 to see how mobile traffic patterns and user behavior compare to desktop.
  • We examined the search results for the top 50,000 terms by search volume from the Webinomy US database to highlight SERP differences between mobile and desktop.

The Study of Mobile vs. Desktop: Key Findings

  • The 1,000 most visited websites in the world had a 22 percent increase in search traffic in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • During that period, mobile devices accounted for 66% of all site views.
  • On both mobile and desktop, bounce rates were greater and overall time on site was shorter, showing that user engagement is becoming more difficult to obtain.
  • Only 17% of websites maintained their rankings on both mobile and desktop SERPs, and 37% of URLs were pushed out of the top-10 when the search query was done on a mobile device.

Let’s take a closer look at those results and see what they may imply for you.

Search Traffic Trends Around the World

When we look at search data for the top 1,000 most visited websites in the globe from 2019 to 2020, we can observe that the total amount of traffic rose by 22%.

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Furthermore, in 2018, these sites accounted for 10% of total worldwide traffic, but by the end of 2020, that proportion had quadrupled to 20%. Mobile devices accounted for around 66 percent of all site visitors last year, but desktop traffic was considerably greater in 2020 than it was in 2018. 

This was partly owing to the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s also a strong indication of these major sites’ worldwide domination; the larger they are, the more traffic they’ll draw as more searches are conducted on both mobile and desktop.

Signals of User Engagement

Along with the increase in traffic, there seems to be a drop in user engagement with these sites, as behavior measures such as bounce rate and time-on-site all showed a downward trend across mobile and desktop search.

Mobile vs. Desktop Average Time on Site

In 2020, visits on desktop computers were 40 percent longer than visits on mobile devices, as one would predict.

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In 2020, the average time spent on site for desktop users increased by 3%, while the mobile equivalent maintained its annual decrease. Regardless of the device, users have been spending less time on sites on average since 2018, which might be another evidence of dwindling attention spans.

Bounce Rates on Mobile vs. Desktop

Because of the minor increase in time spent on site through desktop, the average bounce rate increased for virtually the whole year of 2020.

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Between 2018 and 2020, mobile visits had a 3 percent higher average bounce rate than desktop visits, but this difference had shrunk to just 0.2 percent by the end of the year, indicating that businesses must do more to engage more demanding and device-agnostic SERP consumers.

SERP Differences Between Mobile and Desktop

We looked at how mobile’s dominance is already influencing Google’s search results, as well as user behavior and engagement. 

Our examination of the 50,000 most popular search queries in the United States showed a few indicators of what’s to come for mobile-first SERP winners and losers.

How Many Pages and Sites Lose Visibility in Mobile Search Due to URL and Domain Deviations?

M-dot domains, or sites that are particularly optimized for mobile devices and live on a different subdomain, account for 8% of pages in mobile search results. This means that the majority of the sites in our database are simply mobile-friendly.

This does not, however, imply that they were able to maintain their SERP rankings across mobile and desktop platforms.

On mobile devices, several desktop sites have slipped out of the top ranks, as seen in the graph below:

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Only 11 percent of the sites that appear in the SERP for the studied keywords had the same ranks on both desktop and mobile search. When we look at the same thing at the domain level, the figure jumps to 17%.  

Furthermore, when viewed via a mobile device, 31% of URLs and 8% of domains totally vanished from Google’s search results*:

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The important point to note here is that sliding out of the top places on mobile will have a significantly greater impact on traffic than it would on desktop due to the smaller screen real estate available on mobile devices.

*The disparity in the number of domains and URLs that have dropped out might be due to the fact that certain pages have both a mobile and a desktop version, but with different URLs.

Features of the SERPs

We also looked at Google’s mobile vs. desktop search results to see if there were any differences in the frequency with which specific SERP characteristics appeared:

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Top Stories, Local Pack, and People Also Ask features seemed to be unaffected by device, however desktop users were twice as likely to encounter a Google ad and a Featured Snippet, while mobile users saw 12.5X more photos and 3X more videos in organic search.

Things to Think About in the Mobile-First Era

Although desktop may make a comeback in 2020, our search experiences can only go in one direction: mobile. Here are three steps you can take to prepare for the mobile future that has already arrived (you can learn more about mobile-first indexing in our explainer):

1. Research the traffic patterns of your rivals and industry.

To establish market averages and assess the competition, use technologies like Webinomy’s Traffic Analytics. Check your site for possible problems like poor load speeds or site design if most of the main companies in your niche receive 60% of their traffic from mobile but you only get 30%.

2. Evaluate your own mobile performance on a regular basis and adjust quickly if necessary.

Get daily data updates on your mobile ranks for target keywords in a target location with Webinomy’s Position Tracking. You may analyze changes in your online presence and respond appropriately to outmaneuver the competition by monitoring unique metrics like Visibility (based on your SERP positions and CTR estimates) and Share of Voice (Visibility + the keyword’s search volume and traffic estimates).

3. Make sure there are several touch points on all devices.

When it comes to the purchasing experience, don’t assume that people will only interact with you on one platform; the fact is that they will most likely use both mobile and desktop devices interchangeably. Make it simple for users to transfer from mobile to desktop to finish a purchase by allowing them to keep shopping carts, for example.

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“Mobile-first indexing 2021” is a study that predicts what the SERPs will be like in 2021. It predicts that mobile-friendly websites will be indexed before desktop websites. Reference: mobile-first indexing 2021.

Related Tags

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