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Is the mobile activity you are counting really mobile?

We’re all spending a lot more time thinking about mobile marketing these days, but the statistics that we use to track it aren’t keeping up. It was so easy not so long ago, when mobile phones were the only way to be online while on the go. But so much has changed in the last couple of years that we are now counting many activities as being mobile when they are not, and we are not counting many activities as mobile when they really are. Confused? I’ll be happy to explain.

Our feeble metrics systems need some way of categorizing mobile usage, and what made a lot of sense (the key word here is “made”) is to look at the device that is being used. So, if someone hits a Web site using an iPhone, that is counted as a mobile use of the site. When a computer is used, then it’s not mobile (stationary?).

But that was then and this is now.

Much of our computer usage is mobile, but it doesn’t count as mobile. How many of you have netbooks or laptops with embedded cell network connections? Or how many of you walk around with a portable cell phone Wi-Fi router, like Verizon’s Mi-Fi? Or tether computer access to your cell phone? How many of you use Wi-Fi on planes (or even trains, buses, or cars)? All of that usage is literally mobile, but our metrics systems don’t count it that way, because you were using a computer, which is assumed to be not mobile (fixed?).

And we have the opposite problem, too. If you are using your cell phone to access the Internet at home, is that really mobile? Just because you didn’t want to walk into the next room to look at your computer?

But my favorite dilemma concerns the iPad. Metrics systems typically count all iPad usage as mobile, even though we know that most people don’t even have access to the cell phone networks using their iPad. They are sitting on their living room couches hooked up to their home Wi-Fi, but that counts as mobile.

This struck me when I was told recently that 20% of all visits to a client’s Web site were from mobile devices. This struck me as impossible, because the client offers help for a complex and intimate problem that I didn’t think people would be checking out on their cell phones in public. Now, undoubtedly I was underestimating the number of people doing just that, but I still don’t believe it is 20%. It’s more likely that iPad usage is driving the number up and that people are using their cell phones in their office to avoid Big Brother checking their Internet usage and using them at home so that no one else can see what they are doing. But none of that is what I think about when people say “mobile usage” although now I see that it should be. I don’t know what the answer is here, but we should be thinking about what our assumptions are for what these mobile users want–maybe it makes more sense to divide devices into big screen and small screen than mobile and non-mobile (immobile?).

So, the next time your Web metrics analyst tells you that 20% of your traffic comes from mobile devices, ask him how he knows. And then decide if that number means what it used to mean. I think it doesn’t.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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