Analytics confirm the need for adaptive web design and cross-browser compatibility (Updated May 2014)

I was invited to participate in a conference presentation about the importance of mobile in May 2014 and decided to use the opportunity to update the analysis in this blog post. Here are some updates to the trends observed in the past two years, followed by the original blog post, followed by some updated charts.

  • The march of the mobile web has continued, with the share of web visitors viewing our site on a mobile device or tablet increasing from 6.3% in Q1 2012 to 14.4% in Q1 2014.
  • Over the past two years our web visitors using an iOS device have more than doubled, from 4.5% to 9.2%. The share of visitors using Android has more than tripled, from 1.4% to 4.3%.
  • Chrome has pulled ahead and now holds a substantial lead among the web browsers that our visitors are using to view the site. The share of visitors using Chrome rose from 15.2% two years ago to 37%. Firefox is in second place at 20%, down from 28.6% two years ago and now roughly at the same share of visitors who used that browser in Q1 2008. Internet Explorer declined to 19.7%, down from 39% in Q1 2012 and 74.9% in Q1 2008. Safari has pretty much held steady over the past two years and came in at 16.7%.
  • After rising sharply for years, the number of different screen resolutions detected seems to have plateaued over the past year-and-a-half. Each quarter we now record around 1,000 different screen resolutions among our web visitors (and roughly 200 distinct resolutions recorded on ten-plus visits in each quarter). My hunch is that we’ve reached a saturation point, at least until the near-future when 4K monitors become commonplace. The most popular screen resolution we’re seeing is now 1366x768, accounting for nearly a quarter of our web visits.

It’s worth noting again that this analysis is a case study of one organization’s traffic. And as such there can be some incongruities in the data. One example is an odd spike in website visitors we recorded with 1536x864 screen resolutions during Q3 2010. I wracked my brain thinking about why that might have happened and came up with a two-fold reason why: 1. July 2010 was when we relocated our office. There were a couple of months there between the move and when I remembered to update the IP address exclusion so that web visits from our home office weren’t recorded in Google Analytics (oops); 2. 1536x864 seems like an odd resolution but it appears to be what gets recorded when a somebody uses both a 1920x1080 monitor and has text scaling set to 125%, and at least a couple of our staff fit that use case.

Another hiccup which I stared at quizzically was the sharp dropoff between Q1 2012 and Q2 2012 in the share of Mac users visiting our site. Then I noticed that for several years we observed upticks in the share of Mac visitors during Q4 and Q1, and downticks during Q2 and Q3. My theory as to why is that Macs are more popular on college campuses, and the numbers are being driven by students directed to our site by their professors. I’m not sure what it means then that we didn’t see that same uptick during the most recent school year quarters, but that does coincide with recent news that Mac sales are slumping and Apple’s recent move to cut prices.

Finally, I have to note that there are some small discrepancies between the Google Analytics data recorded two years ago and data recorded this past week. I don’t know why that’s the case, the overall trends in the numbers didn’t change, but since the numbers weren’t coming in exactly where they did before I updated the entire spreadsheet to reflect how they read now. There’s really not much more I can say about this.

In conclusion, two years ago there was a case to be made that the data showed an oncoming trend of mobile web usage which made it important to start focusing on making our websites mobile friendly. Today that trend is here in force and just continues to rise. Responsive or adaptive design has become a norm which needs to be included in any modern website implementation. Mobile web traffic is projected to surpass desktop traffic within the next few years, and a future is not far off when any website which isn’t mobile friendly will be considered behind-the-times.

Original post (April 2012)

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a data nerd. And the organization I work for recently passed our four-year mark using Google Analytics.

I got to thinking about adaptive web design this weekend. Today’s Content Strategists Meetup is going to cover content management challenges in an adaptive world:

We suddenly need to reshape, rethink, and redesign our content to work on smartphones, tablets, apps, social channels, eBooks, and more including what’s yet to come.

So I decided to pull the data on how our website visitors’ choice of web browsers, operating systems, and screen resolution has changed over the past four years. The results are pretty conclusive in terms of demonstrating needs for adaptive web design and cross-browser compatibility.

Just four years ago the majority of our visitors saw our website in Internet Explorer on a Windows computer on a minimum 1,024 pixel wide screen. Times have really changed.

  • Windows users used to comprise 93.5% of our web visits. Now that percentage is 72.4%. Visitors using a Mac have more than tripled.
  • The percentage visiting from a mobile device or tablet (iPhone, Android, iPad, iPod, or Blackberry) was just 0.1% in 2008. It has since grown exponentially, 200-400% per year, to 6.2% today.
  • Four years ago 75.5% of our web visitors used Internet Explorer. That number has fallen to 37%. Firefox now comprises 25.5%, Safari 19.5%, and Chrome 15.3%.
  • In the second quarter of 2008 we detected 71 different screen resolutions among our visitors. In the first quarter of 2012 we detected 830.

I won’t write at length about the content challenges this presents, others have already covered that eloquently. I’ll just say that our data reaffirms that the challenges are real.

The following numbers are a snapshot of one website’s traffic between April 2008 and March 2012. Download the spreadsheet here or keep reading to compare charts.

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