6 things we learned from website use in 2014

Code Computerlove has taken an look at how we use websites using data from the past year. Keir Gibson explains the findings.

Code Computerlove has taken an informed look at how we use websites, using data from the past 12 months. We analysed usage-related stats from more than 25 sites across a wide range of industries – from e-commerce to charity and not-for-profit sectors to look at how the use has changed in just this short time period, helping to inform us on the potential speed of change ahead. Here's what we found.

01. Device trends

  • We're down on our desktops; but mobile and tablet traffic was universally up and Apple continues to far outstrip all other mobile brands

We're down on our desktops!

An obvious one: mobile and tablet traffic was universally up. But let's look at 2014 by mobile brand. Apple continues to far outstrip all other mobile brands, but their 2014 market share of mobile sessions was actually down on 2013 – on average, 64.4 per cent of all mobile sessions were conducted on an iPhone in 2014, compared to 70.9 per cent in 2013.

Samsung ranks a far-from-close second at 17.1 per cent (up from 14.4 per cent last year), with Sony/Sony Ericsson limping into third place with 2.3 per cent (compared to their 1.7 per cent share in 2013). Meanwhile HTC's share has fallen from 2.2 per cent to 1.7 per cent, while Nokia has increased from 1.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

Smartphone brand web traffic breakdown

Brands represented within the 'Others' category here include Google (which has remained steady at 1.6 per cent), and Amazon (which has seen a rise from 1.0 per cent to 1.5 per cent during the course of the year).

02. Browser trends

  • Internet Explorer's finally knocked from the top spot

Now 19 years old, you might think that most users would have condemned Internet Explorer to the scrapheap long ago. But according to our findings, it's only this year that it has been overtaken as the UK's favourite web browser.

Browser traffic share 2014

Safari (with a 30.6 per cent market share in 2014) and Chrome (with 28.9 per cent) are the only browsers who managed to significantly increase their usage in 2014.

03. Top traffic-driving channels

  • Organic search remains top dog

The channels that generated the most traffic varied pretty significantly across our sample of 25 websites: four websites had direct URL entry as the top ranking channel while one relied heaviest on social and another, an e-commerce site operating in a highly competitive market, drew most sessions from paid search.

Top traffic driving channels

But averaging out the findings across all, organic search came out top with 44.2 per cent. And as you'd expect Google accounted for a massive proportion of that traffic.

Google traffic share

Keir continues: "The increasing popularity of mobile and tablet devices, coupled with browsers that offer users the ability to search straight from the address bar, means that organic search traffic has increased for almost all of our clients, while direct traffic has slowed down.

"This only drives home the importance of ensuring your site is appearing in search by considering SEO in your site build and consistently producing engaging, great content.

"It's also interesting to note that social channels account for such a small portion of traffic considering the amount that brands tend to invest in this area. Social channels are great for building awareness, but its lower conversion rates indicate that brands should be focussed on maximising the potential of converting channels first."

04. Social network referrals

  • Facebook's still the top referrer – but engagement is on the low side

Some would have you believe that Facebook's popularity is waning, yet our findings show that it remains the top social channel for referrals and that its share actually increased by 2.27 per cent in 2014 on the previous year. In fact, for many of the sites we looked at, Facebook account for more referral traffic that all other social media platforms combined.

YouTube's fallen rather out of favour though; this channel drove 3.16 per cent less referral traffic last year than it did in 2013. It's also lagging behind most of the rest in terms of engagement too.

Social networks average session duration

And, although they both account for a small share of social referrals, Trip Advisor and Google+ referrals are actually the highest quality in terms of engagement.

05. Landing pages

  • The death of the homepage applies to ALL sectors

Recent chatter surrounding the apparent 'death of the homepage' is largely based on an internal report by the New York Times that was leaked in early 2014, showing visitors to the site's homepage halved between 2011 and 2013. As a result, the discussions around the issue have largely focussed on websites that offer regularly updated news content and are typically visited by users on frequent, multiple occasions.

But we wanted to find out if the trend applied to websites in other sectors too.

We considered a varied sample of 14 websites for this part of our data investigations. Taking an average figure across all the sites, sessions that originated from website homepages stood at 46.8 per cent in Q1 of 2013; in Q1 of 2014, this figure fell to just 28.4 per cent.

We also took a look at a few specific examples to be sure the trend still applied. A website whose content largely consists of news stories, shows a strong, consistent negative trend – just as you'd expect given the New York Times report. However, interestingly, we also identified a similar negative trend in a visitor information site and a website that is largely e-commerce and contains very little news-based content.

Gavin Holland, senior User Experience Architect at Code, says: "From a UX perspective we've certainly seen this trend building pace. After all, ask yourself – when was the last time you bought a book from Amazon because of an ad you saw on its homepage?

Users are now totally empowered, using a myriad of new and powerful search tools to find the shortest route to increasingly specific pieces of content. Finding things on the web is no longer a vague or passive process; it's much more direct and focussed.

We will have to work increasingly hard to ensure our deeper landing pages provide all the aspects of a homepage including engaging and relevant onward journeys as well as brand substantiation."

06. User behaviour

  • Bounce rate higher and session duration and pages per visit lower on mobile

Our findings confirm that mobile users are more task focussed, and aren't prepared to hang around when it comes to finding what they want.

The average pages-per-visit across all of the 36 sites we considered was 4.22, but substantial differences existed between device types; desktop sessions yielded the highest average pages-per-visit at 4.70 with tablets close behind at 4.34 – but mobile sessions turned in an average of just 3.16.

Average session duration followed a similar pattern. The overall average was 181 seconds, with average desktop sessions coming in at 206 seconds, tablet sessions at 184 seconds and mobile sessions at just 124 seconds.

Accordingly, bounce rates were are highest for mobile sessions (52.09 per cent) – notably higher than for tablet (43.30 per cent) and desktop sessions (41.02 per cent). The overall average was 44.35 per cent, but there are substantial differences between site types; one high-street retailer site achieved an incredibly low bounce rate of 6.16 per cent, while 90.22 per cent of visits to a particular corporate site lasted no more than a single page view.

Words: Keir Gibson and Gavin Holland

Keir Gibson is head of search and media at Code Computerlove, and Gavin Holland is senior user experience architect, also at Code Computerlove.