How Does User Intent Change Between Desktop And Mobile?

Users search differently on desktop from how they do on mobile devices. But what are people looking for on each platform, and what is the best way for SEO practitioners to optimise accordingly?
  • 95% of searches which include the phrase “near me” are conducted on mobile.
  • While desktop was once the only platform for search, its function has become far more specific over time as mobile has taken over the landscape.
  • There is still plenty to learn about where the future of mobile search is going to take SEO strategy.

As we’ve already seen, mobile search has skyrocketed ahead of desktop, to the point where Google have been updating their algorithms with a “mobile first” approach. Penalties will be instated for websites which do not offer a mobile-friendly option at the start of 2017, leading many commentators to dub this reprioritisation of Google’s search mechanics “Mobilegeddon”.

However, desktop search remains invaluable to searchers and SEOs alike. Consequently, having a firm understanding of the way in which users search on both kinds of devices is essential to optimising your pages for the different intentions of your users.

Trends in mobile search

Mobile search is generally conducted for a user’s immediate search needs whilst out of the house. This often involves queries related to specific health conditions, for which Google has recently introduced a bespoke “similar symptoms” box on mobile search.

Users are also frequently searching for information based on location; 95% of searches which include the phrase “near me” are conducted on mobile. Indeed, “near me” searches have been constantly on the rise, a fact which Google are not only well aware of, but actively seeking to make improvements to their mobile algorithms to cater for.

This has been most evident in the way people are using mobile to begin planning for holidays, with 60% of travel queries begun on mobile devices. Similarly, once abroad, travelers rely on their phones to provide them with quick, easily-accessible local information.

The other most frequent use of mobile search is for long-tail queries—direct questions of five words or more. This has a lot to do with the rise in voice search, which is conducted by 56% of adults; asking fully-formed questions of a device has vastly increased number of the long-tail queries conducted in Google. Queries of this nature give SEOs a wide range of ground to cover when it comes to optimising for more specific queries, allowing for a greater deal of keyword and semantic scope.

Trends in desktop search

While desktop was once the only platform for search, its function has become far more specific over time as mobile has taken over the landscape. It remains the most common platform by which to conduct navigational searches—queries designed to locate a specific website—and continues to be where page visits last the longest; research by Search Engine Watch has demonstrated that users are likely to spend three times as long on a page when browsing on desktop than on mobile.

While mobile is extremely popular for researching consumer purchases (even while standing in an actual brick-and-mortar shop, surrounded by knowledgeable shop assistants), these users are more likely to make the actual purchase on desktop. Similarly, searching for more detailed information, or completing travel documents and longer forms, desktop still wins.

Should SEOs optimise differently for mobile than desktop?

Based on the different priorities searchers have between desktop and mobile, it would seem that there is room for bespoke optimisation for the two platforms. Quite how this could work remains to be seen; determining the objectives of a site before beginning SEO work could give you a better idea of the sort of keywords to optimise for on each page.

It is also worth taking into account the times during which people will be more likely to use their devices; tablet and smartphone use peaks during morning rush hour, with desktop predictably plateauing between 9am and 5pm, before tailing off once the working day ends.

Still, regardless of platform, over 90% of users have said that content is an important part of their internet use, with 83% wanting to be able to access the same content as easily on mobile as on desktop.

This has led to Google’s introduction of accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) last October. AMP renders skeletal versions of content-rich pages to allow for a near-instant loading time of articles even on slower mobile networks, thus allowing a consistent user experience on both desktop and mobile.

There is still plenty to learn about where the future of mobile search is going to take SEO strategy. However, as Google begins to prioritise sites which provide a tailored mobile experience, the way people use their portable devices and their desktop computers is certainly a useful indication of how search will evolve over the coming months.