Mobile is no longer a competitive edge; it’s a marketing must-have. Since 2014, companies have increased their mobile advertising spend by 50 percent.

But as marketers amp up their mobile campaigns, many are confused and frustrated that mobile conversions are stalled at 0.8 percent while desktop rates sit at nearly 2.8 percent. Even though consumers spend 59 percent of their screen time on mobile, they make only 15 percent of purchases through the medium. In comparison, desktop claims just 41 percent of screen time but 85 percent of dollars.

Despite the discouraging conversion rates and lopsided spend, the flaw isn’t with mobile: It’s with how marketers measure success of mobile campaigns and products. Too many marketers expect mobile sales figures to mimic their desktop counterparts, but this doesn’t align with how consumers use their mobile devices.

Misleading Mobile Metrics

Mobile is every bit as essential to the modern sales funnel as desktop. But consumers use their phones earlier in the funnel, conducting product research and comparing prices, not making purchases.

Marketers who don’t understand consumers’ mobile usage patterns often mistakenly use these metrics to measure their campaigns:

1. Conversions: While some marketers argue that conversions are the most important metric by which to measure campaigns, conversions are just one step of the sales funnel. Before making a purchase, 81 consumers perform online product research. The research stage — which is essential to eight in 10 consumers’ eventual conversion — is where mobile shines. Studies show than 90 percent of consumers with smartphones use these devices while shopping in retail stores. Of these, 54 percent use their phones to compare prices, 48 percent say they search for product information, and 42 percent read user reviews.

So while consumers aren’t converting at the revenue volume of desktop or brick and mortar, they are spending more time on mobile engaging in activities that influence those eventual conversions. A recent study showed 78 percent of shoppers searching on mobile devices made a purchase within 24 hours of the original search.

2. Cart abandonment: Marketers using cart abandonment to measure their mobile campaigns fall into a similar trap as those looking at mobile conversion figures. Across all platforms, 68 percent of online carts are abandoned, but a whopping 97 percent of mobile carts are lost in the digital abyss.

Does this mean mobile campaigns encourage consumers to ditch their carts? Not at all. It simply reflects how consumers use their phones. When an on-the-go shopper adds an item to her mobile cart, she’s likely interested in the item and bookmarking it. Three-fourths of shoppers with abandoned carts say they plan to return to the retailer’s site or store to make a purchase, so mobile often succeeds in facilitating that purchase (even if the abandoned cart tells a different story).

3. Session length: Marketers often equate consumers’ mobile session lengths with their likelihood of conversion, but research implies that consumers’ shortest mobile sessions are when they’re about to purchase products.

While the average mobile YouTube session is 40 minutes long, the average shopping app session length is just 68.71 seconds. That’s closely followed by time spent in browser — where consumers might go to look up store hours or location — with the average session totaling just 74.01 seconds.

This, too, can be explained by how consumers use their mobile devices to make purchase decisions. Whether a mobile user is pulling up a store address or comparing an item’s in-store price to its online cost, mobile is used as an on-the-fly investigatory tool. Session length can be incredibly misleading to marketers because a consumer who’s spending lots of time researching products on his mobile device is probably less ready to convert than a consumer who’s quickly checking a price.

Mobile Metrics Worth Watching

Mobile is turning marketing on its head because it’s fundamentally altering the consumer journey. Considering how shoppers use their mobile devices, the following metrics can offer marketers a much truer picture of how their mobile campaigns are performing:

1. Bounce rates: Bounce rates are still a valid metric for both mobile and desktop platforms. However, as desktop experiences have improved over the past 10 years, high desktop bounce rates might indicate a disconnect in the sales funnel.
Often, bounce rates on mobile are much higher than on desktop because many customer experiences still aren’t optimized for mobile, which tend to result in an immediate bounce. On average, mobile bounce rates run about 10 to 20 percent higher than desktop.

This metric can be an informational gold mine for marketers: A bounce rate near 80 or 90 percent indicates a user experience problem — perhaps browser compatibility issues or poor site design are scaring them off. A bounce rate lower than 20 percent might mean the mobile analytics system isn’t working: Duplicate code or poor event tracking might be to blame.

2. Monthly and daily active users: Across mobile applications, mobile or daily active users are perhaps the best way to measure mobile success. This metric reveals how many users open the application during a day or month.

Quettra found 77 percent of daily active users (DAUs) were lost within three days of the initial install, meaning the window to retain users is small. For this reason, it’s crucial that marketers’ apps offer immediate value for users. Business apps have notoriously poor user retention rates, so marketers whose apps beat this DAU benchmark should congratulate themselves for running solid mobile campaigns.

Mobile products with poor DAU figures — particularly those that lose more than nine in 10 users within the first few days of install — indicate a fundamental issue with the brand’s mobile strategy. In these cases, either the user experience needs to be rethought or the app itself isn’t providing users with the desired value.

3. Push notification opens: Strong mobile marketing campaigns employ push notifications to help consumers make the leap from phone to purchase. The marketing team at Thanx recently found push notification rates range from about 47 percent to 80 percent, with the top performers sharing a few common characteristics.

According to the study, the top performing push notifications were:

  • Reward notifications: “Congratulations, you’ve received a $5 rebate for shopping today!”
  • Top-shopper notifications: “You’re one of our best customers; here’s a sneak peak at our next sale.”
  • Location-related notifications: “We see you’re downtown. Come stop by our store for a discount.”

Push notifications are highly useful when judging a mobile campaign because their success hinges on relevance. If marketers’ mobile strategies don’t target customers at points of distinct relevance — perhaps when they’re shopping nearby or after they’ve made a big purchase — then subpar push notification open rates will reflect that.

Mobile is a tricky medium. The numbers marketers have used for decades to measure their digital campaigns can distort perceptions of mobile success at best and lead to wasted spend at worst. So don’t forget to look at the data, but more importantly, don’t forget to look at the right data behind your mobile campaign. You might be surprised at what you find.

Kevin Jennings

Kevin Jennings