Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why desktop search isn’t going anywhere (and why that’s a good thing for marketers)

by Sam Martin-Ross is UK Managing Director of digital marketing agency, Eskimoz

The way we search is not only important to the customer journey and how products and services are discovered, researched and purchased, but also has a major impact on how marketing budgets are spent.

Since Google’s rollout of the mobile-friendly update in April 2015, marketers can be forgiven for assuming the future of search lay solely in the mobile market. Indeed, just two years ago in 2021, mobiles accounted for 64% of searches, with desktop trailing behind at 35%. However, fast forward to August 2023 and we can begin to see a shift in searching and browsing behaviour, with 67.77% of total web visits coming from desktops, and just 32.23% from mobile. 

This turn not only marks the biggest lead of desktop over mobile in six years, but also signifies changing consumer behaviour across various devices. With reports of desktop’s death appearing to be greatly exaggerated, how can marketers get ahead of this shifting landscape and effectively engage customers across both platforms? 

Engagement with mobile vs. desktop

With the average person spending a whopping 4 hours a day on their smartphone according to latest statistics, it’s natural to assume marketing strategies should always take a mobile-first approach.

However, it’s important to understand how people are engaging with content on their phones. For example, recent statistics show nearly two thirds of the total time spent on mobile devices is spent watching video content. For time that is spent on mobile search, it’s equally important to consider the context and intent behind mobile searches.

The portability of mobile devices means many searches are made on the go, with geographically relevant results taking on increased importance. This is reflected in the fact that 82% of customers use phrases such as “near me” when searching on a mobile. Mobile users are generally looking for quick, easy-to-digest answers.

Compare this to desktop users, where the device lends itself to more in-depth tasks or research. Complex purchasing journeys that require more steps in the buying process, or larger, more expensive purchases are more often made on desktops.

How desktop drives conversions

Despite the ongoing popularity of mobile devices, desktop devices continue to win out when it comes to conversion rates. While all devices have enjoyed increased conversion rates across the last five years, desktop is firmly in the lead with a conversion rate of 4.14%, compared with 3.36% for tablet and a mere 1.53% for mobile.

Once again, changing usage patterns are reflected in these statistics, with users more likely to consume video content or access social media on mobile than finalise a purchasing decision. Desktops offer a more comfortable purchasing environment for consumers, with larger screens and less visual clutter. While mobile is well-adapted for impulse eCommerce purchases, desktop still leads the way for complicated or expensive purchasing decisions. Take for example a 2023 report from SaleCycle, which found 55% of customers opted to make travel purchases on their desktop.

Cross-device purchasing

The vast majority of consumer journeys are not linear, with around 85% of customers starting a purchase on one device then finishing it on another. Clearly, there is no silver bullet when it comes to focusing marketing spend on desktop or mobile search.

While this may appear to pose a challenge for brands, it is in fact a great opportunity for marketers and advertisers to leverage the benefits of each device to create more effective campaigns. Additionally, making the most of cross-device connectivity can contribute to any potential gaps in tracking, where a user might click an ad on their mobile, but later convert directly on desktop. This creates a fuller picture of ad efficacy, helping marketers and advertisers to better understand conversions at times where tracking alone does not give the full picture.

Desktop is not dead: driving results on desktop and mobile

It’s clear that desktop is not going anywhere, especially when it comes to driving all-important conversions, meaning brands must pay closer attention to customer intent across devices, and create a seamless experience that optimises the journey from mobile discovery to desktop purchasing.