Blog | 29 July 2019

Online Content: Has Mobile Killed The Desktop Star?

Trevor Horn, one of the members of synth-pop group The Buggles, said of writing their hit song Video Killed The Radio Star, ‘… it was like you could see the future… Something new is coming, something different… You could feel things changing.’

Horn was referring to the changing landscape of music in the late 70s, from rhythm sections to music video growing in popularity over only listening to songs on the radio. In a recent interview, he said back then he had envisioned a time when record companies would have computers in basements that manufactured artists. Sounds fanciful, but is that vision really that far off today’s music industry? Boy bands, your favourite pop/Disney star, autotune, anyone? But what does this have to do with the price of content online? Well, the first place to start is mobile-first.

Mobile-First

Smartphones have become the primary way people do searches and consume online content. For example, in 2018, one of The River Group’s clients saw mobile bring in up to 50% of visits to its website, with desktop and tablets making up the rest. Another client saw an even higher 62%!

In most countries, the number of people who own smartphones is now greater than those who own personal computers. These are the sort of ‘things changing’ that bring Horn’s quotes to mind.

With this change of the guard from desktop to mobile, Google has created what it calls mobile-first indexing. This means that the search engine giant will use the mobile version of a website’s content for indexing and determining how your content ranks on the search engine results page.

The impact this has on content marketing can’t be overstated. Optimising your content for mobile and making the design of your mobile site user-friendly is vital to any website that publishes online content, regardless of its type. Whether you’re an individual running your own blog or a content marketing agency catering to a range of clients, as a content creator, you can’t afford to be left behind the times and the changing landscape of content consumption. With that being said…

Is Desktop Content Dead?

While it may have lost its crown, like a Game Of Thrones monarch, content consumption on desktop and personal computers is far from done. Although from 1 July 2019, all new websites will be mobile-first indexing enabled by default, Google will still continue to index desktop versions of content from existing or older websites, as long as they meet best-practice standards. The caveat to this is that Google strongly recommends old websites start thinking mobile-first.

‘If content is king, mobile is the Iron Throne it now sits on’

In essence, if a user searches the question ‘What is content marketing?’ on Google, and your website is desktop-focused while your competitor has a mobile-first optimised website, the search engine will likely rank your competitor’s website higher even if the quality of content on both websites is the same. It therefore behoves online content creators to think mobile-first in the long term. This means creating a version of your website specifically for mobile or redesigning your website so it is mobile focused while still working well on desktop. Alternatively, in the short term, at least you need to make sure your content is AMP (accelerated mobile pages) enabled – i.e. that it has content that loads up quickly and is accessible to the user from the search engine results page without needing to go through the slower process of loading up your website first. Next time you do a search on your smartphone, look out for the little lightning bolt symbol next to some of the results.

Another factor that keeps desktop in the game is the fact that although mobile is preferred by the user for quick research and specific types of content, many users will still go to desktop even after initialising a search on mobile. Desktop research is used as part of the customer journey on the way to purchase or conversion. It is a step that is lower down the funnel, helping the user make a decision or complete an action.

For example, on her way home, a user searches ‘vegan recipes’ on her smartphone. She finds one she likes and buys the ingredients. At home, she then goes on YouTube on her desktop computer and searches for a video that shows the meal being cooked. This sort of multi-device content consumption isn’t going away any time soon. Fashion retailers, make-up outlets, electronic retailers and automobile brands all have customers who use desktop content as part of their research or purchasing process.

Conclusion

Going back to our Game Of Thrones metaphor, if content is king, mobile is the Iron Throne it now sits on, while desktop is the steps below it. Trevor Horn was right in his prediction of change in the music business, but perhaps he slightly underestimated the staying power of the radio. Video didn’t kill the radio star as much as enhance the consumers’ experience of their favourite artists via an emerging platform. In this case, mobile is simply doing the same: providing the best content on a platform that is increasing in popularity.

However, because desktop may eventually die, it is vital that content creators think mobile-first in the long run to avoid being left behind. Here at The River Group, we work with our clients to ensure they are kept abreast of emerging content trends and assist them in making proactive changes.

Christopher Alonge
Christopher Alonge
SEO Manager

Chris is SEO Manager at River, with almost a decade working in the digital space. He oversees search engine optimisation across all client websites.

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