Designing a web site for a mobile audience with a 3 inch screen and potentially slower data connection is clearly very different from other users. Therefore studying this segment of visitors can have important implications for your web development.

Visits from older generations of Internet enabled mobile phones cannot be tracked by web analytics tools that use page tags – including Google Analytics – as they do not execute JavaScript or cookies. The traditional solution to this was to use a Log analyzer such as Urchin. However the lack of cookie and JavaScript support was precisely the reason so few people used their phone for web access. In many cases sites just failed to work, so tracking the few mobile visitors out there was never a priority – until now.

The newer generation of Smartphones (iPhone, Blackberry etc.) have driven the recent proliferation of web usage via mobile devices by supporting cookies and JavaScript. Therefore visitors accessing your site from a Smartphone can now be tracked – in the exact same way as a desktop or laptop user.

Mobile Web audience statistics

  • Mobile web browsing as a proportion of total web browsing is currently very small at 0.72 percent, though growing. [NetMarketingShare via Econsultancy.com blog, March 2009]
  • US Smartphone users spent an average of 4.6 hours per month on mobile Internet sites. [M:Metrics via Marketing Charts, May 2008]
  • In the US, 63.2m people used their mobiles to find news and information in January 2009, more than double that of January 2008. [comScore, March 2009]
  • Of 182 million people in China with Web-enabled mobile phones, 102 million (56 percent) use the devices to connect to the Web. [Netpop Research via Clickz, April 2009]

How to track mobile visitors

As stated, by default Smartphone mobile visitors are tracked just as any other visitor to your website – you don’t have to do anything! However, the caveat is that these are a relatively small proportion of traffic, so are be buried deep in your reports.

In order to bubble these up to the top, you need to create an advanced segment. (If this means nothing to you, take a look at the advanced segment article on the GA Help Centre). The Figure below shows how to create an advanced segment in Google Analytics to highlight your mobile visitors. It detects either the visitor’s operating system or browser type and matches it against a known lookup list. Just as for profile filters, it uses the regular expression pipe character “|” to separate multiple possible matches for the same metric or dimension.

mobile-adv-segment.jpg

Figure 1 – custom segment to highlight mobile phone visits

Expanded from screenshot: OS and Browser type match:

android|black|HTC|iphone|ipod|lg|nokia|palm|samsung|sony|symbian|vodafone|treo|xda|netfront

Copy & paste this line into the two value fields (Browser and Operating System) for your advanced segment.

The same lookup list is used for both operating system and browser type fields as not all Smartphones set these logically. For example, many do not broadcast their operating system name when viewing websites, while others identify their browsers as regular types e.g. Safari (Symbian, Andriod), which cannot be distinguished from ordinary desktop or laptop users. The use of both fields combined with an “or” statement therefore ensures you capture most mobile visitors.

With your Advanced Segment define, you can then view mobile visits at a click as the following screenshot shows.

mobile visitors

Note: The mobile lookup list for the advanced segment example was compiled by analyzing the browser and operating system combinations of over 10 million visits during July-August 2009 from five independent websites. These were publisher websites i.e. those most likely to receive mobile visitors with a targeted audience of US (1), UK (2) and Swedish (2) visitors.

Let me know if you find this useful – a star rating or comment always goes down well.

BTW, if you have a great idea for an advanced segment, please contact me directly as I would love to see guest posts here from readers.