What effect will the iPad have on web analytics?


Segmenting mobile traffic in reports has become commonplace in most web analytics software. Why is this important?  Because people using mobile devices interact with sites differently than people using other machines.

With iPads and competing tablets appearing on the scene, this complicates things a little. It raises important new questions for the web analytics industry and companies who rely on it.

Identifying iPads in Reports

Firstly, it must be noted that the iPad is not the only device out there. As soon as it was released earlier this year, competitors were ready with their equally portable versions.  Nowadays it can be hard to tell the difference between phones, tablets, netbooks, laptops and desktops.. especially in Google Analytics.

The first hurdle to get over is to identify which mobile device a visitor is using. Easier said than done. Some web analytics products, like Google Analytics, automatically identify visits from iPads. But what about competing products? Without a unique identifier, you will have a pretty hard time distinguishing between a tablet and a netbook, or even an advanced phone. They all have similar screen resolutions, operating systems and browsers. Some will support Flash and some will not.

What's more, wireless signals such as 3G enable users to view a site just as they would using a computer; there is no need to view the mobile version of a site.  This can be equally confusing for your web analytics.

How iPads Change Visitor Behavior

Why do we need to pay so much attention to tablet use?  Because we don't yet have a clear idea about how visitors on tablets use the Internet. Will visitors use tablets just like they use phones and netbooks? Where will they be using them, on the road, at home or in the office? What will they do differently on a tablet than they would do on a different device?

For example, a visitor accessing your site from home will likely have different needs and goals than one in their car, in an airport, in a coffeeshop. In a world where an increasing number of visits are “out of home/out of office” visits conducted using mobile devices, our collective approach towards analysis needs to change, perhaps dramatically.

A lot is dependent on the connection speed that users have access to. Maybe they will read less pages because they take longer to load. What about their patterns of use and our understanding of conversions and engagement? Even though your site is optimized to its maximum potential, visitors may just leave without converting because their food just showed up or their movie started.

We might have to redefine our measures for success to take into account new ways of browsing the Internet.

More Specific Reporting

None of this spells disaster for web analytics or meaningful reporting. It will make aggregate reports even less useful. But the most important take-away is that it will require a higher level of analytical ability.

As a result executives may be more likely to ask for meaningful analysis instead of simple reports and graphs generated by Google Analytics or another web analytics service. As users become more and more segmented in terms of their use of multiple devices to access the Internet, plenty of things will need to be taken into consideration. How important is calculating unique visitors when the average visitor starts using three different devices to access a site? How important is average time on site if visitors are accessing your content during short waits and no amount of engaging content will keep them longer than a specified time? How do we measure success in this new environment?

Only one thing seems screamingly obvious: making sense of the changing trends will require more nuanced and skilled analytical abilities than ever before, and this is where software such as Bime, which works on top of Google Analytics, comes in useful.