Jeremy Smith Feb 16, 2015 12:25:43 PM 25 min read

The E-commerce Site's Data-Driven Guide to Mobile Conversion Success

Most conversion optimizers are spending their time crafting PPC ad copy, optimizing landing pages, and crafting call to actions.

There are some really important things to worry about right now. But there are some other things to worry about.

The fact is, mobile e-commerce is the biggest thing happening in digital marketing right now. I don’t care what your specific role in the industry is — CMO, marketing guy, developer, designer, copywriter, PPC nerd, conversion optimizer, a freaking clown — you need to know what’s happening with mobile.

7 most devastatingly important pieces of information to help you become successful on mobile.

1. People shop on mobile.

The holiday shopping season (2014) was a megaphone-volume wake-up call to the marketing industry.

We got a rude awakening to the reality of mobile marketing, and it happened something like this.

  • Black Friday 2014 — Things soared as high as they’ve ever been on the biggest shopping day of the year. The growth stats, a 20.6% increase, crushed every previous sales metric in the calendar.
  • Cyber Monday 2014 — E-commerce revenue skyrocketed 15.4% more than the previous year.

holiday ecommerce revenue, 2013 vs 2014

These numbers alone are enough to make any marketer nod in agreement, but here’s where the whiplash moment happened

More than 20% of the holiday weekend revenue came from mobile devices!

Revenue, folks! We’re not talking traffic, we’re talking about revenue.

Custora, which gathered and presented the data made this statement:

Mobile Shopping (e-commerce orders made on mobile phones and tablets) accounted for over a fifth of online shopping on Cyber Monday 2014 – 21.9% of orders. That’s a significant jump from only 15.9% on Cyber Monday 2013.

For the full holiday weekend, Mobile Shopping accounted for 26.4% of orders, up from 19.7% over the same period in 2013. Black Friday was “Mobile Friday,” with mobile accounting for 30.3% of orders, up from only 22.5% on Black Friday 2013.

Statistically speaking, the entire revenue increase was exclusively the realm of mobile shopping. If Black Friday shopping was up by 20%, and mobile shopping constituted 21% of those orders, then all of that extra traffic could be explained by the eye-popping rise of mobile shopping.

Let that sink in for just a second — 21.9% of all orders!

That’s a ton of people buying merch on their phones and tablets.

It has happened exactly as IBM predicted.

Meanwhile, smartphones will continue to lead in mobile browsing over the five-day shopping period, accounting for 29 percent of all online traffic versus 15 percent for tablets. However, IBM predicts tablets will account for twice as many mobile purchases than smartphones thanks to the larger screen size.

CMO joined the predictions, when they claimed “mobile continues to move sales online.”

mobile share of sales by day

We will remember the holiday shopping season of 2014 as the year that mobile took over the world.

In case e-commerce marketers aren’t getting the message, let me put it in very plain language:

Mobile shopping is big, and it’s now. If mobile marketing is not front and center in your marketing efforts, you will fail.

2. You have to be the No. 1 result for mobile SEO.

So where is all this shopping traffic come from? It’s not like users are just directly landing on your site and buying stuff.

They come from search traffic and email marketing. Once more, this all goes back to the importance of mobile.

Customers are using their mobile devices to make price comparisons, find promotional offers, find locations/directions, and find hours.

The mobile device isn’t just a purchasing tool. It’s a research tool. Customers use their mobile devices to learn before they shop and as they shop.

mobile price comparisons

(Image source)

Customers use more commercial queries.

The rise in mobile e-commerce marketing is backed by a huge query-based demand. A simple glance at the holiday shopping rates will again tell the story:

mobile commercial queries

(Image source)

Mobile users are eagerly tap-tap-tapping on their mobile devices because they are primed and ready to shop. But before every purchase action comes research, consideration, interest and queries.

That’s why mobile SEO is so important. You won’t get the customers unless you get their traffic. And how important is your ability to rank for their queries?

It’s more important than you think.

Hang on to your socks ...

If you don’t rank No. 1 for mobile search results, you’re fried.

This is the truth, and I will prove it with numbers.

I’m only restating what others have discussed. Hopefully, however, I’m bringing the conversation in front of marketers, and not just bean-counting SEOs and their ilk. We marketers need to grasp this.

research on mobile ranking
(Image source)

The big splash in the SEO community came from SEO Clarity, which conducted a first-of-its-kind study on mobile CTRs.

SEO Clarity studied 2,083,535,220 impressions for mobile search results. That’s a heckuvalot of queries and impressions, which gave them a very strong level of statistical confidence.

What they discovered was that mobile users strongly prefer the first search result. Take a look:

CTR, mobile modelf

(Image source)

What that graph tells you in cold and cruel clarity is that 27.7% of all mobile users will click on the first result. The remaining nine results share the paltry remainder of the mobile CTR universe.

The cliff-like drop-off from No. 1 to No. 2 is steep, but you don’t realize just how steep until you do a quick comparison with the desktop CTRs.

CTR desktop model
(Image source)

Desktop users have always preferred the No. 1 position, but never before have we seen such a strong preference for the first position.

In financial terms, ranking first on mobile is three times more valuable than ranking in position No. 2. The power of a first position mobile result has an actual monetary upside.

If clicks are money (and they are), that’s huge.

Marketing mavens, beware. You are not a marketing success unless you’re snagging that first-position result. It doesn’t matter whether the queries are branded, transactional, or otherwise, you must score No. 1.

3. Make sure that you have strong mobile servers.

Black Friday brought a surge of mobile traffic, and mobile marketers gained another powerful lesson: If you have weak servers, you’re going to fail.

Too often, mobile servers are shunted to a back-burner, low-power server. Today, however, you can’t afford to let that happen.

As an example of what not to do, look at Best Buy.

Their site crashed.

bestbuy mobile server ad
(Image source)

But it wasn’t just that they were losing desktop traffic. Check this out:

Mobile serve problem

(Image source)

Yeah. Pretty sure that’s an iPhone screenshot.

It wasn’t pretty.

bestbuy accessing server problem

(Image source)

Two and half hours of downtime on the busiest shopping day of the year will, yes, verily, absolutely put a dent in your revenue.

Oh, and when it goes down a second time, you know you have problems.

What happened? Allow Best Buy to respond:

A concentrated spike in mobile traffic triggered issues that led us to shut down in order to take proactive measures to restore full performance. Our consumers can return to in the next several hours to take advantage of today's door busters.

Not sure about door busters, but site busters, yes.

And, just for the record, you can’t take “proactive measures” when your site already crashed.

The culprit of the crash was mobile traffic. Best Buy just wasn’t ready for the seething, frothing, turkey-filled mass of easy-chair-dwelling mobile users.

Is there a silver lining to this Black Friday Best Buy cloud? According to SFGate, yes:

Yes, Best Buy probably lost a chunk of business during its Black Friday website outage. But given the reason behind the outage, the company — and indeed all retailers — should feel good about what it means for the future of their business.

Let BestBuy be a lesson to us all: Mobile traffic will come. Be ready, or be sorry.

4. Email marketing fuels mobile purchases.

One of the biggest strategic insights into the mobile e-commerce market is the blistering power of email marketing

Far from an old-school outmoded marketing tactic, email marketing is a secret weapon that drives up mobile purchases like nothing else.

Take a glance at the stats from Custora.

2013 mobile stats from Custora
(Image source)

I know it’s small, but see what’s going on there?

As would be expected, organic search is high. (Please see Point 2 of this article.) Organic search leads the pack at 23% of revenue share. But it doesn’t lead by much!

Direct traffic is close behind at 21.3%, and email traffic clocks in at a whopping 20.9%.

That is huge.

Think of email marketing like a giant hand that pushes mobile transactions. It makes logical sense. For the first time in 2014, mobile email opens eclipsed desktop email opens, if only by a fraction.

email opens by device

If a customer opens an email on their mobile device, they are much more likely to click-through on that email, and buy the product.

(Oh, social media revenue? It only accounted for 0.6% of sales on phones, and 0.2% on tablets. Cue wah-wah trombone sound.)

As a marketer, you need to know this. Your mobile strategy is awesome, but it will be way awesomer if it gets married to your email marketing strategy.

5. You must have a mobile-optimized checkout process.

When the rubber meets the road of mobile optimization, there is one thing that matters above all else: the mobile checkout process.

If your checkout process is not optimized for mobile users, you will lose. I don’t mean to be unnecessarily harsh or cruel, but these are the facts of life in the mobile-driven world of e-commerce.

Let me show you something that will send users into an apoplectic rage:

What is this?!

unresponsive mobile form

This is a screenshot of a shopping cart that I accessed on my very own iPhone. I edited the name of the company to protect the identity of the guilty party.

This kind of mobile checkout will crush your conversion rates. Despite the failures in the mix, mobile conversion rates are steadily rising. Eventually, we’re going to reach a point where they are equal to or exceeding the average conversion rates on desktops.

bad mobile checkout will crush your conversion rates

If you spend money on one aspect of conversion optimization, spend it on this: mobile checkout optimization. It will pay dividends in spades.

For my personal favorite mobile checkout process article, please see this post on Smashing Magazine.

Let me sum up their points:

  1. Include only vital fields
  2. Allow checkout as a guest
  3. Leverage mobile UI elements
  4. Remove distractions, not content
  5. Show progress
  6. Build lightweight
  7. Provide security reassurances
  8. Google Wallet, PayPal and Amazon are your friends
  9. Take advantage of geolocation and one-touch calling
  10. As always, test across systems and setups.

6. Your entire site must be flawlessly responsive and Google-approved.

Google hates non-optimized sites. Maybe “hate” is a strong word, but they sure are taking a harsh stance against them.

Google is penalizing sites that are not mobile-friendly, as reported by MarketingLand:

Your entire site must be flawlessly responsive and Google-approved

We already have clear evidence of their stance on mobile optimization, as proven by their recent rollout of their mobile-friendly test.

mobile friendly test by google

And what if you fail the mobile-friendly test? Then Google won’t give you the thumbs-up in the mobile SERPs. Yes, it is a thing. Mobile-friendly sites actually get recognized in the very mobile SERPS.

very mobile SERPS

That little “mobile friendly” notification will tell you whether Google likes you. A SERP entry with the notation will get higher CTRs than one without.

In other words, your site needs to be fully responsive and mobile-friendly to gain a better share of the mobile search traffic.


This article is data-heavy. Sorry about that. But I needed to get the message across, and did so in the most compelling way that I know how.

If you snooze on mobile, you’re going to lose.

Mobile marketing success doesn’t come automatically just because you have a responsive site. Mobile marketing takes intention and hard work.

It’s time to pay attention to mobile success.




Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.