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Mobile Web traffic grows, not slows, during summer

Mobile Web browsing has defied traditional Internet traffic trends by increasing this summer rather than dropping off.

The onset of summer tends to mark a decline in Web traffic as consumers spend less time at their desktops and more time on vacation and leisure. However, the mobile medium is not experiencing similar traffic slumps, attributable to the convenience of mobile Web browsing, the growth of the mobile sector and the increasing prominence of data plans.

?What we're seeing is continued growth in mobile traffic,? said Jeremy Lockhorn, vice president of emerging media at Razorfish, New York. ?There?s such explosive platform growth happening in the space in general that there don?t seem to be any big seasonal swings as of yet.?

Razorfish is a digital advertising agency that is a subsidiary of the Publicis Groupe.

Mobile Web traffic growing, not slowing
Mobile analytics firm Ground Truth has observed similar trends.

?Mobile Web is a constant in consumers? lives, whether they?re at work, at home, on vacation, day or night,? said Evan Neufeld, vice president of marketing at Ground Truth, Seattle. ?The Internet, on the other hand, is not as easily accessible, so its use is, for most, confined to the home, office or coffee shop.

?This has a negative effect on the time and attention one can give to the tethered Web when they are away from those locations,? he said. 

Between February and June, Ground Truth found that mobile subscribers were browsing the Web on their handhelds for an average of about three hours per month.

Additionally, the average mobile user accumulated an estimated 1,000 page views per month.

Ground Truth has not seen any significant dip in mobile Web traffic during that time.

?The fact that consumers are spending three hours per month on average browsing the mobile Web should be a real eye-opener for marketers,? Mr. Neufeld said.

?We have found that people browse the mobile Web throughout the day, which emphasizes the fact that the mobile Web ? along with the pervasive mobile device ? is a significant component to consumers? media diet, and therefore a tremendously attractive medium for advertising and marketing,? he said.

Mr. Neufeld emphasized the fact that Ground Truth could not accurately forecast mobile trends for the future, but predicted that traffic would continue to surge going into the fall months.

?We would expect to see growth in mobile Internet use as consumers upgrade their mobile devices during the back-to-school and holiday seasons, coupled with the fact that there is more, better content available as advertisers and publishers increase their stakes in mobile,? Mr. Neufeld said.

The Nielsen Co. says that the number of consumers accessing the mobile Internet in the United States has jumped from 54 million in May 2009 to 72 million in May 2010, a year-over-year increase of 34 percent.

Likewise, Opera Software detected similar patterns in mobile Web traffic, noting a 142 percent jump in the number of consumers accessing the Internet through the Opera Mini mobile Web browser between May 2009 and May 2010 (see story).

Much of the surge is attributable to an increase in consumers using their devices for data-intensive purposes, such as video streaming and interactive applications.

Nielsen found that smartphone users received nearly 300 megabytes of data on their devices per month in the first quarter of 2010, a threefold increase over the same time period last year.

And, a recent Validas study found that data consumption is increasing across all handheld device categories as mobile Web and application traffic surges.

?We are seeing aggressive increases in data consumption across all handheld device categories,? said Ed Finegold, executive vice president of analytics at Validas, Missouri City, TX. ?Mobile Web and apps are fueling the growth in mobile data usage.?

?I think this trend will continue on an aggressive curve as we see more compelling apps and mobile-centric Web content come online along with more users with smartphones,? he said.

Potential from data plans
The explosion of mobile traffic could accelerate as data plans become more commonplace.

For example, AT&T?s controversial decision to replace its unlimited data plan offering with a tiered pricing system stands to significantly increase the number of mobile users with such plans (see story).

?The bottom line is that people have their devices in hand a lot more as they become more excited about using mobile data,? Mr. Finegold said. ?The mobile screen is more central to users? every day activity as they are downloading, emailing and going online more from their mobile devices.

?The massive growth in data usage is definitely a signal that people are using more apps and doing more online using their mobile devices,? he said. ?There?s a big lifestyle trend here that we are just beginning to see, measure and understand.?

Recommendations for Marketers
As the number of U.S. consumers surfing the Internet on their mobile devices inches closer to 100 million, marketers need to fully integrate mobile into their marketing mixes ? not merely as an afterthought, but as a vital component.

?At the end of the day, marketers need to stop treating mobile like some experimental, below-the-line medium, and start thinking about where their audience is on mobile,? Mr. Neufeld said. ?Do they use feature phones or smartphones?

?Are they more likely to text than to send email, or more likely to browse content than access it via an app?? he said. ?[Then they can] develop their mobile strategy accordingly.?

Final Take
Peter Finocchiaro, editorial assistant at Mobile Marketer, New York