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Optimize for Behavior, Not Device

mobile contentConsider this: five years ago, a laptop was considered a “mobile” device and typical “desktop” user behavior was centered around the idea of a computer as a terminal (i.e. “sitting at your computer”). Unless you know a lot of PC gamers, designers or music producers, I’m willing to wager that you know increasingly fewer people who still sit in front of some sort of non-portable system, on a desk, to use the internet. It’s fair to say that this sort of behavior is actually dying out. So, why are we still hung up on the idea of desktop vs. mobile, when the very meaning of both words is constantly in flux?

The idea of creating / optimizing for device, rather than behavior, becomes even more unclear when you consider the recent onslaught of tablets that connect to keyboards to become laptops. What should we as publishers and advertisers be planning for? At what point do those devices stop becoming “mobile”?

The assumption is that mobile content (infographics, blog posts, videos etc.) need to be short and easy to consume, because it’s assumed users have less time to do so. Conversely, “desktop” content can exist in a longer form and require more of the user’s attention. If these assumptions don’t change, it is only going to get more frustrating for the user.

Right now I’m writing this piece on a laptop, at a desk. I’m occasionally looking around the web at other things but mostly, my attention is focussed on writing this. Despite being in the traditional “desktop” mode, I’m actually more time-starved for attention than if I was browsing the same sites on a tablet, sitting on my couch, on a Saturday afternoon.

A potential answer to the mobile vs desktop approach is the “lean back” vs “lean forward” approach. “Lean back” users are considered to be more engaged with the content they are accessing: they are devoting more attention and have more time to consume it, because they are less physically engaged with the device. Lean forward users, on the other hand are actively browsing for a purpose, so need content quickly with little distractions or noise.

The problem with this model is it’s too black and white - it only accounts for two types of user behavior. For example, a person idly browsing on a tablet on a lazy afternoon could be considered both lean-back and lean forward - they’re constantly physically engaged with the device and can click away at any time, but they’re not really looking for anything in particular, they’re just killing time.

What’s the solution to this? Well, for a start, publishers need to do as much research as possible into seeing how users navigate around their site, from where and for how long. This also needs to be granular rather than broad - certain sections may see a higher time on site than others, thus content should be tailored accordingly. Publishers then need to work closely with advertisers to make sure this research is disseminated appropriately and understood, and advertisers need to provide creative that falls in with this.

Users now expect sites and content to be suitable for any device to access it from - this is evidenced by high bounce rates from mobile browsers, from sites that don’t have a mobile version. So, we need to stop thinking about optimizing our content for the type of device, and think more about how engaged the user is, regardless of how they’re accessing it.

(image: optimize for user over device / shutterstock)


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