Why mobile user behaviours are different

February 2, 2011

We have recently conducted some user testing on of one of our client’s websites on mobile devices. They sell investment products so it was largely an information site. It was a fascinating exercise in many ways, but what particularly surprised me was how different user’s behaviours were when using their mobiles to browse the web.

So, how do they behave? Instead of selecting quickly the first link that looked like it would take them to relevant information, they carefully reviewed all the links on the page to decide which to choose. In other words they exhibit ‘optimising’ not ‘satisfying’ behaviour. This is the opposite of what we see when someone browses using a PC. Here, users will often select a ‘wrong’ link because it is the first one they come across that gives off some ‘scent’ that it will lead them to the information they are looking for. We have even observed users ignoring good links – ones that give off lots of scent – right below a less good one because they have not bothered to look beyond the first one.

Why do they behave like this? This behaviour is reminiscent of what we used to see 5 or more years ago when users browsed on PCs using dial up connections. Broadband has changed the way we do things. Watching the testers, quickly gave us an explanation for this behaviour. Even though we were browsing using a 3G connection, download speeds were not fast – this was not a mobile optimised site, but more importantly the users were paying by the byte. They were aware that downloading the wrong information would cost them time and money.

I, therefore, wonder how quickly the promised revolution in mobile web use will happen. Clearly, devices like the Apple iPhone have the potential to overcome these problems – as long as you live and work in an area with good wireless coverage – but, unless downloading data on non-Apple devices has a zero marginal cost I suspect users will still be very careful about the links they select.