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How to deliver the best web experience for users as tablet web browsing booms

By Jamie Walters

May 29, 2013 | 5 min read

As new research from ComScore finds that 8 per cent of all UK web traffic now comes from tablets, Jamie Walters, product development director at Metro, looks at the demands publishers face to meet the needs of an ever-shifting audience.

Metro on the iPad

Have you ever heard of a tablet optimised website? People have been designing mobile sites for years, and obviously the desktop is very well served. But the tablet device is somewhat under-served by web products specifically designed for it. Given the rapid growth of browser usage on tablets, this appears a considerable oversight.

The beta data from ComScore's Device Essentials shows tablets now account for an impressive 8 per cent of all UK web traffic, with 23.4 per cent of traffic coming from mobile in general. It’s easy to forget that the first iPad came out just a few years ago, in 2010.

On a more macro scale, cast your eye back to that date and you’ll remember how the iPad exploded on to the scene. One year on from the iPad’s launch, tablets accounted for 1 per cent of brand website visits across North America, Western Europe and Asia Pacific. Within two years this figure was at 4.3 per cent, a year on year increase of 330 per cent. Conversely it took the iPhone almost three years to account for 1 per cent of total brand website visits.

Tablets have transformed how consumers and brands interact on the web, offering a more engaging experience than smartphones and providing competition to PCs. Tablet usage is only going to increase over the coming years with 7” tablets and the hybrid phablet (that's phone/tablet to the uninitiated); web usage from these devices will continue its very rapid growth.

And here at Metro, we’re seeing the effects of this and are looking to keep in touch with the demands of our content hungry audience (and by content I mean everything from words and pictures to video, audio and gameplay).

That's why in December last year we launched our revamped Metro.co.uk, built using responsive design principles that ensure we can deliver the right browser-based experience no matter what device you access it on. If you have a smartphone with low processing power, it’ll strip out unnecessary elements of the site and serve you pages that fit the screen you are on and load in under two seconds. If you're on a tablet, we can give you a richer experience but still get the content on to your device in super quick time. And if you are on a desktop, your experience is not compromised as a result of our focus on mobile.

It's working. We were delighted to read this month’s ABCe’s showing Metro’s monthly unique browsers up 22 per cent year-on-year, with about 10 million global visitors engaging with the site in April, and a record 406,187 daily average unique users, a year-on-year growth of 21 per cent. Within that, monthly mobile traffic has grown an enormous 103 per cent on last year.

These figures, coupled with the Comscore figures above, tell us something very important – that on mobile and tablet devices, it's not all about apps. You can have the best iPad app in the world, but if you give a really poor web experience to your tablet users, you are letting them down.

We've tried to create a consistency of experience across our native app and browser-based products, bringing porting across features such as swipe from one product to the other. We knew from our Tablet Edition on iOS that 70 per cent of people who reached page 4 read the entire edition. So, we recreated that same convenience on Metro.co.uk, with fantastic results: Metro.co.uk ‘swipers’ consume an average of 10 pages per visit, way above industry averages.

Now we’re looking for advertisers to innovate using our platform. Many ask: is responsive design the answer? Well, for us responsive design not only enables us to offer consumers a better experience, but the creative opportunities are immense.

As such, ComScore's announcement is a real milestone. Yesterday’s figures, and August’s forthcoming granular data including dwell time stats, and following this data on tablet apps, add real value – to us as a business and to our clients. This data provides insight and helps us all to showcase mobile’s success, especially when used in the context of cross-media at Metro. Furthermore, it helps us continue to build our audience understanding.

The lack of clarity and commonality of approach among publishers continues to create challenges. This is a welcome data driven stake in the ground, helping us all to grow this essential market and understand what works – for example getting the website experience right on tablet – and what doesn’t.

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