We've reviewed a wealth of data in order to take an informed look back at how the way we used the web changed last year -- and the insights we've managed to reveal are rather interesting...
We analysed detailed stats around usage from a number of websites across a wide range of industries -- including the e-commerce, charity and not-for-profit sectors -- in order to ensure our findings are as representative as possible. (For more info on how we went about gathering the data, see the Notes at the end of this post.)
Read on to discover how we used websites in 2014.
Device trends: Could we be falling out of love with our iPhones?
Let's start off with an obvious one: considering a sample of 26 websites, we discovered mobile and tablet traffic was universally up.
As you'd expect, Apple continues to far outstrip all other mobile brands, but their 2014 market share of mobile sessions was actually down on 2013 -- on average, 64.4% of all mobile sessions were conducted on an iPhone in 2014, compared to 70.9% in 2013.
Samsung ranks a far-from-close second at 17.1% (up from 14.4% last year), with Sony / Sony Ericsson limping into third place with 2.3% (compared to their 1.7% share in 2013). Meanwhile HTC's share has fallen from 2.2% to 1.7%, while Nokia has increased from 1.4% to 1.7%.
Brands represented within the 'Others' category here include Google (which has remained steady at 1.6%), and Amazon (which has seen a rise from 1.0% to 1.5% during the course of the year).
Browser trends: Internet Explorer's finally knocked from the top spot
You might think that most users would have condemned Internet Explorer -- which is now 19 years old -- to the scrapheap long ago. But according to our findings in considering 23 different websites, it's only this year that it's been overtaken as the UK's favourite web browser.
Safari (with a 30.6% market share in 2014) and Chrome (with 28.9%) are the only browsers who managed to significantly increase their usage in 2014.
Top traffic-driving channels: Organic search remains top dog
The channels that generated the most traffic varied pretty significantly across our sample of 25 websites: four websites had direct URL entry as the top ranking channel while one relied heaviest on social and another, an e-commerce site operating in a highly competitive market, drew most sessions from paid search.
But averaging out the findings across all, organic search came out top with 44.2%. And as you'd expect Google accounted for a massive proportion of that traffic.
Keir Gibson, Head of Search & Media here at Code says, "The increasing popularity of mobile and tablet devices coupled with browsers that offer users the ability to search straight from the address bar means that organic search traffic has increased for almost all of our clients, while direct traffic has slowed down.
"This only drives home the importance of ensuring your site is appearing in search by considering SEO in your site build and consistently producing engaging, great content.
"It's also interesting to note that social channels account for such a small portion of traffic considering the amount that brands tend to invest in this area. Social channels are great for building awareness, but its lower conversion rates indicate that brands should be focussed on maximising the potential of converting channels first."
Social network referrals: Facebook's still the top referrer -- but engagement is on the low side
Some would have you believe that Facebook's popularity is waning, yet our findings show that it remains the top social channel for referrals and that its share actually increased by 2.27% in 2014 on the previous year. In fact, for many of the sites we looked at, Facebook account for more referral traffic that all other social media platforms combined.
YouTube's fallen rather out of favour, though -- this channel drove 3.16% less referral traffic last year than it did in 2013. Take a look at engagement in terms of pages per session and average session duration (see below) and you'll see that YouTube's lagging behind most of the rest in terms of engagement too.
And, although they both account for a small share of social referrals, Trip Advisor and Google+ referrals are actually the highest quality in terms of engagement.
Landing pages: The death of the homepage applies to ALL sectors
Recent chatter surrounding the apparent 'death of the homepage' is largely based on an internal report by the New York Times that was leaked in early 2014, showing visitors to the site's homepage have halved between 2011 and 2013. As a result, the discussions around the issue have largely focussed on websites that offer regularly updated news content and are typically visited by users on frequent, multiple occasions.
But we wanted to find out if the trend applied to websites in other sectors too.
We considered a varied sample of 14 websites for this part of our data investigations. Taking an average figure across all the sites, sessions that originated from website homepages stood at 46.8% in Q1 of 2013; in Q1 of 2014, this figure fell to just 28.4%
We also took a look at a few specific examples to be sure the trend still applied. Website A, whose content largely consists of news stories, shows a strong, consistent negative trend -- just as you'd expect given the New York Times report. However, interestingly, we also identified a similar negative trend in a visitor information site (Website C) and a website that is largely e-commerce and contains very little news-based content (Website B).
Gavin Holland, senior User Experience Architect at Code, says, "From a UX perspective we've certainly seen this trend building pace. After all, ask yourself -- when was the last time you bought a book from Amazon because of an ad you saw on its homepage?
Users are now totally empowered, using a myriad of new and powerful search tools to find the shortest route to increasingly specific pieces of content. Finding things on the web is no longer a vague or passive process; it's much more direct and focussed.
We will have to work increasingly hard to ensure our deeper landing pages provide all the aspects of a homepage including engaging and relevant onward journeys as well as brand substantiation."
User behaviour: Bounce rate higher and session duration and pages per visit lower on mobile
Our findings confirm that mobile users are more task focussed, and aren't prepared to hang around when it comes to finding what they want.
The average pages-per-visit across all of the 36 sites we considered was 4.22, but substantial differences existed between device types; desktop sessions yielded the highest average pages-per-visit at 4.70 with tablets close behind at 4.34 -- but mobile sessions turned in an average of just 3.16.
Average session duration followed a similar pattern. The overall average was 181 seconds, with average desktop sessions coming in at 206 seconds, tablet sessions at 184 seconds and mobile sessions at just 124 seconds.
Accordingly, bounce rates were are highest for mobile sessions (52.09%) -- notably higher than for tablet (43.30%) and desktop sessions (41.02%). The overall average was 44.35%, but there are substantial differences between site types; one high-street retailer site achieved an incredibly low bounce rate of 6.16%, while 90.22% of visits to a particular corporate site lasted no more than a single page view.
We began our analysis on 12th December. Therefore, wherever 2014 data is used, the time frame applied is between 1st January 2014 and 11th December 2014. All sites included in our data review achieved at least 1 million sessions during this period; the busiest site received 58 million. Half of all the sessions analysed were made on the three busiest websites with the other 50% of sessions spread out between the remaining websites.
The purpose of this piece of research is to give an overall picture of website usage in 2014. Where it was thought that aggregating data from sites before running analyses would skew the results in favour of the sites with the highest traffic, this has been avoided. Instead, calculations were performed for each website, and an average then taken on the statistic of interest. For example, the percentage of sessions that come through organic searches in 2014 is reported as 44.2%. This is calculated by calculating the percentage of sessions from organic searches for each website separately, then taking an average of these percentages. A more conventional method would be to sum all the sessions from all websites, sum all the organic search sessions from all websites, and divide the latter figure by the former (incidentally, the value would be 51.7% if calculated by this method). Although this method would yield statistic that would be a more conventional representation of "the percentage of sessions that come through organic searches", the most visited websites would be overly influential while the lesser visited websites will have little influence. Thus, strictly speaking, the value of 44.2% represents "the average of the percentage of sessions that come through organic searches in 2014 across 25 websites".