The reason they call it a browser

Over the last ten years, the amount that we buy online has gone up. So have the number of ads we click on every day. We're all clicking around, browsing and sometimes buying.

But, while these interactions and transactions have been growing, the amount of time we spend online and the number of pages we visit have gone up dramatically faster.

Mobile multiplies this.

Do the math. More time, more pages, not nearly so much more in the way of transaction. A visit from a mobile user is almost certainly less likely to convert into a click, particularly a purchase. Your tweets are seen by ten times as many people, but only twice as likely to get clicked on as they used to be. All the attention we seem to get from the outside world is going up fast, but the amount of interaction it leads to is not.

There's a whole lot of people spending a lot of time browsing, not taking action. Permission doesn't scale at the same rate browsing does, which is why permission is worth more than ever before. In fact, the easiest way for a post to not spread is for you to ask someone to actually do something.

Call it attention inflation. More time spent looking, less time spent clicking. We're being conditioned to sit back and assume that action is the exception, not the rule. Sort of like the difference between the supermarket (where no one browses) and the windows of a fancy store (where everyone does).

"I'm just looking" is the new definition of online behavior.

Years ago, I was lucky enough to get a booth on the route of a political march. I had self-published a book directly related to the issue, and more than 450,000 people walked within twenty feet of my booth. I sold four of the 4,000 copies I brought with me. I lowered my price 90% and sold two more copies. 

It took me a while but then I realized that people had come to march, not to shop.

This thinking explains why good real estate sites are so mobile-friendly (and why mobile is so real-estate-friendly). If you're sitting in front of a house that's for sale and take the time to look up the information, you're exactly the right person in exactly the right place.

When dealing with a community that browses, you'll need new math:

  • More pageviews to make a transaction is the norm, like it or not
  • Sharing is more important than ever before, because transactions require more views
  • Sponsorships and unclickable banners outperform measurable media (think about the signs on the boards at a hockey game–everyone sees them all night, but no one interacts with them)
  • The price paid for each advertising impression is going to go down

Since the very beginning (I've been doing online media since 1991), clicks have been undervalued and measurable media has been at a disadvantage compared to traditional unmeasured ads (how many clicks does a TV ad get?). As the web/mobile gets closer to ubiquity, the behaviors of people consuming media get ever closer to the old model of passivity. Sponsorship and visibility will continue to matter, clicks and interactions will go way up in value and overall pageviews will continue to inflate.