As the number of Internet-enabled consumer devices continues to grow, so does the propensity of consumers to sequentially use multiple devices to complete a single online task. In fact, according to a new study from Google, 90 percent of people move among devices to accomplish a goal.

Results of “The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior” indicate that these devices can include smartphones, PCs, tablets or TV. Examples of how consumers sequentially use multiple devices for a single task include opening an email on a smartphone and then finishing reading it on a home PC and looking up product specs on a laptop after seeing a TV commercial. And 98 percent of sequential screeners move between devices in the same day to complete a task.  


The most popular reasons for sequential device usage include web browsing (81 percent), shopping online (67 percent), managing finances (46 percent) and planning a trip (43 percent). Eighty-one percent of sequential online shopping is spontaneous, which Google credits to the widespread availability of smartphones.

The other primary way of using multiple devices is simultaneous use, meaning using more than one device at the same time. This includes both multitasking -- performing different tasks on different devices -- and complementary usage such as looking up a product online while watching a TV commercial.

Seventy-seven percent of the time, TV viewers have another device plugged in -- with smartphones (49 percent) and PCs/laptops (34 percent) the most popular.

Search Connects Devices

The study also found search to be a critical connector between devices used sequentially. Consumers use search to pick up on a second device where they left off on the first 63 percet of the time they are conducting multi-device search, 61 percent of the time they are browsing the Internet using multiple devices, 51 percent of the time they are shopping online via multiple screens, and 43 percent of the time they are using more than one device to watch online video.

In response, Google advises digital marketers to allow customers to save their progress between devices, as well as use tactics like keyword parity (maintaining the same keywords across different publishers and the three primary match type silos of broad, phrase and exact) to ensure that they can be found easily via search when that customer moves to the next device.

Consumers Combust into Spontaneous Search

Study findings show that 80 percent of searches that happen on smartphones are spur-of-the-moment, and 44 percent of these spontaneous searches are goal-oriented. And more than half (52 percent) of PC/laptop searches are spontaneous, with 43 percent goal-oriented. Google says this presents more opportunities to connect with consumers, so businesses have to make sure they’re present and optimized across multiple screens.

Advertisers and Publishers Take Heed

In an interview with AdWeek, Google head of global mobile sales and strategy Jason Spero said direct-response advertisers “cannot ignore the sequential use of devices because it’s a direct effect on how we shop and how we purchase. A brand advertiser -- and many, many, many brand advertisers spend on TV -- can’t ignore how the connected device is being used to complement TV.” 

Digital advertisers and publishers may also want to consider using a responsive design strategy to ensure that their sites deliver consistent, high quality digital experiences across desktop and mobile channels. As detailed in a May 2012 CMSWire webinar, responsive design involves designing a site at different “break points,” or standard screen sizes, that allow designers to accommodate many different devices at once.

In addition to guaranteeing a site is optimized for all screens, responsive design provides benefits such as a single codebase for easier development and change management and a single URL for improved SEO performance and analysis and faster response times. Cross-channel promotions are also easier to implement and manage.

Google conducted the survey of 1,611 adults with with Sterling Brands and Ipsos during Q2 2012. If you'd like to read it in its entirety, go here (pdf).