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Do People Look at Legislation on Their Phones? Yes, They Do!

The following is a guest post by Leah K. Ibraheem, the web metrics analyst in the Office of the Chief Information Officer of the Library of Congress.

Natalie shared the news when we hit a big metrics milestone last year of more than a million page views and visits in a single day.  I track metrics across the Library of Congress websites including Congress.gov.  One interesting trend is the changing nature of its traffic coming from mobile devices.  From the beginning, Congress.gov was built using responsive design to take advantage of mobile traffic.

For example, here’s the breakdown of mobile vs. non-mobile traffic from Jan 2014 – May 2018:

Congress.gov Mobile Traffic vs. Non-Mobile Traffic

As traffic to has grown over the past four years, the percentage of mobile traffic has also grown. In 2014, 21% of traffic was mobile. In the first 5 months of 2018, 44% of visits were from users on mobile devices. It’s also notable that in the first 5 months of 2018, there were more mobile visits than for all of 2014, 2015, and 2016.

What’s behind this trend? A societal pivot from desktop/laptop devices to mobile/tablet devices.

  • In January 2011, 35% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone. In January 2014, 55% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone. In January 2018, 77% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone (source: Pew Internet)
  • In its March 2018 report, Pew also reported that “Among mobile internet users – the 83% of Americans who use the internet at least occasionally using a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device – 89% go online daily and 31% go online almost constantly. Among Americans who go online but not via a mobile device, by comparison, 54% go online daily and just 5% say they go online almost constantly.
  • From the “We Are Social 2017” report:
    • 58% of the US population were active mobile/social users
    • 73% used the mobile internet
    • 46% of U.S. web traffic was mobile (37% from phones, 9% from tablets)
    • The average mobile internet user used the internet on their mobile devices for 2 hours and 2 minutes a day.

Congress.gov traffic reflects larger trends in U.S. mobile internet use.

Next, let’s examine the breakdown of mobile traffic by operating system since 2014:

Congress.gov Percent Mobile Visits by Top 2 Operating Systems

Two mobile operating systems (Android and iOS) make up 98-99% of traffic to Congress.gov for all years since 2014. In 2014, 60.8% of mobile visits came from iOS devices and 36.6% came from Android devices. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, there was a gradual contraction away from other OS’s (Blackberry, Windows, Nokia, etc.) to iOS. This year so far, 56.4% of devices are from iOS devices and 43% are from Android devices.

Some data sources from the mobile industry report that while iOS devices remain dominant in the U.S., the number of Android device owners has increased over the past five years.  Congress.gov is roughly in line with this trend. What we’ve been seeing on the site is an iOS-heavy user population becoming more diverse as the number of visitors to the site grows.

Overall Growth in Mobile Traffic

In 2016, we recorded 4.2 million mobile visits. In 2017, we recorded 14.4 million. There was a sharp increase in interest from new users in legislative content on Congress.gov, and also to users sharing content from Congress.gov on social media via their mobile devices.

The most viewed bills since January 2017 include H.R. 1865 (FOSTA), H.R. 861 (To Terminate the EPA), H.R. 193 (American Sovereignty Restoration Act), H.R. 610 (about school vouchers and school nutrition standards), H.R. 5087 (Assault Weapons Ban), and H.R. 1 (Tax Cuts and Jobs).

All of the bill summary pages for these bills received more than 1 million visits. FOSTA received more than 2.6 million. For these bills, there was a large mobile-social user cohort, which drove higher mobile traffic to the site overall.

Moving Forward

Keeping an eye on mobile traffic is just one way to help everyone involved in Congress.gov continue to support the best possible user experience on any device as we continue to work to expand access, amplify our reach and look at new ways to assist users with legislative research.

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