Has Mobile Search Finally Arrived?

There are roughly two billion people on the planet who use mobile devices. A large percentage of these devices are Internet-enabled. Most people who use the Internet use search engines. What do you get when you do the math?

In theory, what you get is a whole lot of mobile web surfers performing Internet searches. To all indications, practice is finally catching up with theory, for a variety of reasons. This has implications for anyone who engages in search-related advertising, because, as it turns out, web surfers don’t search in quite the same way, or for the same things, on a mobile device as they do when they’re sitting in front of a nice big desktop computer monitor.

This starts with the fact that users interact differently with their mobile devices from the way they interact with their desktop machines. It’s not just the difference in the size of the screen and the interface, either. Most users seem to think of PDAs, cell phones, and other mobile devices as more personal than their personal computers. Just think about the variety of different ring tones you hear every day (and the growing ring tone market). Clearly, at least some mobile device users think of them as a way to make a statement or express their individuality.

The other big difference between desktop computers and mobile devices is that users tend to take their mobile devices with them everywhere, and they’re almost always on. This allows for greater spontaneity in their use. That’s a curse for noise pollution in cities, but it can be a blessing to the marketer who figures out what that population of users is looking for, and how best to reach them. In point of fact, users searching the Internet from their desktops aren’t looking for the same things as users searching from their mobile devices, and they don’t have the same expectations either.

If you’re searching the Internet from your desktop, you could well be looking for anything, and you’re a lot more likely to accept that your search engine of choice will return hundreds of results. But if you’ve done any searching from a mobile device, you know it’s a lot more purpose-driven. You’re searching for results that pertain to something you want right now, and you want to see not hundreds of possibilities, but a few highly relevant ones. You might be looking to buy, or you might be looking just for information. Either way, because your need is more immediate, search engines and search advertisers must be that much more on the ball when trying to reach you.

So what are mobile searchers looking for these days? Give it a little thought, and the answers aren’t surprising: information about weather and directions, movie times and tickets, restaurants, music downloads, games for mobile devices, and ring tones. In short, it’s mostly the kinds of things you’d expect people who are out and about to search for – everything from information that will help them get from point A to point B, to spur of the moment ideas for entertainment. If you advertise a product or service that fits into these categories, mobile search is going to start to matter a lot more for you in the future, if it doesn’t already.

Still not convinced? A recent publication from MediaPost talked about the experiences of an unnamed North American carrier with mobile search. All of the numbers cited below were derived four months after the carrier had deployed WAP-based mobile search on its top 20 handsets.

  • The carrier was running more than half a million searches per month.
  • After moving its search box to its main page, the carrier saw nearly half again as many unique users and nearly doubled its revenue.
  • Sixty percent of the search queries were unique, reflecting the so-called “long tail” of search.
  • More than 11 percent of these searches have been ending in sales, with an average purchase coming to $2.55 and rising.
  • The average monthly increase in revenue, per user, was more than $1.10.
  • Users are apparently getting comfortable with the keypad interface; the longest query entered so far came to 45 characters!

So carriers are making money in this market. How can advertisers make money? The key is to keep the needs of this unusual audience in mind when you make your pitch. If you’re not convinced that the money you can earn from reaching this consumer segment is worth the trouble, however, keep reading.

So why should you try to reach this market? Well, one obvious reason is that you don’t want to be left behind. But there are others, most of them related to the very nature of the mobile search market segment.

First of all, you’ll be reaching a wide audience of people who want something right now. If you’re a local business, and near the mobile user performing a search, you’re practically right on the spot with what they want. There are ways to target customers by geography and type of handset.

Second, if you choose to use pay-per-call advertising, you’re in a very good position. You’ll be speaking directly with a potential customer right when they’re making a decision. Pay-per-call advertising is still trying to find its niche, but one would think it might be worth trying to reach consumers who are surfing on a device that also makes phone calls!

Third, you’ll get a very good picture of your customers as to when they’re most interested in what you have to offer. Using these and other metrics, you’ll be able to adjust your ads to maximize your return on investment (ROI).

So let’s take a closer look at what these mobile web surfers are looking for. JumpTap, a provider of mobile search technology, published some interesting figures in May that covered mobile searches performed in April. Based on those figures, if you market anything dealing with music artists, you owe it to yourself to think about mobile search advertising. Of the top 100 mobile search terms used in the U.S., nearly 60 percent of them concerned individual music artists. Adult searches made up another 12 percent, perhaps reflecting the personal nature of mobile devices. Games, sports, television, and miscellaneous made up the remaining searches in roughly equal proportions.

While these don’t include a number of the categories I mentioned earlier, music and games are fairly prominent. That doesn’t mean the other categories (restaurants, weather, movies, and so on) aren’t of major interest; “miscellaneous” made up seven percent of the top 100 mobile searches. Remember also the “long tail” of search. JumpTap stated that the click-through rate on mobile searches is 36 percent. If you’re well-positioned, you can take advantage of that kind of traffic.

It’s worth noting that more and more companies are taking mobile search seriously. When we talk about mobile search, of course, we almost can’t avoid the topic of mobile search advertising, any more than we can avoid talking about search engine advertising when we talk about search engines in general. To give you one example, AskMeNow has filed for a patent relating to mobile search. It involves a method of generating advertising revenue that can be projected.

Once you start thinking in terms of predictable advertising revenue, you’re envisioning an established market. That seems to be what’s happening here. “Access to consumer’s mobile phones, the third screen, has become a highly visible and competitive market in recent months,” observed Darryl Cohen, AskMeNow CEO. He believes a “major land grab” is occurring right now in mobile search.

Google has been involved with mobile search for quite some time, of course. The search engine giant is looking to expand its reach in this area. It is reportedly in talks with China Mobile to launch an Internet search engine for mobile services in China. As you probably know, China is a huge Internet market, second in the world only to the United States.

China Mobile is hoping to use mobile data services to make up for reduced revenues from traditional voice services. It’s not the only carrier feeling that pinch. Indeed, carriers have been pushing their mobile services, including mobile web surfing, for years now. It finally looks as if it is set to take off. If you have the right products and/or services, you owe it to yourself to find out what mobile search advertising can do for you.

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