January 14, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear: Unwrapping Mobile Searcher Intent

(Read in entirety at Search Engine Land – December 2010)

With 2010 holiday shopping season nearly complete, every consumer brand has really been given the ultimate mobile gift this from their consumers: a massive trove of smartphone search analytic data screaming for their favorite brands to be as mobile as they are. This gift will probably go unwrapped by many brands, which will present unique opportunities for those that learn to listen to what it says.

The Mobile Search Story

Let me illustrate with a recent mobile search and shopping story of my own.

I’d been considering a large-screen wall-mountable digital picture frame as a Christmas gift. A well-timed promotional email sent by Amazon after Thanksgiving spurred me into research mode. At Amazon, I got the quick overview on available brands, latest features, sizes, pricing, reviews, etc. Judging by the reviews, this was clearly one of those products that can be pricey—and easy to regret—if you make the wrong choice of size dimension, viewing angle, ease of uploading, motion sensing and more. Lots to consider.

Then the story takes a mobile turn.

A few days later, I decide to take my tween girls Christmas shopping for their mom after school. We don’t have much time, so we stop at a nearby Target. While browsing I notice they carry digital frames in the electronics aisle. How convenient. But I was unfamiliar with the brands they carried. As I was considering the purchase, I suddenly found myself in defense mode. The kids began barraging me with requests for iPods, cell phones and other last-minute electronic wish-list modifications and clever guilt trips (I learned I’m a very repressive father). Anyway, with these little missiles flying and kids heading every direction, I had no desire or ability to chat with an associate about digital frames.

My next thought: iPhone to the rescue. Why not stealthily determine how this product’s price compares and whether people are happy with the purchase. I can learn what I need to know, not lose my children, and avoid spoiling any surprises. In the process, I become one those 73%’ers who Accenture says prefer to talk to their smartphone rather than a store employee when shopping.

At the time I didn’t think about whether Target had a mobile site (although they do). I Googled for “Opteka digital frame.” At the bottom of the Google SERPs is Target’s ad. Mobile users love type-free shortcuts. Click!

Mobile Google Search for Digital Picture Frames

But the ad links to Target’s unmobilized search results page. The download meter looks ominous… a full page is coming in… taking a looong time … sigh. I don’t have time for this. Pinch and zoom navigation? Do I really have to retype my query? And then wait for another pokey page? It’s like when you can’t find the store associate, or they’re too busy (or grouchy) helping other customers. Forget it. Keep looking elsewhere.

Target Mobile Search Result Page for Digital Picture Frames

For Target, this meant an abandoned sale in that moment. A few days later, I decided to go back to Amazon and purchased (from laptop, not mobile).

I share the story not because it’s unique, but because its not unique. I think it’s typical: This is how we behave as mobile people; it’s why we love mobile devices. As marketers we need to figure out how to listen, value and treat this segment. Our problem originates with a presumption that mobile intent is the same as desktop intent. This inaccurate perception gets reinforced by inaccurate interpretations of mobile analytic that concludes mobile “is just 7% of the pie”, and “is just like managing any other marketing channel.” This leads to underinvestment, which ultimately teaches consumers not to shop mobile. And so the cycle goes.

Reframing The Opportunity

I’m picking on Target in the story, but the mobile experience is pretty common to a large number of leading retail brands. Vaunted Amazon greets “digital frame” mobile searchers with a similarly uninspiring landing page. But so does every other Page 1 Google listing I checked, with the single exception of Best Buy (well done!). All this, even though the Google keyword tool says there are nearly 1,000,000 searches for the phrase in December, and advertisers like Target and Amazon are basically paying to watch mobile search clicks bounce off their unoptimized mobile pages.

For Target, this was their moment to win me with mobile; to intercept the pass Amazon originally threw. In that moment, I was everything mobile means—searching, on the go, pre-occupied, looking for social input, in buying mode, in a local store, with an open cart and a shopping list. In that moment, my intent was very different than when I originally researched “digital frames” from my laptop.

Target simply needed to connect my “digital frames” search to a mobile optimized landing page—which I later discovered they already have! I would have appreciated this kind of speedy and useful content. Further this would have trained me as a consumer to bypass Google and go directly to Target’s mobile site in the future. (I would argue Target’s mobile site also misses another big opportunity: to promote their iPhone app to iPhone page visitors. This is an issue I covered that last time.)

Estimating True Value

As tragic as that missed opportunity may be for Target, what may be worse is the fate of mobile stories like these. At a high level, it’s just another December Google query for “digital frames” that didn’t convert, and shows up on a referral report. But like Ask’s new mobile research indicates, mobile search clearly lives closer to the bottom of the conversion funnel. Desktop search sits closer to the top. Marketers need to treat and measure mobile search differently. These abandoned mobile searches should be considered more like abandoned carts than like a traditional desktop search. The better a brand is at properly valuing that activity, the more confidently they will prioritize optimizing for it—which clearly is a challenge for even the leaders right now.

So say your site converts 3% of 1,000,000 desktop search queries at an average order value of $100. That’s 30,000 orders and $3,000,000 in sales (hence, each desktop query is “worth” $3.) A similar value can be assigned for each user that opens a site cart. Perhaps 20% of those convert at $100 each (hence each open cart is “worth” $20 each in revenue). Because mobile search is more immediate in nature, the analytic value ascribed should be closer to that of an open cart ($20), than a desktop search ($3).

In that case, mobile search may still just be 7% of search traffic (say 70,000 queries), but the business value of mobile search would be closer estimated $1.4 million than the crude $200k value ascribed by unsophisticated models. That slight change in viewing the opportunity should be powerful enough to change corporate priorities. And it’s search marketers and analysts that should be leading that conversation.

The analytic benefit of mobile is that it presents some solutions to the thorny problems of properly modeling multichannel behavior. Target could, for instance, reverse DNS lookup all IPs from which mobile search queries were conducted in December to more closely estimate how many of those mobile queries took place in/near a store. They could create a more precise model that combines the “value” of store foot traffic and the online cart.

I am sure QR codes and apps will also influence consumer behavior in situations like the one I shared. But I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to forgo the mobile web search opportunity that presents itself today. It really just depends on how you frame it.

Merry Christmas.

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