December 6, 2010

The Mobile Web Is Here: Are You Ready?

(Read in entirety at Search Engine Land. Published 2010)

At the recent Mobile Marketing Summit, firms like comScore reported web-enabled smartphones now make up 20% of the 3 billion mobile devices worldwide, with market share blazing towards 50% over the next 3-5 years. Coupled with similar growth rates in both 3G device adoption, and in unlimited data plan subscribers, they believe the mobile web market has finally reached a tipping point. Is your website ready for mobile? If not, search should play a critical role in developing your mobile web strategy.

Mobile search behavior

I see important new patterns developing in mobile search behavior. We recently analyzed a 12 month data slice of some 50 million phrases that drove organic search traffic to search-optimal client landing pages (a healthy representation of the retail vertical). We broke down the user agent browser type into desktop browser types versus major mobile categories—iPhone, Blackberry and other (including Android, Blazer, Nokia, Opera Mobile, Palm, Pocket PC, Samsung Windows CE, Zune, Motorola Browser, and more). What we found is that organic search traffic volume originating from these mobile browser types has grown dramatically in recent months: iPhone: +140%; Blackberry: +75%; Other: +155%.

mobile words per query, copyright covario 2010

So while mobile users may still be a small percentage of your overall web traffic, this market is changing fast. Now is the time to experiment to get your strategy right.

What else can we learn from search? We find interesting differences in mobile search queries versus desktop search queries. For instance, 50% of mobile search queries contained 3 keywords or less, whereas just 40% of desktop queries contained 3 keywords or less. The distribution of brand to non-brand queries is also different between mobile and desktop search. Mobile searchers appear twice as likely to search for your brand name than when searching from the desktop.

mobile traffic growth, copyright covario 2010

These differences could be dismissed as a function of the device form-factor, where search acts as a faster form of navigation compared to touch-screen URL typing. But the fact the distributions are actually so similar in spite of the typing difficulty suggests mobile searchers are further along the buying cycle, where purchase intent has increased. The key is being able to capture—and not lose them—at this point of inquiry.

If they are searching for such head terms or your brand, being on page one of search results is even more important than in desktop search. Mobile searchers simply don’t drill past page one. Nearly all this mobile organic search traffic was acquired by landing pages ranked on page one of results.

You can conduct a similar analysis by mining your search analytics to develop a use case for what your consumers are looking for.

Making the case for mobile search

As a next step, identify your highest volume mobile keywords to figure out user intent. What are they trying to do: Get product information? Make purchase? Read product reviews? Find a store location? How can you make it easier for them?

Make sure you are not giving them a landing page with hundreds of options. As mobile expert Mickey Khan, editor of Mobile Marketer points out, the page should be simple, with no clutter, short URLs, no broken JavaScript, provide search function and provide low friction transaction capability.

Like phones, search engines are getting smarter too. You can target users based on devices and carriers. With your high volume mobile keywords identified, you can create device-specific campaigns to optimized mobile web experience. A recent client test indeed found click through rate to be higher on the campaign with mobile-friendly ad copy combined with a mobile-ready page.

As a web marketer or search practitioner, your opportunity to experiment, learn, and lead is right now. Don’t be caught off guard by the fractional traffic mobile devices currently send your way. The mobile market size is growing exponentially. Acquisition costs are still low. This will change as competition heats up.

As the mobile phone quickly becomes your consumer’s mobile computer, make sure your mobile strategy is based on listening to the signals your consumer queries are giving you about their intentions.

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