close button

10 Unique Things About Mobile Search Marketing

Published by

The 10 ways mobile search is different: implications for your mobile Web/search strategy

The original article was posted by mobiThinking – 01 May 2014 – and the following is an abbreviated version. To see the entire article in its original form, take a look over on mobiForge.


Let’s get one thing straight: mobile search is huge and growing rapidly

  • “25 percent of overall search queries are now on mobile devices.” – BIA/Kelsey (April, 2014).
  • “During the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, 60-65 percent of Olympics-related searches were performed on a smartphone or tablet.” – Google (April, 2014).
  • In the US, mobile was 34.2 percent of all paid search clicks in December 2013. It is expected to be 42 percent by December 2014 and 50 percent by December 2015 – Marin Software (March, 2014)
  • In the UK, mobile was 43.4 percent of paid clicks in December 2013. In the rest of the Eurozone, it was 20.2 at the end of 2013 – Marin Software (March, 2014).
  • 7 percent of smartphone users access search; 73.9 percent of tablet users access search – ComScore Mobile future in focus (March, 2013).
  • US consumers will spend more time on mobile devices than PCs in 2014: three hours a day – eMarketer (April, 2014), as examined in previous blog post.

Let’s get another thing straight: mobile search is not the same as PC search

This article will explore the 10 ways that mobile search is different from desktop (and will only become more different, as new forms of search such as voice and visual search take off), and the implications for your search/Web strategy. Mostly, the focus will be on smartphones and, to a lesser extent, feature phones. We will also consider media tablets, as they are generally bundled with other mobile devices by analysts and marketers, but in many ways a tablet is more like a keyboard-less laptop than a cell phone – they have big screens, can’t make calls or send SMS and are predominantly used at home and over a WiFi connection (but we’ll leave ‘they-are-tablets-mobile-devices argument for another day). The article will also be more concerned with organic search and mobile search engine optimization (SEO), rather than paid search.

What is mobile search?

Definition of mobile search: using a web-enabled mobile device – feature phone, smartphone or media tablet – to query a search engine, using a relevant word or phrase – e.g. “emergency plumber in Manhattan” – known as a search term.

Most commonly, this search will occur on Internet search engines, such as Google (the dominant global player in mobile as in desktop search), Yahoo, Microsoft Bing, Baidu (Chinese search engine); Yandex (Russian search engine) or on numerous directory, review or price-comparison sites/apps including Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Places, YP, Yelp (US directories), Thompson Local or Yell (UK directories), or Tripadvisor (travel reviews), but can occur on any Website or app with a search facility.

The search provider responds with links to relevant third-party Websites of two types:

  • Organic results – the Websites are organized by relevancy, which is likely to be a mixture of subject nature, popularity, locality and mobile-friendliness. This can be enhanced with SEO.
  • Paid results – the advertiser has paid for their site to be prioritized.
  • PCs are (generally) used in the office or home on a wired or WiFi connection.
  • Media tablets are mostly used at home and over a WiFi connection rather than a mobile operator connection.
  • Smartphones are used everywhere and mostly over a mobile operator connection, rather than WiFi.

1.       Location of search

 Implication of search location for your search/Web strategy:

  • A cell phone user (smartphone or feature phone) is less likely to be searching from home or the office than a PC or tablet user, so there is a higher likelihood that they are nearby your business and searching for something with more urgency.
  • Make sure that you can detect the visiting device and the type of mobile connection – operator or WiFi – in real time, using a tool such as DeviceAtlas and serve up a site suitable and optimized for that device and connection.
  • Anticipate the requirements of the mobile user – i.e. the motivation for their search – and prioritize these on the site so they are easily found by both the visitors and search engine spiders (the robots that crawl and index the Web).
  • How you anticipate and react to motivation for mobile search is all explored in greater detail in each of the points below.

2.      More local intent

Smartphone users more commonly seek location-relevant information, such as a nearby store, restaurant, taxi, plumber, directions and local weather. Search engines prioritize local results to those mobile users who are prepared to share their location.

Implication of local intent for your search/Web strategy:

Make sure the nature of business, location/business area, address, contact details, opening hours, availability (of stock, tables, rooms etc), what’s on (at your business and nearby), news, menu (for restaurants) and so on are up-to-date and prominently displayed on your site, so both visitors and search engines can easily find them.

  • If you operate from multiple locations, use a find-my-nearest-store/business locator. Provide a map or click-to-find-on-a-map to help people navigate to your location, using the maps on their handset.
  • Provide offers using mobile coupons/voucher codes to make your service/product even more irresistible; offer mobile and email ticketing; and click-to-call, to facilitate the sale and help you track conversions offline, e.g. sales in-store or over the phone.
  • Make sure your business is listed and listed correctly on directory/reviews sites/apps. Research which of these sites/apps are relevant to your business and location and are mobile-friendly.

3.      Time sensitive

Mobile search tends to be more time-sensitive than PC search. There are several elements to this:

  • The time of day the search occurs. Mobile searching increases throughout the day. This coincides with peak shopping time, commuting and downtime in the evening.
  • Search triggered by other media. The trigger/impetus for the search could be something seen on TV, heard on the radio, read in a paper or spotted when out and about. This is where the opportunities lie for savvy marketers.
  • Pre-planning for search/traffic peaks is also essential from an infrastructure point of view. Whatever the trigger for the search, everything will be lost if the mobile site or payment system goes down, coupled with the threat of customer backlash and corporate embarrassment.
  • Search triggered by real-time need. There tends to be more urgency about mobile searches compared with desktop searches.
  • Shorter window of opportunity. The nature of the mobile context (more on context below) means that there is a greater likelihood that the user might be out-and-about, between appointments, on public transportation, in the middle of something but needing to check information, and so on.

Implication of time sensitivity for your search/Web strategy:

  • Be ready – anticipate surges in mobile search. Predict what events will trigger relevant searches, including those you control, e.g. company news, advertising and email newsletter/offer; and those you don’t but can capitalize upon – such as events on TV.
  • Be aware – study your Web analytics to watch for patterns in mobile behavior – for example, entertainment or restaurant businesses may see spikes in their mobile traffic in the afternoon as people plan their evening’s entertainment.
  • Be agile – be ready to react to events you can’t predict as they happen.
  • Be connected – use quick-response (QR) codes in offline messaging, such as billboard or print advertising and product packaging, to direct traffic to the right place on your mobile site.
  • Be efficient – consider how you serve the mobile visitor and convert those search enquiries into sales in the quickest and most straight-forward manner.

4.      Context

The mobile context drives the person’s motivation for the search and the actions they take following the search. A combination of factors contribute to this context including where they are, what they are doing, what time it is, urgency, the device they are using and what they have seen, heard or done that triggered the search.

Mobile searches are strongly tied to specific contexts. Restaurant-related searches are more likely done on-the-go. Tech searches are more likely done at work. Arts and entertainment are more likely done at school. But, most strikingly, shopping and food-related search queries are twice as likely to occur inside the store.

There are several reasons why mobile users might search in-store, perhaps looking for product information, checking reviews, searching for a coupon or stock availability. But, of late, all the attention has focused on online price comparison, or what has become known as “showrooming”. Showrooming is the technique of checking a product out in-store, then buying the same thing online from a different retailer, motivated by a cheaper price or free shipping.

Implication of mobile context for your search/Web strategy:

Be aware that the mobile context is different for distinct mobile searches, and these will vary for different types of business. For example: restaurants should anticipate that mobile searchers are most likely to be on the go and looking for somewhere to eat in the near future. Make it easy for them to find your business and all the information they need to make a decision, book, and find your location via a Web or directory search, and make timely offers to aid conversion.

  • Retailers should consider that mobile use in-store can be as much of an opportunity as a threat. Ensure your site is found when shoppers search (e.g. for product information, recipe, review, etc.) and that all required information is available in a mobile-friendly format. Use quick-response (QR) codes in store to hyperlink customers to more information on your site. Include a mobile barcode scanner on your mobile site, so customers don’t need to use a rival’s. If showrooming is an issue, offer to match any online price to make sure you don’t lose the sale.

5.      The device – capabilities

Modern mobile devices, even feature phones, are the ultimate communication and multimedia tool – off the back of a search mobile users can: visit a Website, find information, read a review, compare prices, make a purchase; collect/redeem a coupon; send/receive an SMS, email, phone call; communicate by instant messaging, social networking; navigate to location; buy/use phone as a plane/train/bus/event ticket… endless possibilities. But searchers can only do these things if the Website (yours or your competitor’s) served up by the search enables it.


The ability to make calls is the most obvious, though often overlooked, function of a mobile phone, and can be easily enabled with a click-to-call link or icon. (Imagine how irritating it is when you need to write a number down or call directory enquiries before you can call a business).

The number of calls to business driven by mobile search is growing at 42 percent per annum and is predicted to fuel a staggering 65 billion calls in 2016 – BIA/Kelsey (April 2014).

Implication of mobile device capabilities for your search/Web strategy:

  • Ensure your mobile-friendly site includes and prioritizes all the tools that take advantage of functions of the mobile device: click-to-call, click-to-be-called-back, click-to-email, click-to-find on a map, SMS alerts, store-finder, mobile coupons, mobile barcode scanner and links to share on social media.
  • Request that users share their location – they will if it is clear that this is to their advantage.
  • Keep profiles on directories up to date, with the correct address, business hours, phone number, etc.

6.      The device – limitations

Mobile phones, even smartphones, have limitations. The small size of the screen, lack of a physical keyboard, battery life, patchy network connections, cost of data, inhospitable locations, problems with multitasking, and even clumsy fingers can all contribute to making searching on mobile devices difficult.

It’s not just that mobile devices are different from PCs. Smartphones are different from tablets and feature phones, both in terms of the size of the screen and the size and complexity of the sites they can download.

Search engines do not want to send mobile visitors to sites with poor mobile experiences.

Implication of mobile device capabilities for your search/Web strategy:

  • You must have a mobile-friendly site. When the user clicks through from the search results, they are not going to appreciate a site that: a) is slow and/or costly to load; b) does not fit the screen; c) does not work properly, perhaps due to using Flash; d) does not show opening hours; e) does include location/find nearest store with click-to-find-on-map; f) has no easy-to-find contact details with click to-call, click-to-email; or g) doesn’t allow or makes it tedious for them to find, research, book, register, buy the products or services, get help, or generally fulfill their motive for searching.
  • If mobile coverage is patchy at your location, offer WiFi. This gives you more than just good will. It provides an opportunity to influence customer behavior, means you know exactly the physical location of the search, and gives you an element of bargaining power. In return for WiFi, visitors may be prepared to register for a loyalty program and/or share information.

7.      Voice search

The limitations of a mobile device, and the context, makes searching using a mobile phone more difficult than performing a search with a PC. Technology is stepping into the gap with voice-recognition software allowing hands-free operation of the handset and searching of the Web.

So instead of using brief strings of keywords “curry [zip code/postcode]”, voice searches:

  • Use natural language – semantic search using whole sentences/more wordy search queries: “Find the best curry within walking distance.”
  • Are conversational – follow up questions are more common as only a limited amount of information can be delivered in each response: “Show me the menu”… “What are the opening times?”… “Find the reservations number”… “Call the number”… “Find directions/guide me there”.

Implication of voice search for your search/Web strategy:

  • Rethink Web content, so it incorporates anticipated long-tail search queries as well as keywords. Build an FAQ or Q&A around common questions mobile users would ask about your business, products, service and your industry generally… this improves customer service and SEO at the same time.
  • Be aware that voice searchers may visit your site less.
  • Ensure that the search engine’s results are showing all essential information: correct address, business hours, phone number, etc.
  • Make sure profiles on directories are up-to-date.

8.      Image and visual search

Some search engines also allow users to search using an image, perhaps a photo snapped of an unknown animal, plant, place or a coveted item of clothing.

Mobile apps put a glossy front end on this process, but it still takes a while to deliver search results. Examples of use include: identifying a product from a photo snapped by a mobile device, delivering identification, information and comparing prices at various retailers, and identifying a movie from a poster.

In the future, expect image search to evolve into an augmented reality-based visual search, where a user focuses a mobile device, perhaps a wearable device at an object and on screen information about that object is overlaid in real time.

Today AR visual search applications tend to rely on pre-populated databases of images, but as image recognition and Web-based image search improve, it is easy to envisage AR and Web search coming together with wearable technology, such as Google Glass.

Implication of image search for your search/Web strategy:

  • It is difficult to find any research into how people use search by image or how companies should tailor their sites to drive traffic from image-based search. However, it is prudent to maintain a library of quality images on the site for key products and services – in particular any images that are in the public eye, either through billboard, TV advertising, media coverage or celebrity endorsement. All images should be appropriately sized for mobile devices/connection and follow best-practice rules on titles, alt text and copyright.
  • Clearly there will be a balancing act between having a site that is rich enough in images to meet the requirements of image-based search, and maintaining a streamlined mobile experience that loads in under a second.

9.      Mobile apps

Search engines only index Web content. If your content is only available in a native application today, it is invisible to a search engine. This may change in the future.

Native apps versions of mobile directories, reviews and price comparison sites, like Websites, generally click through to Websites, not other apps.

Implication of mobile apps for your search/Web strategy:

  • Native application have their place and may be preferred by your most loyal customers, but for everyone else you need a mobile-friendly site that search engines can index and potential customers can click through to when they are searching for information, products, or services that are relevant for your business.
  • Make sure all essential content and features of your mobile app are replicated on your mobile friendly site. This includes all items that are likely to attract searchers and are necessary to make the sale.

10.    Attribution and measurement

As explained above, the incredible capabilities of the mobile phone make it the ultimate multi-purpose tool, with all manner of communication, multimedia and navigational capabilities. And mobile users will take all manner of positive actions off the back of a mobile search, including purchase. But what if the mobile search results in a purchase offline, in-store, or over the phone? A purchase is a purchase – but a problem arises when you are attempting to calculate return on your investment in your mobile-friendly site or mobile advertising expenditure and attempt to correctly apportion future investment.

Implication of attribution and measurements for your search/Web strategy:

Ten ways to use mobile’s versatility for attribution and measurement:

  • Use click-to-call, track the click-throughs, and attribute over-the-phone sales back to mobile. Also consider click-for-call-back.
  • Use click-to-email, track the click-throughs, and attribute conversions.
  • Use click-to-share on social media, or send-email-to-a-friend, etc. to encourage and track customers sharing information about your business.
  • Use a store locator, find-on-a-map and other mapping and navigational tools to help track and attribute in-store sales back to mobile.
  • Use mobile coupons, voucher codes, offers and competitions to track mobile to online, telephone, or in-store sales.
  • Use mobile coupons, voucher codes, offers, and competitions to attribute email, advertising and SMS campaigns to mobile sales.
  • Use QR codes, Bluetooth, and near-field-communication (NFC) with dedicated mobile landing pages to help track the impact of off-line media campaigns.
  • Use QR codes, Bluetooth, NFC, and offer of free WiFi with dedicated mobile landing pages to facilitate in-store sales and track mobile’s contribution.
  • Use m-payment and m-ticketing to augment offline and online sales and help track multichannel customers.
  • Use m-loyalty schemes, using Web, apps, SMS and/or email to enhance customer relationship management. Use location-based offers to reward and identify regular store customers.

Mobile search advertising

Paid-for mobile search deserves an entire article in its own right, so we’ll keep this brief.

Organic mobile best practices can be enhanced by paying for search advertising. This involves paying Web search engines, directories and other sites/apps to prioritize your business alongside natural/organic search results when mobile users search on key terms. Many of the best practices explained above can, and should be, used with paid-for search. The basics include:

  • Make sure your ads click through to a mobile-friendly site/landing page, hosted on servers that have the capacity to handle a surge in traffic.
  • Include click-to-call and click-to-email in the ad.
  • Use click-to-find-on-a-map and click-to-find-local store in the ad.
  • Use mobile coupons, voucher codes, offers and competitions.
  • Consider what people will search for and the terms they will use.
  • Consider when people will search – including the triggers for search. Buy key words associated with and timed to coincide with relevant events.
  • Track everything using your own analytics tools and/or those provided by the ad network.