Mobile Local Search From the Consumers’ Vantage

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grocery_smallADOTAS – When I first heard that mobile advertising spending is projected to top $1 billion in 2011 (according to eMarketer), I became excited – but not necessarily surprised. I’ve talked to you before about the need for local advertisers to leverage mobile marketing. Then I started wondering how all of this big mobile advertising money is being spent, particularly in the local search realm.

That’s when I came across a couple of truly compelling studies (conducted by Deloitte and Latitude, respectively) about the mobile search needs of grocery shoppers. Deloitte found that grocery shoppers primarily use their phones to compare prices and get coupons while shopping. While that’s certainly no surprise, the study also found they use their phones to obtain nutritional information and visit individual food companies’ websites.

Latitude took it a step further and asked grocery shoppers not only what kind of information they want to be able to access via their phones while in-store (food origins and health info topped the list) but how their information needs could best be handled in-store. A very significant number of respondents cited apps, phones or implied mobile capabilities (like “portable” or “Internet-connected”) solutions as a desired solution.

But should it really take that sort of research to get us thinking about what mobile searchers expect of their searches? How well do we really know what a mobile local search means to the average consumer?

The Why and When

Let’s start at the very core by understanding why consumers are turning to mobile-local search. Results from the fourth wave of our 15miles’ Local Search Usage Study, conducted with comScore, indicated that the number one reason consumers conduct a search on their mobile phone is to get information on the go (this goes for both smartphone owners and owners of standard cell phones with data connections).

Except that when compared to standard cell phone owners, smartphone owners are more likely to use their phones throughout the entire search process – a fact that suggests smartphone owners’ mobile searches mimic their online searches.

The How: The Great Mobile Browser vs. App Debate

It’s also important to understand how consumers access local content. Not surprisingly, standard phone owners have a higher propensity for calling directory assistance, compared to smartphone owners, who have a much higher propensity for conducting local business search through an Internet browser or a downloaded application. About two-thirds (66%), in fact, say that an internet browser or an app is the preferred mobile-local search method.

But let’s break down those smartphone searches a bit further. There’s been much industry debate over the value of mobile browsers compared to that of downloadable applications (which some boil down to Google, which is mobile web-centric, versus Apple, which is mobile apps-centric). In terms of sheer numbers, the preferred mode to access local content is the mobile browser, which averages over 29 million users. Apps, though, are experiencing greater growth, with 61% more users accessing local content via apps this year compared to last year.

The research is telling us that it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be one versus the other. Mobile searchers use mobile browsers and apps for different reasons and at different stages in the local business search process.

App users tend to be younger and college-educated (Pew Internet & American Life Project and The Nielsen Company). Common sense would suggest that mobile browsers are used during the research phase of a search, while apps are used at the end of a search, when a consumer is ready to purchase.

Common sense would be correct. According to Adobe Systems Incorporated, 81% of mobile users prefer to use a mobile browser for researching specific product and price information (compared to 19% who prefer to use an app). Those percentages flip flop considerably when talking about purchasing a product, which 37 percent of mobile users prefer to use an app for (compared to 63 percent who prefer to use a mobile browser).

Finally, I would be remiss in not mentioning that mobile searches via SMS (i.e. text messaging) are also experiencing significant growth – they’re up 22% over last year.

The What

Whether a mobile user accesses local content through a browser or an app, what, exactly, is happening during mobile-local searches? Rather, what are mobile-local searchers expecting from a search?

First, understand that mobile searchers are relatively quick to give up on a search when search attempts are unsuccessful – 32% of mobile searchers give up if their first search attempt is unsuccessful. What makes a search unsuccessful? Slow site speed/load time and listing inaccuracies.

Second, understand that ratings/reviews are crucial for mobile searchers who use these more than any other type of searcher, aside from social networkers.

The payoff for providing mobile users with what they need, and demand, is considerable. Mobile users are more apt to visit a business in person and contact a business over the phone.

The Point

The age old analogy “never market to yourself” applies to mobile as well. At the risk of sounding obvious, you’ve got to think like a mobile searcher in order to effectively market to one. I’ve just armed you with a plethora of data to help you do so. But the key is how you interpret this data to align your mobile marketing campaign with your business, success metrics and target demographics.

Start simple. On-the-go consumers are certainly searching for more than just restaurants these days. Also, what would be the point in implementing any mobile search or display campaign without a mobile site that’s fast-loading and easy to use? Trying to target 18-24 year olds? Consider developing a mobile app – especially if your site has e-commerce functionalities.

And remember: regardless of whether or not you’re a grocer, a mobile search involves much more than just being found.

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