Mobile Search: Key Considerations for Marketers


The growth of mobile is having a profound impact on how brands market themselves. Nearly 20% of the average adult American’s daily media consumption was on mobile devices in 2013, a figure that is accelerating. Google estimates that queries on mobile devices grew five-fold in the last two years. This is not surprising as search can be the quickest and easiest route to finding information on a mobile device: obviously far easier than typing a URL on a small smartphone screen. The move to mobile is driving change across both the organic and paid search markets, with an estimated 26.7% of Google’s ad revenues expected to come from mobile search in 2014.

It’s important to recognize that search engines deliver different results on computers, phones and tablets. Our own analysis in 2013 found that 25% of organic Google search results delivered to mobile phones are different to those displayed on computers using the same keywords. While results displayed on tablets differ from those on computers in around 8% of cases.

So, should content be the same or vary, according to device? And with more and more searches now happening on mobile devices, what are the main issues that marketers need to be aware of?  Here are some key considerations:

1 . Attention spans vary

It goes without saying that attention spans are shorter on mobile devices, particularly smartphones, meaning bounce rates are higher. You have a smaller screen, normally (though not exclusively) accessed while on the move, which means you are unlikely to be happy reading long-form content. People want information quickly and immediately, rather than having to scroll through pages of results. Answers have to be brief, relevant and understandable, otherwise they simply will not be read.

2. Context is key

Mobile search is particularly strong in specific sectors – according to Google, 30% of all restaurant searches and 25% of all movie searches are performed on a mobile device for example.  And the intent behind a search query is often radically different between devices. If you search for pizza on your laptop, you are more likely to be at home looking for takeout. On mobile you are probably on the move, and hence searching for a restaurant nearby (which is why the factor “local” is much more important when performing mobile searches).    Often your mobile search is more urgent, and less speculative – if you type in “gas station” it could well be that your car is running low and you need one NOW, rather than just being interested for the future.

3. Type of content

As I’ve said, people tend to not read long-form content on their mobile devices, so bounce rates are higher. But figures from comScore reveal that the time spent consuming rich media (such as video) on mobile devices is actually higher than on desktop. This needs to be factored into your decisions on the types of content you offer to users, providing a range that is optimized for different devices.

4. How Google treats mobile is different

Google is beginning to better understand the differences in context and intent, so that laptop and mobile results are starting to vary and this trend is going to continue. Google has additional information about the mobile searcher, such as exact location, to help it provide more relevant results. Additionally, as the form factor, particularly screen size, is different on a mobile device, the way Google displays results is simpler, using features such as Knowledge Graph to deliver answers in a straightforward, easily readable manner. The advent of Siri on the iPhone, Google Now on Android phones and other voice assistant services is another attempt to make search simpler and easier, replacing typing with voice queries.

5. Responsive content is coming

Many organizations have already adopted a mobile first approach to digital marketing, focusing on creating a strategy and architecture that works across platforms. With the help of techniques such as responsive design and HTML5, their web pages are designed to change to fit screen size and the device input mechanism, giving the user a seamless experience. But the next step is going to be responsive content. Take the example of a retailer – its traditional website should be optimized for desktop and laptop searches, with long-form, text-based content that covers all potential areas of interest to searchers. For smartphone searchers, content should be condensed to what is relevant to them, perhaps using video rather than text, with the option to click to access the fuller desktop style article.

6. Mobile ranking factors are different

SEO pros have a very good idea of the factors that Google and other search engines evaluate to determine where web pages should rank on traditional computers.  The existence of keywords and related terms that are relevant to the search query, links to a page from other web pages and user signals such as bounce rates are all thought to be important.  Marketers need to understand that some of the same ranking factors are likely to be important for mobile SEO.  But their relative importance could be different and other mobile specific factors probably play a role. For example, the initial results of Searchmetrics analysis into ranking factors for mobile search indicate that the average file size is considerably smaller for URLs that rank well in mobile search.  Of course, currently we know less about the ranking factors for mobile than we do about those for searches on computers.  But that is likely to change as the search industry places greater emphasis on understanding the mobile search algorithms.


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