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GUEST OPINION Mobile is not just another search channel

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While many retailers look at mobile as a means of being discovered Farhad Koodoruth, MD of Blowfish Digital, explains that you need to think very differently when it comes to mobile search if you want to succeed

Currently more than 40 million people in the UK own a mobile phone. It is estimated, by eConsultancy, that by mid 2012 smartphones will account for more than half of the UK’s mobile users. Quite literally we’re talking telephone numbers. As more and more people use their devices to access apps, VoD and a host of new services, the potential for retailers is already starting to show as users search for places, goods and services as they go about their daily business.

Talking technical for one moment, high-end mobile devices have much better support for browser-based experiences because they use more uniform, standard browsers. Mobile browsers are able to engage HTML5 experiences through WebKit, the engine Safari uses on phones. So, the user experience is infinitely better. It’s no longer the poor relation to the desktop.

Brands are recognising this and many are implementing mobile as part of their digital strategy. However, I don’t think they are giving it the degree of attention it deserves. Make no mistake, mobile search is growing.

Brands need to build separate strategies. Not just between their traditional desk top paid search but also specific to the mobile platform. Ipad users search in a different way to smartphone users both navigationally and transactionally with large differences in behaviour internationally. So, they need to look at the data and run separate, mobile specific campaigns to check how landing pages, creative and PPC are performing. Adwords can split targeting between tablets and mobiles and a different approach is needed for both. Tablets behave more like PC, mobiles very differently and show differences by operating system. All mobile devices are not the same and, likewise, user patterns are different. Google’s recent changes to Mobile quality score will also start coming into play to ensure that brands will not just need strategy but also mobile focused assets to really take advantage of the changing landscaspe

User behaviour change signifanctly based on OS, much more so than the web browser. So, brands need to run tests to see whether Apple converts better than Android and adjust accordingly, Apple users are often a different demographic to Android and their purchasing behaviour is again very different.

Brands want users to have the same experience when interacting with sites, be it through a mobile device or a desktop. Many are opting for a mobile specific website and there are some great ones out there, (M&S, ebay, Amazon, Groupon, Debenhams to name a few). This means fewer images and more information. All of this is fine but only if they can be found easily. Remember, these are mobile devices and by their very nature users want fast results.

For people on the go finding your location is critical, whether you’re a retail store, restaurant, hotel, or other establishment. Your customers must be able to find you. This translates to search and related services like Google Maps

As this platform develops, marketers will think of mobile search beyond the Google query. Mobile search will grow in terms of traditional search metrics but there will also be a broader use of mobile search opportunities. Things like Geo-location technology offers innovative ways to market in mobile search. Users can browse nearby locations without entering any information themselves. The phone’s GPS works out instantly where they are.

Other emerging areas? Let’s look at the simple barcode. Retail shoppers are now using their phone’s barcode scanners to searching for price comparison and online deals before making their purchase. In today’s tough times, customers may leave products on your shelves and head for your competitor if their products and related information are better.

For many businesses, the smart phone is where the battle for consumers’ pockets and their hard earned cash is moving. Smart phones are not there just to make calls and send texts, they are where consumers are examining your offering and your competitors’. Retailers must understand that even if a customer is in your establishment browsing through the perfume counter you may not get the sale, no matter how well presented and polite the sales assistant is. These days it’s not enough. By using their smart phone, the customer could effectively be in several other shops at the same time. Your competitor could grab the sale from your own counter!

The fact is, technology for smart phones is changing at a fierce rate and users are happy to go along for the ride. .

As Google shows few paid search ads in mobile search results, mobile searches are limited. This, I’m sure will change, but in the meantime it should not be ignored.

Brands need to ensure that they appear in top positions on mobile devices just as they’ve worked hard and spent lots of their hard earned budget ensuring top position on desk tops.

Mobile search is still a way off compared to traditional search, however, it doesn’t seem that long ago when search marketing was something that few people understood, let alone saw the potential it offered.

These are exciting and very promising times for both technology and marketing advancements in mobile, so as marketers, we must be ready to quickly incorporate them into our strategies. According to Forrester research, mobile marketing is on three out of four marketers’ lists of areas to focus on this year. It’s there for very good reason. Marketers should take this platform seriously, check data, test and test again. Mobile search should be an important part of your overall strategy, get it right now and you’ll reap the rewards this platform has to offer.

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