SES Update: Trends in Mobile Search

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Cindy Krum with Blue Moon Works opened up the final session of SES New York with an overwhelming chart comparing adoption of the Web in comparison to mobile adoption. In terms of why we should care about mobile Web listings, consider overall mobile population and ability to targeting (credit report is required to get a cell phone and GPS and cellular network pinpoint location). For the skeptics in the audience, Krum reminded us of a variety of compelling reasons to get engaged in mobile search, not least of which is the fact that users are expecting if not demanding immediate information, resulting in action. More specific to mobile search engines, she outlined the big three player’s status with mobile search, and each engine’s respective carriers. In an example search for NYC Hilton, Google and Live provide very similar results (universal search results style listings) whereas Yahoo! provides most standardized search results (which are less useful) and a little surprising considering the keynote from earlier in the day. Krum makes the following recommendations to improve mobile listings:

  • Test results on mobile device simulators
  • Optimize existing site for mobile (multiple external CSS and transcoding)
  • Write compelling optimized META data
  • Submit mobile site map
  • Monitor your mobile search listings (not worrying as much about click-through)
  • Optimize for portal/universal results (get rated/reviewed)
  • Included action-oriented content: address, phone, map, hours of operation, logo, pictures and link to review

Krum then displayed a very detailed slide outlining mobile specifications by search engine. When asked, she recommended redirecting your .mobi site to main site to reduce maintenance and increase link juice.

Next up, Farhan Memon with AOL Search provided an overview of AOL’s Desktop search and how the same content is integrated into mobile search. AOL’s focus is currently on personalizing the search experience based on device browser as well as launching a client application and in the near future, SMS. One nugget: while Windows Mobile users are a smaller subset of the overall subscriber-base, they are power-users, justifying a personalized experience. Memon shared recent eMarketer research on what mobile users are looking for, including maps, directions, weather, local information, news, entertainment and so on. Unfortunately, less than 2 percent of search results are currently localized. AOL currently categorizes searches and comparing desktop with mobile searches by topic, and the themes generally overlap, but mobile topics are skewed younger (i.e. MySpace, MocoSpace, games, etc.). Research shows that AOL’s “Top Pick” featuring mobile sites has generated significantly greater click-through. When comparing long-tail search terms between desktop and local, there is a direct correlation (virtually identical) yet queries mobile queries continue to increase in volume throughout the day, peaking at night and on holidays. In terms of how AOL is monetizing mobile search, options range from sponsored links (CPC vs. Jumptap and PPC via Ingenio) as well as advertorial (CPM via Thumbplay) and display (CPM via Third Screen Media). The big challenge in monetizing mobile is working through the moving parts: device, category, advertiser and revenue model. Memon indicated that moving the search box up higher in the display increased queries 11 percent. Additionally, AOL offers a distributed bookmark from desktop request to SMS. He left us with the observation that carriers will control less and less while users will get increasing levels of control of their mobile environment.

The third presenter was Matt Tengler with JumpTap. He started by explaining their business model, which is essentially a white-label mobile search and advertising platform that launched with 10 carriers and now generates 12M monthly queries a month. One interesting observation is that the difference between full keyboard vs. standard keypad phones differs very little. Another interesting observation is that once carriers opened up off-portal content, the search volume rapidly increased. The hot topic of discussion within the mobile industry is whether or not companies should design specifically for mobile. Tengler’s response was we will absolutely need to design for mobile in the future, but it may be similar to developing for international users (slow). The adoption is starting to gain significant momentum, however, as mobile usage is increasing and revenue models are maturing. Big brands have already jumped on board: MLB.com, Lexus, State Farm, Amazon, Facebook, Edmunds, etc. Another hot topic is WAP vs. client applications. While WAP is relatively easy to syndicate, client apps are much richer and generate more activity (the answer is to do both). Additional insights include the fact that the search box is challenging to find on phones currently, but that will change in the future (via quick launch keys, embedded navigation and the idle screen). In summary, Tengler emphasized that mobile is poised for rapid growth (really): better phones, applications and content, easier plans, faster networks and accessible search boxes.

Rachel Pasqua with iCrossing rounded out SES NYC with a forward look at the industry. For starters, mobile is all about preferences and portability. According to mMetrics, there are only 32M mobile Web users, the numbers are increasing rapidly. In fact, 46M wireless subscribers used mobile search in Q3 2007, but many skipped the Web and used SMS and voice. Pasqua then outlined the pros and cons of WAP (robust), SMS (ubiquitous), voice (most convenient but inconsistent user experience), bluecasting (blue-tooth proximity marketing), RFID (individually identification enables highly targeted content based on your personal information) and image recognition (bar code identification). As a parting though, Pasqua reminds us to think big by thinking small. And with that, my 4 day coverage of SES New York has concluded. See you at the next conference!

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