Why Your Business Needs to Ride the Mobile Search Optimization Wave

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It’s no secret that the world is going mobile, and the numbers back it up. Total smartphone sales in 2011 reached about 472 million units, according to research group Gartner. With increased smartphone usage, there comes an increase in mobile search – we take our cell phones with us wherever we go and use them as a lifeline to tap into the vast amounts of information available on the Web.

The Efficient Frontier (EFF) in conjunction with Macquarie Capital released a report in late 2011 that predicted mobile paid search spending could total as much as 22% of overall search revenues in 2012(although a less aggressive projection put that marker at 16%). If we follow the numbers, that means mobile search could be shaping up to account for anywhere between $2.7 and $3.7 billion dollars in 2012.

That’s a tremendous growth projection for a sector that only accounted for a little more than 1.5% in early 2010.

Making Your Site Mobile

Companies have been scrambling to try to leverage maximum value from this transition, producing a new submarket known as mobile optimization. One tactic of mobile optimization addresses what to do when a mobile user visits your site on his or her device. Since the inception of the Internet, websites have been made for one thing – computers. Whether desktop or laptop, the Web has been oriented around the idea that your site will be displayed on a computer monitor of some variety, but the injection of mobile devices into the consumer market has shifted that long-standing paradigm.

There’s some controversy surrounding the argument for separate mobile sites; although it appeals to mobile users when they’re using their devices, it creates an entirely separate site on your server and dilutes your SEO authority. Think about it – an entirely new body of programming, content, links, and SEO that has to be managed and maintained. Not fun.

On the other hand, responsive web design identifies the type of device you’re using when you visit a site and adapts, providing the user with an on-screen optimized display. This means that businesses only have to worry about one website, and it means that SEOs and webmasters have all of their analytics in one, centralized place, allowing them to segment their marketing data according to the channel delineations they prescribe.

The Quandary of Siri

The advent of the iPhone 4S and Siri has single-handedly changed the mobile search game. The personal assistant feature of Apple’s most recent smartphone evolution relies heavily on a few databases from which it pulls information to respond to user queries. For instance, since its release in October 2011,Siri has accounted for 25% of all searches performed on Wolfram Alpha, a powerful search engine that does for mathematical and scientific calculations what Wikipedia does for topics of general interest.

Of somewhat greater interest to business owners and marketers is the fact that Siri partnered with Yelp to mine for its local business data, placing increased emphasis on the importance of Yelp business profiles and compelling some businesses to upgrade to a premium business listing, an amenity that costs a cool $300 a month.

Siri also introduces a new challenge for marketers – people speak differently than they query. We ran an article on the difference between how we speak and how we search in late 2011 that addressed the question of natural language search. Put briefly, although the technology has long been in development, it re-centers the emphasis of search engine algorithms on grammar rather than on the data. However, with the influx of spoken queries, longtime holdouts on natural language search like Google may be forced to adjust their position or face being left behind by Apple in the race for digital dominance.

Mobile Search Users are Consumers Waiting to Happen

Finally, mobile search opens up a boulevard to consumers that businesses and marketers just cannot afford to ignore. If we had to choose just one element of mobile search that differentiated it from desktop search, it would be that mobile search is actionable.

Andy Chu, director of Bing for mobile, recently released a report that identified that more than 50% of mobile queries have local intent, which means that when a mobile user queries something on his or her smartphone, there is an intention to do something with that information. In 2011, 33% of the searches for “flowers” on Mother’s Day were from mobile devices; those are actionable searches.

Google released some more statistics pertaining to actionable searches:

  • 15% of mobile searches are for consumer electronics;
  • more than 29% of searches are for restaurants; and
  • more than 16% of searches are related to cars and automobiles.

This makes sense; we might research a restaurant in depth from our desktop computers at home or at the office if we’re planning a special date, but when we’re on the go and in need of organic Mexican cuisine or an auto mechanic who’ll give it to you straight, we turn to our devices.

Google’s product manager for mobile search ads, Surojit Chatterjee, told TechCrunch that mobile search volume more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, giving credence to the mobile ad surge. A new product unveiled called click-to-call allows users to click on a phone number from their mobile search engine results page and be connected directly to the advertisers; this technique has already been leveraged by more than half a million advertisers and, on average, Google alone connects more than 10 million calls between mobile users and businesses.

The conclusions are obvious: mobile search is a marketing channel that businesses cannot afford to ignore. Making your business visible to the mobile search market – and doing so now – will allow you to reap the rewards while others are still catching up.

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