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Noman Ali: Gadgets, Websites, Google, Social Media and SEO

TechWorld

There’s no doubt that mobile and, by extension, local search is hot. Technology pundits have been declaring every year since 2005 “The Year of Mobile” – that magical moment when everyone suddenly starts using their mobile device for more than just playing games, texting, calling friends, checking email, downloading/using apps and occasionally browsing the web and… I don’t know… browses the web more?

If I sound a bit cynical on the topic of mobile it’s not out of a disbelief in the power of mobile devices or the acceleration of their influence on our technological connectedness. It’s because I think we’re, to a large extent, already there. The smartphone has won our hearts and minds, and this year, it will finally be more popular than the feature phone:

Nearly half of us already have iPhones, Blackberries, Androids or similar in our pockets when we’re on the proverbial “go.” But search – the process, the intent, the results –  just isn’t that different on mobile devices vs. laptops and desktops.

Yes, mobile searchers are more likely  to perform local searches than other varieties, but I actually believe this trend may be overblown. A substantive portion of searches performed from a laptop/desktop have local intent as well. As the mobile experience gets ever closer to mimicing that of the laptop/desktop, I suspect we’ll be searching on our mobiles in a remarkably similar fashion to how we search everywhere else. In fact, the top mobile searches of 2010 are similar (and surprisingly non-local) to the top general searches of the year.

Increased speed, functionality, screen size, resolution, readability, battery life, multimedia capacity, etc. don’t sound like features that make the mobile experience unique; they strike me as moving toward feature parity.

 

Research from Doubleclick, comparing search on mobile devices w/ full browsers vs. computers strongly suggests that we’re moving towards search parity, too. Queries are similar, clicks are similar, click-through-rate is similar, even conversion rate is getting close (though mobile is still a much more research-based experience, with a tough-to-measure influence of offline conversions).

This doesn’t mean you can or should ignore mobile/local as a powerful organic marketing channel, but it does mean that you don’t need to be building separate mobile sites or separate mobile experiences. Unless your site/content is seriously challenging for mobile users, even those with fast, impressive devices, you should worry more about other marketing avenues.

The big trends I see in mobile search are:

  • A lot more queries – mobile search is growing faster than traditional search and that bodes well for search marketers.
  • A single set of SERPs – I searched for a good 20 minutes on my laptop and Android phone without finding a query where the web results are in a different order (both are location-aware to “Seattle, WA”)
  • A chance to make your mobile-focus known – Yelp does a great job with their overlay on mobile devices encouraging searchers to download their app (though some have complained it gets annoying having to say “no” every time if you don’t want it).
  • Little need for a separate mobile site – Mobile copies of websites seem to me to be more likely to cause duplicate content issues, technical challenges, waste engineering resources and draw away attention from real mobile opportunities than to earn slightly higher rankings in mobile searches. Until/unless things change dramatically, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this practice (unless your regular site is absolutely unusable on a mobile device).
  • Definite need for a separate mobile ad strategy – Unlike SEO, the paid search results can and do differ dramatically on mobile devices. CPC is generally lower, as are conversion rates, though the latter may be on an upward trend (especially if I’m right about device convergence)
  • Apps are still beloved – I don’t know if the long term future of mobile will continue to focus on apps, but for now, it’s a huge part of what differentiates the device. It’s certainly a great way to “contain” users in your brand and provide a more tailored experience, and for those who can make it work effectively, the effect can be great.
  • Geography matters – mobile and traditional search are both getting more and more biased by geography. My opinion is that Google currently sucks at this (I have yet to find a search I like better with location-biasing than without, maps/places not withstanding), but they certainly won’t be giving up. As a result, if you can tailor your content and your marketing to effectively serve and be seen as local, you can seriously benefit.

 

 

 

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