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Mobile and search: 5 common myths busted

Mobile and search: 5 common myths busted Brian Rauschenbach

The use of mobile search surpassing desktop search has actually come true -- stunning industry geeks and online marketers alike. Even Google was caught a bit off-guard, as the search giant had previously expected the hand-off to be sometime in August of this year -- not April. The rapid growth of mobile search turned out to not only be a true myth, but it surpassed expectations in terms of its speed. So now, what about the ramifications of mobile for search marketers and just about anyone with a vested interest in online marketing?

Regardless of where we as marketers stand, there are a number of common myths surrounding mobile and search that could have big impacts on bottom lines if they go unexamined. Here's a candid look at five myths.

Myth 1: To succeed in mobile search, you need a mobile-enabled website

You don't. Google and Bing prefer responsive design sites, but not necessarily a mobile-enabled site. So what's the difference? From a practical standpoint, rather than pouring your resources into developing a site for your own brand or a client's -- that will only look great and perform well on certain mobile devices -- responsive design sites have the flexibility to work across all devices and formats. Although mobile is growing fast, there are still billions of desktop-based searches going on every day.
More about this below, but first and foremost, don't believe the urgent hype that you need to rush out and develop a mobile-enabled site or risk being left in the dust. There's no need to abandon your existing website. They'll often work just fine in a mobile environment and, if needed, can be easily updated for responsive design with some viewport tweaks.

Myth 2: Mobile-enabled sites always convert better

Counterintuitive as it may seem, mobile-enabled sites don't always convert better than ordinary sites for mobile users. At a very basic level, it's important to remember that most mobile-enabled sites are basically stripped down versions of more elaborate "traditional" websites. That said, there are certain categories where mobile-enabled sites can make a lot of sense -- most notably travel and other verticals involving in-and-out consumer experiences.

From a basic usability standpoint, as long as websites render, mobile consumers now are really familiar with pinching and zooming to get the user experience and views they want. This brings us back to responsive design. These sites are easy and standard updates to existing sites -- rather than more specialized and comprehensive reworking of sites for mobile. At their best they work smoothly across all devices and formats. I am not a developer and don't stand to gain anything by saying nice things about responsive design, but it always concerns me to see fellow marketers spending tons of cash unnecessarily on things like mobile-enabled sites. Yes, in some cases it can be worthwhile, but I'd advise giving it careful thought first. I was surprised to find through spot-checking that several large retail brands like REI, Nordstrom, Target, and Dell all didn't have responsive design sites, but good ole' print publishers Newsweek and Time.com are both responsive-enabled.

Myth 3: Everything I'm doing in Google AdWords will translate to mobile

Absolutely false. This one is especially important for search marketers. In the mobile search landscape, only two paid positions will appear within a given set of mobile search results. This is doubly critical to know with the recent launch of Google's Enhanced Campaigns on July 22. While there are a lot of cool things associated with Enhanced Campaigns, don't get complacent and assume that your existing AdWords efforts will simply translate all the way to mobile. For example, if you're currently in average position of 2.5 on a desktop search campaign with Google, you're going to be missing half the boat on mobile and will show up in only half of a designated set of search results. In short, you have to be position one or two to be guaranteed of showing up in mobile search results -- that's a cold, hard fact.

Myth 4: Cookies are everywhere in mobile

It will make privacy advocates everywhere smile to know that there are no cookies at all in mobile. For a time, you could have relied upon device-identifiers (UDID) to track certain user behaviors, such as information on app store purchases, download tracking, and more. Only certain carriers supported UDID, but it's been fading out quickly before it got the chance to get started.

While the absence of cookies has both positive and negative ramifications for mobile users, the impacts for marketers are uncertain. At a time when transparency has become the expected norm -- especially for digital advertisers -- the current lack of an accepted mobile equivalent to cookies is perplexing to many. For now, don't go into a mobile search or broader mobile marketing campaign expecting to incorporate or rely upon cookies.

Myth 5: People using tablets and other mobile devices aren't as likely to convert to sales

While much of this article seems to dampen widely held views and expectations around mobile, I readily admit that tablet users really do convert well. Tablets have great conversion because the still early adopter users are usually in a higher income bracket than might be the case with lower-priced phones and other mobile devices. That said smartphones also convert well, especially if people are motivated to buy.

A lot of marketers, including myself, have been predisposed to take a stand that mobile-specific search marketing doesn't work as well as it should. Mobile is an incredibly exciting space by virtue of its sheer growth and ubiquity. Industry skepticism recalls the ways we initially looked at Google's Content Network when it first launched. The biggest single hurdle we have now is with mobile pricing not being in line with lighter conversion rates on mobile search campaigns. Once Google and other mobile ad networks get the pricing right, the advertisers will follow suit. In the meantime, don't believe everything you hear about mobile and search. The exciting changes underway won't turn your existing world upside down.

Brian Rauschenbach is president of Add3.

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Brian Rauschenbach comes to us from Match.com, where he was the Director of Online Marketing after the Kiss/uDate.com acquisition. Before Match.com, Mr. Rauschenbach, the leading media buyer in the online dating/relationship space, spent eight years...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Bryce Evans

2013, August 12

In regards to Myth 4, the information in this article is not completely accurate.There are cookies in mobile, they just don't work quite the same as online.

Cookies work on the mobile web but many times only first party cookies can be dropped on users. There are solutions for advertisers, for example if a user clicks on an ad, a cookie can be dropped at this point from an advertiser because it is considered first party. Where things differ is cookie data can not be used to follow a user from the mobile web to app.

Good news is there are plenty of other non-PII solutions to ensure accurate targeting without compromising privacy.

- iOS - open settings, Safari (there you will find options to accept cookies and clear cookies)
- Android - open Chrome, settings, clear browsing data (you will see a box checked to clear cookies)