A spatial shift from web search to mobile search is creating powerful new opportunities for savvy marketers.
More than 400 million internet users currently access the web exclusively via their mobile phones -- far surpassing those who access it at least part of the time via computer browsers. By 2011, 86 percent of all mobile internet users will be mobile search users. We have reached a tipping point.
Traditionally, internet marketers could focus almost exclusively on optimizing websites for maximum visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) on computer browsers. Those days are gone. The widespread popularity of new mobile devices such as smartphones (web-enabled phones that act like mini-computers) and tablets (fully functional laptop PCs equipped with a touch screen or a stylus) are enabling consumers to instantly find and filter information anytime, anywhere.
As consumers embrace mobile search, so too will advertisers. Annual mobile search advertising revenues are expected to skyrocket from $20 million in 2008 to $1.3 billion in 2013, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 130.5 percent. What's not as clear is who will win the coveted title of mobile search leader. Major mobile carriers, search engines, and a gaggle of mobile search start-ups will battle during the coming years in an aggressive tug-of-war to capture mobile search eyeballs and revenues. However, these competitors will remain united on at least one point: the need to keep quiet the secret that organic search engine presence is platform-agnostic.
What this means: As long as companies continue to invest in search engine optimization (SEO) to maintain a healthy presence in SERPs, they will not be disenfranchised by the seismic shift to the mobile web. Companies that optimize their websites for search engines and their crawlers will enjoy the same rankings in the mobile world as in the PC world. For instance, Google's search engine platform is being propagated for the mobile web. Google uses the same PageRank algorithm to determine organic rankings in SERPs for computers as it does for phones (the mobile web). SEO bridges the gap between the second and third screen.
Already considered the most effective online marketing strategy for generating conversions, SEO will become even more critical with the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices and as the mobile web surpasses the world wide web in usage. Currently, SEO accounts for more than $1.4 billion in total annual U.S. ad spend.
SEO is even more critical for companies that depend on local sales and traffic, such as retail, hospitality, dining, and entertainment. For instance, it has been estimated that the percentage of mobile searches with local intent will increase to 35 percent in 2013, up from 28 percent in 2008. In addition to the SEO implications, marketers should consider delivering their paid search ads to mobile devices. In the past, most marketers have not selected this option and, instead, chose to deliver their paid search ads only to computers. This outdated strategy must be reconsidered because it leaves out a huge market segment.
So, now that you have opened up the mobile search floodgates to your site, what do your mobile visitors see when they surf your site? Chances are, it's not pretty. In fact, it's probably a real eye-sore: strange layout, clumsy navigation, distorted graphics, broken file images... the list goes on. As marketers, we spend fortunes perfecting our sites for the web, and it's time to do the same for the mobile web. Three key fundamentals to keep in mind:
- Because of slow mobile download speeds, ensure that your site is built with lightweight pages and limited graphics.
- Do away with Flash and Java. These protocols are not currently supported by mobile devices and carriers.
- Ensure that your site is formatted for the most popular mobile devices and platforms. Each device screen has a different size, so it is critical that you offer a version for the most popular devices.
A major turf war is heating up between Google and Apple. With the launch of Nexus One, Google plans to capitalize on the "superphone" to expand its reach from the PC to the mobile phone and ensure its online products and ads get prominent placement on a new breed of wireless Internet devices. In addition, its Android mobile operating system is currently being leased to more than 20 new smartphone devices.
The launch of the iPad will make Apple the world's most coveted mobile device maker with a huge loyal consumer base. Recently, Apple announced iAd, an advertising platform integrated into Apple's operating system that will deliver ads to mobile apps. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, is banking on the idea that ads inside apps will be attractive to advertisers. However, he fails to realize that this is "push" marketing and not "pull" marketing -- the latter of which having been proven to convert at much higher levels. As such, Apple has blocked Google's search app on the iPhone and the iPad; however, one can simply open a browser and access Google directly. Moreover, Bing and Yahoo offer mobile search applications that may be downloaded to smartphones for rapid search results.
Without doubt, a real land grab is occurring in the mobile space. To take their share, marketers must understand that mobile is simply another platform in the communications ecosystem in which consumers are media-agnostic. Let's break this down:
- Mobile is just another touchpoint for reaching target markets
- Information in our new complex ecosystem is highly interconnected -- from print to web, web to mobile, etc.
- Consumers are in the driver's seat and consume information how and when they want it, irrespective of the medium.
With tight budgets and time constraints, marketers are scrambling to seize the opportunities created by mobile search and should embrace this mantra: Don't reinvent yourself; simply leverage your strengths and adapt them to new platforms. In other words, propagate your site for mobile and continue optimizing your site and content for search engines, and your story will be found in the new mobile world.
Jacques Hart is CEO of Roar Media, an integrated public relations and Internet marketing firm.
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