SearchTHIS: Mobile Marketing and SEM

Like many of you, I appreciate the simple things in life. The basics bring me joy. Like the smells of New York City in the morning as garbage trucks carry away the excesses of life, and the exuberant sounds of young cab drivers blowing their horns while making their way around the city. Oh yes, being perpetually stuck in traffic in the back of said cab on the way to the airport, only to be trapped at the gate shortly thereafter, is another simple pleasure few truly appreciate.

Remember the first time you carried a mobile telephone that didn't require its own carry-on luggage? In a relatively short time, the internet and wireless communications have independently evolved into daily utilities, yet the simple pleasures of convergence elude us.

For most of us, mobile search means haphazard site viewing on tiny screens and notoriously slow connections. Mobile search has its problems, but marketers simply cannot ignore its potential. A new white paper from OneUpWeb, "Mobile Search and Its Implications for Search Engine Marketing," attempts to shed some light on search and mobile convergence.

Dynamics of mobile

With all of the difficulties one experiences when searching and site viewing on mobile devices, I wonder why anyone would bother trying to use a mobile browser at all. Google, Yahoo! and others have launched text-based alternatives to mobile browsing that relieve users of cumbersome site navigation. An SMS (Short Message Service) for search was developed to provide access to driving directions and other local information, but text alone doesn't address the need for stronger interactions.

Research noted in the paper indicates that a dominant percentage of mobile users downloads ring tones and communicates via text messaging. Among the projected 200 million users, only the most basic functions are utilized.

Why bother with trying to understand what's happening in the space? Because 12 percent of users accessed news and information with their browsers, and that number is steadily increasing. Also noteworthy is that approximately 130 million phones are retired each year -- an indication that users will arbitrarily adopt new technologies that arrive with new phones.

So what are these technologies? In the old days (five years ago) we had phones that barely fit the basic needs of, or could be called, web browsers. The technology needed is called WAP, but early WAP doesn't work with HTTP, so they can't read HTML, so we have to wait for devices to be equipped with WAP 2.0 since they can only read WML or xHTML.

Got all that? Neither did I. Here's a break down of wireless language provided in the report.

" WAP (Wireless Application Protocol): the current global standard for browsing in mobile devices
" HTTP (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol): the current global standard for site design
" xHTML (eXtensible Hyper-Text Markup Language): yet another way to read content on mobile devices
" WML (Wireless Markup Language): a widely supported language for mobile devices

These designations are just the beginning. There are dozens of possible combinations for languages and formats for mobile phones. There are many possible combinations of site layout and language, and each provider is struggling with how best to represent content for the mobile world.

The search solution

There aren't a whole lot of standards in the space. The lines between the computer screen, television screen and mobile phone screen convergence are still a long way off. As the white paper notes, there is a significant lack of good quality WAP content on the web today. Despite the technological, adoption, penetration and platform issues, search sites have entered the space -- some with a bang others with a whisper.

Google, Yahoo! and MSN all support browsing of the web on mobile devices beyond simple SMS interfaces. Google has web search, image search and local search while allowing users to restrict site results to only WAP-enabled results. Yahoo! also offers a multiplatform approach and also offers a handy navigational shortcut feature that speeds up the browsing process. MSN recently pulled its WML content in the United States and now only offers it in Japan.

For the most part, added features like shopping and video are not offered. If they are present, the navigation is so difficult and cumbersome that it makes browsing a daunting task. However, just because each search site has its own way of dealing with mobile, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be thinking search optimization.

SEO on the phone

It wasn't too long ago that making a foolish decision with a mobile platform redirect could have your site yanked from a search index. Since then, search sites have developed separate WAP and Mobile indices but because few companies have embraced developing separate content, search results often look like pages from 1996.

OneUpWeb has separated mobile users into two very easily defined profiles; "need-it-now" and "killing-time." For enabling the time-critical users, the white paper offers the best advice one can for mobile data. Since much of the information "need-it-now" shoppers seek is local, making sure your location databases are updated with the most recent information is critical.

More smart advice includes keeping in mind the small screens and terrible typing environment. Using shorter terms and mobile specific abbreviations along with easy scroll navigation would seem to be a no-brainer, but in this space nothing should be taken for granted.

The end of the beginning

My trusty multi-function mobile device (read: web-enabled telephone/PDA) comes with me as I enjoy life's simple pleasures. When it works, it does some pretty fantastic things. I can make calls on the run, keep my calendar up to date and even watch movies when stranded somewhere. Last and probably least, I can search the web on my device.

Search on the run is not quite ready for simple pleasure status yet. It's complicated, and it has yet to be adopted by the consuming masses. Mobile appears as a small blip on the online marketing radar screen, and search is one of those cute little tools that might just help this misunderstood, unde-rutilized and not ready for prime time arena of potential simple pleasure to take off.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Mr. Ryan is chief strategy officer at Zunch Communications.