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Maybe it's the device

Every year mobile is cursed with being the tactic that has been more hyped than the next Britney Spears' comeback. Don't get me wrong -- I wholeheartedly believe that mobile search has the potential to become an ultimate game changer. The challenge is that it is also one of the few tactics that require true third-party cooperation. No matter how many trail-blazing mobile companies emerge, they are still forced to operate where the control is not fully in their hands. Consumers have also been disenfranchised by the limited applications and clunkiness of the devices available. 

In the past year, there have been promising signs that should give marketers confidence that this is finally the year for mobile to take off … which, I, of course have just doomed with another "mobile will take off" prediction. Anyway. The first positive sign came with . Google won an important battle by getting regulators to add a provision that requires that the spectrum be operated openly, allowing any mobile device and third-party application to have access. Then the iPhone launched and seemingly solved the issue of usability -- albeit at a $500 fee and a two-year contract with AT&T. People can now search for addresses, movie times and random bar trivia facts -- which we all know is the only thing people use mobile search for, right? It looks like statistics from Google may be proving that to be a myth.

Google recently discussed that it is seeing more searches performed by iPhone users. Matt Waddell, from Google, continued to say that the company has seen iPhone users perform as many as 50 times more web searches on their phones than users of standard mobile phones do.

Even more important is the fact that the searches were not the "traditional" searches. In being able to use the internet through the iPhone (and not the mobile internet), people performed the same search tasks that they would on their computers.

This begs the question: Has it always just been about the device? Was the voice from "Field of Dreams" right when it said "If you build it, he will come?" The whole time, while we tried to crack the mobile tactic, it may have just revolved around delivering an experience that would enable adoption and not about all the other petty fights.

The same case can be made for search. Search engines were around before Google showed up, but once Google arrived we saw search go to a whole new level. Was it because people just searched more, or was it that the user experience was so satisfying that it forced people to search more?

What does this mean to marketers?

Test your mobile or iPhone site
Get a few of these types of phones and start to bang around your site with them. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Why would someone visit my site, or what tasks would she be trying to complete from her phone?

  • Where might that person be when visiting my site? In her car? At a store?

Once you get these answers start to surf your site with these tasks in mind. Examine how your site performs and find areas where it is not working as well. I'm not saying to alter your site for mobile, but if there are features or fixes you can make to enhance the mobile experience, then you are light years ahead.

Treat them differently
Don't be satisfied with people reaching your full website instead of a scaled down version. Develop tactics that are tailored to mobile users' needs. For example, every retail site has a store locator. To meet the needs of mobile users, develop a pop-up version that is served only to people coming in from a mobile phone. Since they are likely looking for a location, you are getting them one step closer to their goal. In addition to this you can also feature the latest in-store sale items.

Travelers accessing a site from their mobile phone are likely looking to check their flight status. Since people rarely have their confirmation or flight number at their fingertips, find an easy way to allow them to use their last name or mobile number to access this information.

It's more than searching and surfing
Build and innovate. iPhone-aholics claim to email, text, and IM more frequently. If it is appropriate for your business, build some utilities or gadgets targeted to that audience. 

Do you belong in mobile?
Lastly, try and remember that with the iPhone comes the ability to view your site as is. This means that unless you have a specific mobile application or goal, you may not need to do anything. Give a real hard look at your site and determine if there is any reason to make changes based on mobile usage.  

As more iPhone-type devices are developed and the barriers become more transparent, things will get better for mobile users and marketers. Maybe this is the year that mobile does become the next MJ … at least I have another nine months until you are able to prove me wrong.

Joshua Palau is group director for search engine marketing at Avenue A | Razorfish.

For over 15 years, Josh has worked extensively in the digital space focused on sales and marketing. During this time, he's been fortunate to work for and on some of the largest and most recognized brands. This experience has shaped his ability to...

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