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Is Mobile Search Still Futile?

Is Mobile Search Still Futile? Kevin Ryan

So you want to go mobile with your search marketing. There are a few things that you should know before jumping into the mobile search fray. For example, just how big is the mobile search audience? How much time and money should one devote to mobile search engine marketing?

Last week's packed-to-the-gills ad:tech San Francisco event included a lively discussion about mobile search, and yours truly had the pleasure of moderating that interaction. I was joined by David Herscott, president of MEA Digital; Warren Kay, director of Emerging Products, Yahoo! Search Marketing; and Ian Leuchars, senior VP, Search Marketing Services, North America, 24/7 Real Media.

The theme of our discussion centered around practical applications for mobile search and how advertisers are beginning to approach mobile search marketing. Let's take a look at the marketplace and the next generation of product development.

Mobile search marketplace
The mobile marketing research firm M:Metrics provided mobile search marketing landscape data. According to M:Metrics' survey data, there are 11.2 million mobile searchers in the U.S. as of February 2007. In February 2006 M:Metrics projected just ahead of 8 million.

Of course, the research to date is making projections about mobile search users, and M:Metrics is keeping tabs on those users who accessed search in a given month.

While only 5.5 percent of the mobile universe accessed search functions in February 2000, nearly half (46.7 percent) of searchers preferred Google search. Yahoo was a close second at 35.4 percent and 7.2 percent used MSN Mobile/ MSNBC.

Clearly, mobile search usage parallels PC-based search audience share. Another notable pearl of wisdom provided by M:Metrics included information that .1 percent didn't know which search utility they used in the mobile universe.

Mobile search audience
Panelists agreed that using a mobile device to search is not a particularly enjoyable activity; it is considered a necessary evil utility. Searching on a mobile phone is clunky and there needs to be a great deal of technical improvement to make mobile search commonplace.

It should come as no surprise then that mobile searchers are predominantly male, at 61.9 percent, according to M:Metrics' three month average ending February 2007. The bulk of mobile searchers (77.8 percent) are between the ages of 18-44, which makes perfect sense since teens have much better things to do with mobile devices like send text messages to one another.

Overall, slightly more than 26 percent of mobile searchers make more than $100,000 per year. Beyond higher income, mobile search demographics for each search utility seem to have a level playing field. That is to say, Yahoo search users are not significantly more (or less) educated than Google search searchers, and MSN searchers aren't any making any less (or more) than Google or Yahoo searchers and vice versa.

Ad units get a facelift
Marketers are just beginning to experiment with mobile search marketing tactics given that usage numbers are just beginning to show promise. To date, ad units deployed in mobile search have been nothing more than extensions of internet search ad units, but all that is about to change.

Much in the same way that re-purposing traditional media (e.g. video) for the web is a great way to achieve marginal success, repurposing personal computer-based search ads for mobile devices has proven marginally successful.

Recognizing a need for something a bit different and better, Yahoo recently introduced its oneSearch product designed specifically for mobile devices. oneSearch addresses the cumbersome nature of mobile search utilities by delivering a combination of search result listings, locations and telephone numbers on mobile results page.

Getting started with mobile search
There are still plenty of wild cards in the mobile search world. Partnerships in accessing information as determined by mobile telephone service providers and the continued proliferation of multi-function devices are among the "X" factors in mobile search.

The bottom line is mobile search has yet to reach critical mass and no one seems to want to say when mobile search budgets might go beyond "rounding error" status. In the short term, mobile search marketing is an easy, if not slightly ahead, futile endeavor. That is, it’s cheap, does not require massive resources, and it provides a significant return but will not provide a massive volume of returns.

Panelists in last week's session agreed that early adopter privileges, like under-crowded keyword and topic opportunities (compared to PC search), exist in mobile search. Mobile search marketing still does not require a tremendous investment either. Most marketers entering the space allocate approximately 1 percent of search engine advertising budgets for mobile search marketing.

Kevin. Ryan is chief executive officer at Motivity Marketing. .

Kevin Ryan founded the strategic consulting firm Motivity Marketing in April 2007. Ryan is known throughout the world as an interactive marketing thought leader, particularly in the search marketing arena. Today's Motivity is a group of...

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