Conflicting Trends in Mobile Search

There’s an old joke about a scientist who’s lost in the desert. He has just enough water for three days, and conserves it by drinking just the amount that’s absolutely necessary to survive. Given that the temperature is approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit, he reasons, he should be able to continue walking north at his brisk walking pace of 4.5 mph for 4 hours before he loses 5% of his normal water volume and starts to feel groggy from significant dehydration, at which point it would become necessary to consume 1 liter from his 3 gallon canteen before being rejuvenated enough to repeat the entire process.

On the morning of the third day he thinks he sees a puddle of water on the horizon and picks up the pace to reach it before the end of the day, when he knows, without question, that he will die of dehydration. He starts running when he hears the rushing water—or as fast as he can manage in his weakened condition—and sees before him the source of the water sounds he had heard a mile before: an enormous lake in the middle of the desert, glistening in the sun.

He crawls to the edge with his last bit of strength and purses his lips to the cool, clear water when suddenly, he stops in mid-air. Realizing that he has no way of quantifying the physical and emotional impact of refreshment on his ravished body, he turns his back to the water, lies down on the beach and dies.

It seems absurd, and it is, that the scientist would rather understand the process and results than reap the benefits of hydration. Nonetheless, listening about it happening is similar to observing the mobile search market in the past few weeks.

On the one hand, mobile web usage and mobile search is growing faster than ever by all accounts. Though the coming of the mobile web has been predicted for years, the AdAge announcement that ESPN’s mobile web site sometimes gets more traffic than their desktop web site made a lot of people wonder if the mobile web usage that had been future perfect for years was finally present tense.

Recently the PEW Internet Mobile Access to Data and Information study reported that “62% of all Americans are part of a wireless, mobile population that participates in digital activities away from home or work.” This week, M: Metrics and Google joined the chorus, with M:Metrics reporting that nearly 85% of iPhone users access news or information via the mobile web, and nearly 60% use mobile search; and Google reporting that they’re seeing a “watershed moment” for mobile usage.

However, in spite of the apparent growth, Business Week and others are reporting that advertisers are actually cutting budgets for mobile because of the lack of reliable tracking and mobile specific metrics. And still some advertisers are reluctant to shift budgets to mobile because they don’t want to alienate users with intrusive messaging on a relatively personal medium.

There are a number of objections to this that one could make, including that mobile, like search, is held to different standard when tracking for broadcast or print media is not required before making large investments in either. One could also point out that the advertisers should be looking to digital, query-driven, non-interruptive methods such as mobile SEO and tracking mobile-specific metrics with mobile analytics to improve the effectiveness of their mobile campaigns.

Both of these are fair, I think, but advertisers should also remember the old joke when thinking about the best way to take advantage of the opportunity inherent in mobile search.

The perceived lack of an understanding of the opportunity in mobile advertising does not mean that the opportunity does not exist. While we’re waiting for the heyday of mobile marketing, when the methods and results are clearly understood and recognized as obvious by all, let’s not let that keep us from enjoying the benefits to be had today.

Posted by: Bryson Meunier, Product Champion, Natural Search


Anonymous said...

Good article Bryson – I like your analogy.

As you point out, the main trend in mobile search and advertising is one of growth. Bango, with our established mobile payment platform has been witnessing this with many new consumers searching, browsing and spending on their mobile phones around the world (see one of our recent press releases for details). So why are we seeing many companies failing to successfully capitalize on this growth? I believe there is a fundamental disconnect when it comes to expectations, timings and true mobile understanding.

What you say about measurement is very true and I wanted to take a moment to reinforce the words "mobile analytics". Many companies we speak with still believe that the traditional PC web analytics tools can give them enough of a picture to gauge mobile search and ad spend. They believe that using images to tag pages will give them a visit count if nothing else. Some PC analytics companies also believe that their existing solution can handle mobile and wrongly advise their customers.

Some of the new mobile advertising companies deliver basic stats to help show the volumes, but whilst it gives a basic click count, even these can be misleading. For example, some ad companies cannot identify actual visitors or their country, network and handset. This means they will either fall short on quality volumes or they will over deliver on volume but with poor quality.

It's easy for an analytics solution to fall short and fail to give the complete picture. The subtleties of mobile network operators is very complex – there are many rules, regulations and network differences around the world. Then we have the differences in handsets and browsers with their tendancy to fiercly cache images (which is why Bango recommends precision link-based tracking methods for mobile).

For most people the mobile web is a new market and should not be seen as an extension of the current PC web market – there is a lot of new stuff to learn in order to get the best from the market in these early stages and establish the best strategic position going forward. So my advice to anyone is to seek out proven, independent mobile expertise and be persistent – don’t give up before you start drinking that fresh new water…

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