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Mobile search – have you got the measure of it?

Mobile search – have you got the measure of it?

By Jonathan Ross, business development manager UK at FACT-Finder

Search is now more mobile than ever before. We carry the worldwide web in our pockets and have become accustomed to treating them as the mini computers that they are.

New research conducted by Nielsen suggests that 46% of the time, consumers go directly to a branded web page or app – which means that the majority are still accessing information and brand websites via a search engine.

The problem that a lot of brands make when it comes to developing a mobile marketing strategy is to overlook the process by which consumers will access their content. Considering mobile search functionality may not sound as fun or as creative as actually designing a mobile optimised site, but it is just as (if not more) important. How will people see your beautifully functioning mobile site if they cannot find it in the search results to start with?

Web browsing on a mobile device is a markedly different experience to doing so on a desktop computer. Of course there are obvious differences – for example we are much more likely to access a search engine on a mobile phone if we are out of the home. The same Nielsen study suggests that 68% of us are on the go when we make our mobile searches. But there are more subtle differences too that can have a huge impact on the success of your mobile campaign.

For example on mobile devices, people are much more likely to make mistakes when searching for a product on a retailers site. Smaller screens and touch screen keyboards make the margin for error much bigger than that of a desktop driven keyword search. This is where the addition of an error-tolerant search system is crucial to any mobile campaign, one that will lead the consumer swiftly to your landing page despite typographical or spelling mistakes.

An auto-suggest function is also useful, so that ideally the user needs to key in as few characters as possible to get the right suggestions in an early phase of the searching process.

When presenting results, using a list view is much easier than a grid view. Another suggestion is to enable users to flick through pictures using the touch screen.

Because mobile displays are small, faceted navigation and navigation must be limited to the most relevant categories, must be intuitive and must give an easy and good overview to the user about the product portfolio.

In the meantime it is worth noting that search engine owners are recognizing that people make errors when typing on their mobile devices, and are coming up with their own solutions to the problem. Google is currently testing a feature called Handwrite, that allows mobile users to write, rather than type their search query into the browser. Of course we also have voice recognition software – as pioneered by Apple with Siri - that encourages us to speak into our handsets to find what we are looking for. However, as Siri has already demonstrated (if you have an iPhone, how many times has Siri misunderstood you?) there is still room for human error in both of these communication methods, and it will be interesting to see how consumers take to them in the long term.

Mobile users tend to be looking for local products and services, something that should always be front of mind when optimizing your mobile content. Marissa Mayer, who is responsible for Google’s ‘Local’ service, last year claimed that while 20% of Google searches made on a desktop were local, this jumped to 40% when talking about mobile searches. Including local elements into both your mobile pages and your keyword strategy is crucial to the success of any campaign that you envisage attracting local custom.

In a multi-channel world, you could then make personalised offerings to the user, depending on where he or she currently is and what his or her purchase and user behaviour was like in the past.

One of the most striking differences between a mobile and a desktop searcher is the length of the sales cycle, from initial search to purchase. On a desktop, a shopper will take an average of one week from searching for a product or service, to making the purchase. For a mobile shopper this time period falls dramatically to just one hour. Those searching for restaurant deals, for example, typically want to make a decision within one hour, while 87% say they plan to make a purchase within a day. Research from Microsoft backs this up – it reports that 70% of PC based searches are completed within a week, while the same percentage of mobile searches are completed within a day.

What this means for marketers is that they must make the search process and the information that it leads to on the web page as precise and as immediate as possible. Make calls to action and contact points clear and easy to reach.

Consumers are often in a very different frame of mind when searching for information on their mobile versus their desktop. They are looking for a faster, more immediately relevant experience, and marketers must remember this when devising a mobile strategy so as not to miss out on golden opportunities.

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