The future of search is in your hands

It’s currently cheaper, highly targeted, delivers results quicker and is taking over the world: how many more reasons do businesses need to mobilise their search offering?


The internet is going mobile. In the final quarter of last year more smartphones than PCs were shipped and already marketers can expect anything between 12% and 20% of searches in their sector to originate on a mobile device, according to Google.

Morgan Stanley is predicting this rise in penetration will lead to mobile search overtaking desktop in 2013. So it is unsurprising that many brands are already seeking to understand this relatively new medium better.

Experts are warning brands they should not simply expect to transfer desktop campaigns directly into the mobile channel, because user behaviour can be different. Typically, mobile search terms will be shorter, due to the constraints of a smaller screen, and the smaller keyboard means typing errors and abbreviations are more common. Carphone Warehouse, for example, estimates that when such errors and abbreviations are factored in, it can get clicks through mobile search that cost as little as a third of the price of an average desktop click.

Timing is also different. Most mobile searches are concentrated in the morning before work and then again in the evening when people are not in front of a PC. Mobile is also a far more time-sensitive channel. Google research has shown that the average time between initial customer research and purchase is a month on the desktop but just an hour on mobile.

It is these subtle differences that make mobile search all the more worth exploring, according to Scott Gallacher, chairman of the Marketing Society Digital Network. He claims brands can do more in mobile for less budget because competition for keywords is less fierce than in desktop search, bringing down cost per click (CPC) and cost per acquisition (CPA). The latest technology offered by search engines is making mobile a great way of interacting with an audience using live, relevant information.

“Campaigns are regularly achieving 30-40% cheaper CPAs on mobile versus desktop and are already contributing 15-25% of companies’ overall search traffic,” he says. “Leaders in the field are using dynamic ad insertion to include price and other details based on user time and location that take advantage of not only the immediacy of the medium but the location.”

There are also major gains to be had through a less technologically advanced feature that all smartphones share; the ability to make calls. By returning a search advert that allows prospects to ’click to call’ a sales adviser, brands are able to drive down the cost of acquisition further still.

This has certainly been the experience of Simon England, managing director at gap car insurance provider, ALA, who has been working with digital agency, Return on Digital, to target an outdoor market. Gap insurance is an additional policy to normal car insurance that makes up the difference between the market value an insurance company pays out for a written off or stolen car, and the full cost of the vehicle as new. Dealers often use it as a means of making a bigger margin on sales.

“We’ve been using mobile for the past few months to bring our CPA down by about 40%,” says England. “We’re converting between 30% and 40% of people who click through to call. They are usually at a car dealer and so are interested in buying, and seeing if we can offer a better price. That conversion rate is three or four times better than people coming to the website.

“We’re hoping to use geotargeting soon to discover where someone is and offer them a local dialling code because we’ve found people are more willing to call our York dialling code number than they are an 0845 code, so local calls are obviously an incentive.”

Florida holiday specialist Ocean Holidays has had a similar experience. Marketing director Harry Hastings says the travel agent is regularly paying a similar fee to get a ’click to call’ lead as it is for a general click on its website. However, with callers three times more likely to convert, it is proving a profitable channel, with one proviso.

“We’re going to start working with our search agency, Tug, to make it a lot clearer in our advertising copy that people are placing a call by clicking on the link,” he says.

“We’re seeing a high dropout rate, of between 20-30% of people who click but then hang up, presumably because they didn’t realise they were starting a call, so that needs attention.”

Campaigns are regularly achieving 30-40% cheaper CPAs on mobile versus desktop

Mobile also offers a very good way of reaching people when they are not in front of a PC. Data from search engine companies shows mobile search peaks follow an intuitive pattern, with commuting hours being the busiest periods, followed by mid to late evening.

For Absolute Radio, and its digital agency Albion, this is opening up a segment of its audience that is normally hard to reach.

“Around 10% of radio streaming is to a mobile device, so it’s an obvious channel for us,” says Absolute chief operating officer Clive Dickens.

However, we see it as underlining us as a media publisher and so we have 30 apps for different interests. The main one we push through mobile search is our live football scores app because, particularly on a Saturday, our key audience is so-called ’reluctant adults’ being dragged around shops and we couldn’t reach them any other way.

“Given that the average time for our average user to spend in-app is 50 minutes on a Saturday, it opens up a very lucrative advertising market. So we time bidding to ensure we’re in front of our audience Wednesday to Friday evenings and before and during Saturday’s football games.”

For Rank Interactive’s head of acquisition John Davis, the nature of the mobile channel means that it needs to offer more inducement to attract sign-ups to its Mecca Bingo app than it does to win new customers on its website when accessed from a desktop. Hence the campaigns it runs through its agency, Positive Digital, offer more generous terms than their desktop equivalent.

“We have to be very careful about giving away money because, as you can imagine, you can end up attracting a low-value audience who just use their free credits and don’t come back,” he says.

“So we don’t tend to give away money on desktop search, but with mobile we need to help people over the hurdle of downloading our app and then registering their personal details on a small keyboard, so we find we have a lot more success when we offer £5 worth of free play.”
However, for Paul Flynn, online marketing manager at Jury’s Inn, the opposite can be true – while people on the move need content tailored to them, they do not always need an offer.

“The mobile’s a much more immediate channel than the desktop,” he says. “So if someone’s searching for ’Heathrow airport hotel’, you can be pretty certain they’re in the market for a hotel that day and so we’re less likely to offer a special rate; we’re less price-led in our mobile search marketing. We do, however, concentrate on special landing pages for each hotel to bring out its business credentials more than its leisure appeal.”

Of course, paid-for search is only one half of the mobile search landscape. Many brands are investing in natural search on the mobile versions of their websites to attract clicks without having to pay directly for them.

VoucherCloud founder Greg le Tocq reveals that the brand has been posting a constant supply of vouchers containing the key phrase ’mobile’ to ensure it has been in top natural search spot for nearly all searches relating to ’mobile vouchers’. Getting relevant links from the likes of Orange, C4 and The Daily Telegraph has helped greatly as well.

SEO may not be given the same priority on mobile as desktop for a lot of brands, but as mobile becomes more prominent this will change, believes Stuart Bryce, search marketing manager for O2. “The Google mobile ’bot’ will become increasingly prominent and powerful as more sites become mobile,” he predicts.

“The better people’s mobile experience, the more they will access content via their mobile devices, meaning search engines will give mobile search increased focus.

“At O2 we fed SEO best practice into the development of our mobile site ( from a very early stage. A lot of this best practice was learnt from our main domain, but we also worked hard on the important mobile ranking factors such as page load speed, URL structure, and reduced keyword content which are all crucial for ranking well in mobile search.”

This has also been the approach at John Lewis. Its involvement in mobile paid search has seen the keywords it bids on rise from 400,000 to more than two million in less than a year. Meanwhile in natural mobile search the retailer is working with search agency iCrossing to ensure it also gets as many natural clicks as possible, explains Emma McLaughlin, manager of acquisitions and retention at John Lewis.

“It’s important to back up paid activity with SEO because one-in-four of the people who come through to our mobile site go on to search for their nearest store, which is a very encouraging sign,” she says. “So for anyone considering whether they should engage in pay-per-click and SEO on mobile I’d ask, why not? With PPC you only pay for a click and it’s cheaper than on a desktop; why wouldn’t you? With SEO you’re effectively getting clicks for free.

“The good news is that mobile is a medium where it’s not too late to join in. Nobody’s got it nailed yet because it’s a changing environment and there’s lots of research and free opinion to read so you can get up to speed fairly quickly.”

Those who have yet to optimise a mobile version of their website and engage in mobile search PPC campaigns may take heart from the fact that they are not alone. The crucial factor to bear in mind, however, is that the only difference in opinion between analysts is when mobile search will overtake desktop search. Not if.



Andrew French

SEO manager

Epiphany Solutions

Search on mobile is heading more towards local search, which is gathering momentum as search engines place more emphasis on local listings, targeting mobile users at a local level using geo-location, then matching that to their searches and combining with maps.

The other side of mobile search is strongly based around social media. More time is now spent on social media on mobile than via the desktop, so this is a huge market. Many companies are seeing the error of their ways in jumping on the social media bandwagon too soon and wasting time and money pursuing social circles that don’t exist. Now, we’re able to target very small groups with ads and targeted content through social media on mobile and create bespoke mobile solutions that tap into new demographics.

With mobile you can be very specific about who you target and why, and that ability is only going to grow. By creating new mobile channels, you can bolster existing campaigns and use them as a method of link acquisition to strengthen existing SEO campaigns or use them to increase traffic to other online channels.

One of these new channels is click-to-call, although its importance depends on the type of business in which it’s used. In the financial sector, for example, it’s almost imperative, as products such as insurance are tailored to individuals and require the collection of a lot of data. On the other hand, if you’re a retailer, any call from a customer will probably be a complaint and will cause expense.

The two types of search marketing familiar from the desktop world, pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimisation (SEO), will continue to be related in the mobile space, but they won’t have as much influence on each other. Mobile PPC is in its infancy and it’s not progressing at the same speed as on desktop. Consumer attitudes are also not as developed; people don’t expect to see paid-for ads on mobile, and it will take time for them to accept them.

As for mobile SEO, this doesn’t exist as a standalone product, it’s part of an integrated SEO campaign. If you create a really good mobile site, it’s a great form of link-building. Users will more readily share on a mobile device because it’s easier, creating links that are the core of SEO.

Topline trends

  • Optimise a mobile site to perform well. IAB research shows 61% of consumers will not revisit a mobile site which does not allow them to complete their task.
  • Ensure you actually mean to run mobile search campaigns. Many brands inadvertently allow desktop search campaigns to spill over in to mobile..
  • Consider bidding on appropriate abbreviations and likely typos. There are far more of these in mobile than in desktop search.
  • Make search advertising copy relevant. Simply adding the word ’mobile’ to campaign creative improves click through rates by 80%, says Google.
  • Investigate new tools, particularly hyper-local. Mobile is an immediate channel via which people expect local information. Google research shows average research-to-purchase cycles on desktop are one month, on mobile just an hour.



Gareth Jones

Head of online marketing

Carphone Warehouse

According to [digital market intelligence service] comScore, 54% of in-store purchases in our category are researched through a mobile search at some point and so that makes being visible on the channel highly important for us. Mobile accounts for something like 12% of our traffic and one in five searches for consumer electronics are made on a mobile, according to Google.

So we see it as a vital channel to reach out to the research-online, purchase-offline (ROPO) market. That’s why we have been doing a lot of work with our digital marketing agency, Efficient Frontier, to geolocate people and give them local results.

So if someone is searching for a particular phone, we’ll let them know where their nearest store is and what deals there are on that phone that they can get there, right now. They can also click through to get a map of where the store is, as well as a lot more product details with just one click.

We can’t actually track how many people go into the store and purchase offline, but we believe the channel is performing a vital role in driving footfall in our stores. The good news is clicks are about 60% cheaper than desktop searches even though two in three searches are only one or two words long, which would cost a lot more in desktop.

We get a lot of very cheap clicks from bidding on misspellings and abbreviations, such as CPW, which do not have a lot of competition but have high volumes because the nature of mobile is people misspell and go for the shortest possible search terms.


Jon Mew,

Head of mobile


Mobile search is up an impressive 172% year-on-year to a total spend of £55m in 2010 and shows no signs of slowing down. At IAB’s Mobile Engage event in June, Google announced that some sectors, such as entertainment, are already seeing 18% of total searches coming though mobile.

In fact, Google outlined how mobile’s share of total searches was up by between 200% and 250% in several key sectors such as travel, retail and technology. This growth presents a number of new opportunities and challenges for brands and there are some exciting new formats available.

Click-to-call goes beyond just linking to a site to link straight through to a call centre, while hyper-local allows brands to tell searchers where their nearest store is. This is important because one in three searches on a mobile has ’location intent’.

Voice search is a new facility that Google claims accounts for one in four searches on a mobile, although this could be through their app. Even so, that’s pretty staggering and obviously has potential implications for the kind of keywords you need to use.

You can now search on mobile by taking pictures, too. People can photograph products in store and compare prices online. Google is working with advertisers to enable outdoor ads to link to mobile sites when snapped with its Google Goggles app.

When booking mobile search it’s crucial to ensure consumer experience is optimised for mobile. Not only is it wasted spend if customers can’t complete their task, 61% say they wouldn’t visit that site again.



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