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Mobile Search or Display: Which Model Fits Your Business?

  |  October 11, 2011   |  Comments

Is your goal to drive local leads and website traffic or increase local exposure and brand awareness?

Undoubtedly, mobile's unprecedented growth is causing marketers to entertain the thought of smartphone and tablet advertising. Mobile's ability to reach consumers with immediacy, personal relevance, and local specificity - all at the point of purchase - is raising eyebrows, as marketers realize what that means for their bottom lines.

Naturally, a marketer's inclination is to channel a do-it-yourself mentality and dive in with zealous vigor. But with any "new" medium also comes a level of consternation and bewilderment over its nuances and unfamiliarity. A common perplexity is whether to choose mobile search or display.

Mobile Search

If your goals are to drive local leads and website traffic, then test mobile-local search. In fact, mobile search complements those goals, considering that typical mobile users have serious, immediate intent, which is further underscored by mobile's secondary-action rates being among the highest. In other words, mobile users search - resulting in higher clicks and calls - with the intent to soon visit and purchase (in person).

A locally-optimized mobile-search presence consists of two components: organic business listings and paid listings. Typically, organic listings for mobile are automatically rendered from the data you submit to directory sites, place pages, business profiles, etc. on the traditional Internet. Those parties make sure your content appears properly on mobile, but it's your job to make sure your data is updated, distributed, and optimized with local content. To that end, I highly recommend following your local-search best practices for organic listings, business profiles, and place pages.

The second component, sponsored listings, defies the stigma that consumers prefer organic versus paid content. Due to mobile's limited screen size, the location of your ads is more important than ever, but ranking in the top organic search results can be very difficult compared to the traditional web. With mobile paid search, businesses can leapfrog organic listings with a premium-placed sponsored listing in both browser- and app-based search results.

Whereas sponsored listings on desktops may be overlooked, they'll garner more attention on mobile because they're at the top - so long as they're relevant to users. Consider the average mobile user: hurried and devoid of time for endless searching and scrolling, that user wants relevant business information quickly, meaning a paid listing at the top can yield key consideration in the purchase process.

Sponsored listings can also be enhanced with extras for increased marketplace presence: links to mobile sites or landing pages with business info, click to call, mapping, and turn-by-turn navigation. They can even be enhanced with local offers/promotions, whereas organic content is non-promotional in nature. Because of the customization sponsored listings offer, conduct split testing to see how your copy performs among select audiences. For example, include in one version a promo code for a discount on what you offer, while another can feature a business tagline or differentiator (e.g., "Voted the Top Moving Company in 2011," "Best Rates Guaranteed - Call Today," or "Quality Services Fast").

Perhaps the biggest advantage of sponsored listings is the advent of new pricing structures. Through performance-based advertising, you only pay for the leads you receive, plus the leads could be immediate due to the nature of mobile search. And that can be a tremendous draw for advertisers who, with strapped budgets, can test mobile's ROI impact without major financial risk.

Mobile Display

If your goal is to increase local exposure and brand awareness, then try mobile-display ads, which are proving highly effective as response rates (CTR) have shown to be nearly 10 times greater than their online counterparts. Effectiveness is partially influenced by the smaller screen; thus, if a display ad is visible, consumers are definitely going to see it.

Another big reason for the increased effectiveness is that consumers find display highly relevant based on mobile's ability to offer better, sophisticated targeting unavailable on computers: location, time, handset, behaviors, preferences, and a variety of variables. Because relevance is boosting performance, you can take advantage of higher CTR by linking banner ads to a mobile-search component - a landing page locally optimized with a map, driving directions, ratings, reviews, and even a lead form. That's a formula for generating leads on top of exposure and awareness.

But if display is done alone - without a search component - success is left to be measured by increased awareness, which can be difficult to gauge on your own. In other words, tying in search helps businesses understand the effects of generating brand/ad impressions via display. Just be prepared to run and test several campaigns to see if your results measure up.

Conclusion: Try Both

Studies have shown that response rates increase when different forms of advertising are combined. The same holds true for mobile. In fact, both search and display are key components to a mobile-local presence. If done in a concerted fashion, display can boost search, creating a sure-fire way to dominate local-market exposure.

See the example I have included here to demonstrate how sponsored listings and display ads - generated by keyword and location relevance - can boost a business' in-app search presence amidst the real-estate shortage that is the mobile screen.


Pricing has made search and display more attractive and affordable. If using an agency or network, you can typically get both at package pricing, along with other inclusions such as keyword matching, site development, real-time analytics, and ongoing optimization. Aim for comprehensive solutions that give you more bang for your buck.

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Craig Hagopian

Craig Hagopian is responsible for driving xAd's sales, advertising partnerships, and marketing operations within the local-mobile marketplace. He possesses more than 20 years of experience in sales and consumer-marketing leadership for hardware and service-based companies in the PC, wireless, and broadband-Internet sectors.

Hagopian previously served as chief marketing officer at Axesstel - a CDMA-terminal manufacturing company - where he oversaw sales, marketing, and new-product development, as well as investor and media activities that included securing $7 million in funding and transitioning Axesstel to a public company. While there, Hagopian also improved the company's earnings by 70 percent through wireless-carrier account acquisitions.

Prior to Axesstel, Hagopian held management positions at AIR2LAN, a regional provider of broadband-Internet services. Even earlier, he served wireless-data-messaging entity SkyTel Communications as general manager, vice president, and senior director, developing consumer strategies and building partnerships with major retailers and telecommunication providers. Finally, at Epson America, Hagopian served as manager of market planning and product management, a position that enabled him to author the market-entry plan for a $150-million, multimedia product line.

Applying his veteran leadership in the local-mobile and search spaces, Hagopian is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Southern California and a master's degree from Duke University - both in business administration. He currently lives in San Diego with his wife and two children.

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