Everything’s Local in Mobile Search

Though more online advertising is moving to wireless devices, mobile local search is still in its infancy. But it is catching up rapidly in some business categories and will soon be an essential channel for merchants seeking to drive business from local search.

Today, 70.2 percent of the U.S. population has mobile phones, according to CTIA. Consumers have two choices for local searches on mobile phones and PDAs: SMS (define) or browser-based searches. Each is great at serving a different kind of search need.

Tools Tailored to Search Requirements

Maybe you already use SMS for those quick information hits we sometimes crave, such as weather, sports scores, and stock quotes. The technology has hit the mainstream, with 13.6 percent of mobile subscribers receiving at least one SMS ad in 2006, according to M-Metrics.

Typically, consumers do browser-based searches when they have more time or want more subjective types of information than they’ll find in an SMS search. For example, a browser-based search can help find restaurants with reviews at Yahoo.

Segment growth has been taking off too, along with media attention. In 2006, U.S. advertisers plunked down $4.8 billion, or 2.6 percent of total ad spending, on mobile ads. That’s expected to grow to 12 percent in 2011, according to eMarketer.

You can mark 2006 down as the year mobile advertising went from an experimental media to a proven one.

Local Marketing Choices

Where should advertisers and merchants look to make inroads into mobile local search? SMS has some advantages over Web-based browser searches.

First, only about half of U.S. mobile phones are enabled for WAP (define), the technology needed for browser-based searches. Second, data transfer is faster through SMS, so users are more likely to get a better overall experience.

Companies like 4INFO and go2 offer mobile search ads on a CPM (define) basis. They allow you to take advantage of all the measurability associated with traditional Web-based advertising, such as targeting by past usage and geography.

Pizza Is Easy; Others Are Catching On

Something north of 10 percent of mobile searches are for local businesses, or “directory-based queries.” A big percentage are for restaurants and pizza places in particular. Next in popularity is a group that includes taxis, banks, and queries for specific companies, such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Target, Blockbuster, and Costco.

Other categories will become more widespread as two things happen: consumers become more aware of the capability and the companies that compile listings for local merchants expand their databases of dentists, doctors, florists, and other businesses.

Some businesses can generate a return more quickly from mobile local search. If your business is in a category that benefits heavily from impulse buying, mobile could be a great fit.

People won’t make car purchase decisions based on mobile searches, but they will use their PDAs to find the nearest oil-change center, gas station, florist, ATM, or restaurant for a given ethnic cuisine.

What’s Next

If some of the many regional and niche directories want to extend their local search, product-offering partnerships with companies such as 4INFO might be a good play. 4INFO has good technology and usage, and the local directories have the advertisers in local areas.

Brian is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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