Emerging TechnologyMobileMobile Trends and Search Optimization: Why Aren’t We Catching Up?

Mobile Trends and Search Optimization: Why Aren’t We Catching Up?

As mobile search continues to grow at a rapid pace, we cannot miss the opportunity to become better mobile search practitioners.

When I think of the current state of mobile search practices, my mind flashes to dog racing. I’m not particularly a fan, but the image of those dogs chasing a mechanical rabbit reminds me of the current state of mobile search. Right now, the mobile consumer is the rabbit and marketers and technologists are the dogs – everyone’s moving quickly and trying to keep up the pace.

Mobile purchases are expected to outpace desktop purchases in the near future. Juniper Research estimated that annual retail payments on mobile handsets and tablets should reach $707 billion by 2018. Yet, according to Uberflip, only 25 percent of brands have a mobile strategy. If mobile marketing is the coming supernova it’s expected to be, why aren’t more enterprises first-movers in the mobile space?

Mobile Consumer Behavior

Fifty-five percent of all time spent with online retail in June 2013 occurred on a mobile device. Add to that comScore’s assertion that just more than 50 percent of time spent engaging with websites is being done on a mobile device, and you can see that paid, organic, and site optimization for mobile are paramount to global search success.

With thanks to mobiThinking.com, here are some additional data points regarding mobile behavior, specifically mobile search behavior:

  • 25 percent of overall search queries are now on mobile devices. – BIA/Kelsey (April 2014).
  • In the U.S., mobile accounted for 34.2 percent of all paid search clicks in December 2013. It is expected to be 42 percent by December 2014 and 50 percent by December 2015. – Marin Software (March 2014)
  • 58.7 percent of smartphone users access search; 73.9 percent of tablet users access search. – ComScore Mobile Future in Focus (March 2013).
  • During the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, 60 to 65 percent of Olympics-related searches were performed on a smartphone or tablet. – Google (April 2014).
  • The number of calls to businesses driven by mobile search is growing at 42 percent per annum and is predicted to fuel a staggering 65 billion calls in 2016. – BIA/Kelsey (April 2014).

To further push the notion that mobile search needs our full attention, Yahoo and Kenshoo partnered to survey 350 global marketers about their mobile marketing practices earlier this year. They revealed a stark reminder that multiscreen behavior is being driven by a negative impression of the mobile experience.

This is the first reason there aren’t more first-movers. Marketers have been lagging when it comes to taking ownership over their mobile presence. As the BIA/Kelsey report showed, more than half of all mobile shoppers are low-funnel, high-intent buyers while searching. But if they arrive on a search result, landing page, or site not optimized for mobile use – click, they’re gone. Solutions such as responsive Web design should make it easy to deploy mobile. So, where are we failing our mobile search audience? Part of the disconnect lies with search optimization practices.

Mobile Optimization: Thoughts to Consider

While many brands recognize the need for mobile optimization, adoption drop-off remains high because of a lack of cohesive, device-driven, activity-based strategies. Here are some of the more prominent issues facing mobile optimization neophytes.

  1. Consumers still buy locally. U.S. e-commerce still represents less than 10 percent of all retail spending, with the balance usually completed within 10 to 15 miles from home. What’s changed is that mobile and Web searches are being used to find brick-and-mortar goods and services that will be purchased in-store. So, while online conversions are great, the reality is that we must optimize for offline conversions as much if not more heavily right now. How do we generate a call to the store? Can we drive a visit through our mobile presence? Effective optimization recognizes the pathways that connect search behavior to in-store activity. 
  2. Paid campaigns and site optimization deserve focus. Organic listings are being pushed further down the screen, below the fold, and Google has indicated that click-through rate (CTR) drops substantially after position four. While organic optimization is still relevant, a focus on paid campaigns and site structure is probably going to result in better return on investment (ROI).
  3. Authoring boosts results. Structured authoring for mobile, as it is for desktop applications, enables quick viewing and rapid response. What is the task at hand, what is the concept being delivered, what is the reference? The general objectives remain the same for both formats. However, the intent of the mobile user is very different from the “lean back” desktop user. Therefore, search optimization is dependent on authoring that renders a result that encompasses low-funnel criteria mobile users invoke such as price, dimensions, inventory, etc. 
  4. Tagging for mobile activities. Tags targeting the nature of high-intent consumers will be more effective in mobile than for desktop. What do they want while searching for solutions? Quick, hard facts that can lead to a purchase or further activity within 60 minutes. Local calls-to-action, though a seemingly obvious tactic, aren’t being considered when marketers create mobile campaigns. There still remains a lot of desktop mentality during migration to mobile search marketing when it comes to tagging landing and site pages. 
  5. Click- to- call features for all mobile sites. The rise of click-to-call appeal to mobile consumers has been met with a stunning lack of deployment by many brands. Search is inexorably linked with inbound calls on a local level. For many services (IT, financial services, home improvement, especially) and complex goods verticals, qualifying calls to local merchants are required to make a sale. Therefore, it makes sense to leverage mobile search (site, paid and organic) with click-to-call functionality.

The second reason there aren’t more first-movers into the mobile marketing space is the Hummingbird-spawned move to semantic search.

How Semantic Search Influences Mobile Optimization

The evolution of semantic search poses the same challenges for mobile as it does for desktop. But mobile searchers are typically more oriented to navigational searches than research searches. In other words, they are using search to retrieve actionable information, such as a store location or product price, rather than attempting to explore any resource for information about an unknown. Therefore, the contextual attributes that exist for mobile semantic search are more likely to be structured around factors like geo-location and prior browsing activity.


Remember, we want to develop content that meets the two readability standards: those of the user and spider. The user is looking for action, while the spider is looking for relevance. Just as with desktop, Hummingbird has moved mobile optimization to a contextual approach. So metadata, page content, site structure, etc. that are built around conversational queries will tend to have better visibility and higher engagement.

For example, site pages filled with action-driving copy like “protect your skin” and “limit sun exposure” on clickable content within a skin care mobile site provides context for search engines and engagement for visitors.

Semantic search will drive localized SERPs. This, in turn, drives the need for sharper location-based optimization, which serves a more personalized experience that meets the local consumer on their terms, using their devices to shop locally.

Page Design Impact

On-page elements enable the user experience. Effective element attribution can lower the historically high abandonment rates by mobile users. Rendering instructions deploy page design elements, such as font size and color, background, white space, and other on-page characteristics. Mobile users seek a formatted page that fully displays on the horizontal axis and has robust functionality. Page rendering should quickly adapt to mobile access. Load speed is incredibly important, so is element positioning. Clean design attributes like simple navigation, concise copy, and lean imagery help drive mobile engagement. “Heavy” content such as video feeds must quickly orient, load, and stream seamlessly.

Mobile searchers look for different content cues on devices. Buttons, sliders, and image links move traffic on a smartphone. (Beware, the same doesn’t hold true for feature phones.) HTML5-designed mobile sites rely heavily on CSS3 to deliver unique page views across smartphones, feature phones, tablets, and phablets. But you don’t have to be immersed in code to optimize for mobile deployment. Best-in-breed tools like Adobe’s Muse CC makes it easy for Web design neophytes to create a mobile site without code.

When it comes to page design, you should consider that searchers may use multiple devices for one purpose. For example, a person searching for a new vehicle on his smartphone during a lunch break may wish to return to a page on the home desktop after work. Chrome’s multi-device features make this easy. Responsive design (or dedicated mobile sites) allows you to deliver the appropriate page layout for each device. Optimizing for multi-device search flow enables a better user experience with your brand.


Google has shown us that social activity, while not an official ranking factor yet, is a signal that must be accounted for in the mobile space. Semantic search optimization is important in your social campaigns as well. Social activity that is optimized for mobile viewing gets more engagement, leading to higher visibility through indexing relevancy. (Hint: video, apps, images, and links that connect followers to other mobile-centric content is typically more effective when it comes to mobile ranking.)

Within the desktop environment, search has long been the primary conduit providing a path for our brands to reach consumers. The time where we must put emphasis on our mobile search marketing practices is here. The mobile generation has sprouted quickly and is demanding. We’ve got to adapt to the change that this movement has thrust upon us.

So, focus on consumer intent, location, device, and time of day when we develop search campaigns. Create a search optimization strategy that continues to serve the spiders but enables end-user consumption through a variety of formats, for a variety of purposes, and in a variety of settings. As mobile search grows to its expected levels, we cannot miss the opportunity to become better mobile search practitioners.

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