Mobile Search: It's Different

This article is co-authored by Jennifer Wise, senior analyst at Forrester

Mobile search is essential. In fact, according to Forrester's Mobile Audience Data, Q4 2015, 87% of US smartphone owners rely on browser-based search on mobile devices. And the data reveals that Google's search engine is the most common path to a mobile site even for well-known brands such as Amazon, Walmart and Kmart.

As a top discovery resource, companies can't afford to wait any longer to implement mobile-first search strategies. The biggest seen mistake today? Either lacking a strategy completely, or treating mobile search the same way as desktop search.

As Forrester's Dr. James McQuivey says, "When businesses first adopt a technology, they do old things in new ways. When they internalize a technology, they begin to do new things."

Consumers use mobile phones very differently than they use desktop computers. So must marketers.

Forrester conducted an in-depth analysis of how consumers use Google search on mobile versus desktop devices to parse-out how consumers use the two devices differently. Today, Forrester finds that consumers purchase a range of categories on their smartphones: insurance, travel, financial services products, and even pet food. For this research we focused on the travel category because consumers are so likely to research and book travel on mobile devices - Forrester's Mobile Audience Online Survey, Q4 2015 reveals that 29% of mobile users have purchased hotel rooms and 22% an airline ticket on their smartphone.

To build on our Forrester insights, we looked at Google's data and discovered that when it comes to mobile searching:

  • Location is essential. With digital resources always at their fingertips through mobile, customers have shifted from planning to acting - they do things at the last minute and seek to satisfy their spontaneity. Mobile devices are commonly used for generic, unbranded "near me" searches - such as "cheap hotels near me" and "pet friendly hotels near me." Even the branded searches tap into location as the consumer wants to find the local options.

  • Immediacy matters. When a consumer needs something now - like a ride to the airport or to dinner, they depend on their mobile. Results showed that searches for on-demand services over index on mobile devices - such as taxi and bus services, destination activities (e.g., zoos, theme parks), and last minute flights.
  • Immediate need can outrank brand loyalty. In some travel categories, Google data revealed growth in unbranded searches outpacing the growth in brand searches. In fact, this is the case for key travel-related categories like flights and car rentals. Even high involvement categories, like vacation packages, show high growth in non-brand searches on mobile, over searching for specific brands.
  • Mobile searchers demand more information for high-ticket exploration... In the early days, consumers used mobile search to find quick-hit information or get in touch with customer service allowing marketers to provide only shallow mobile experiences. Today, they are adding to their mobile information needs and searching for high ticket items too like hotel rooms, plane tickets and car rentals.
  • ...but complex research is still left to the desktop. Consumers will rely on their mobile devices for almost any information need today, but they will leave complex tasks that can wait until they get back online at home. In the travel category, Google data revealed that while high consideration research is growing on mobile- desktop still rules. For example desktop searches for purchasing travel insurance, filling out forms, and house swaps outpace mobiles'.
  • So - what does this mean for you, marketers? Forrester suggests that your mobile search strategy needs to:

    • Optimize for intent. Expect new keywords to come from your mobile searcher as they add-in modifiers - such as "near me" - and work those into you SEO strategy. Also expect for the same keyword to signal different intent when it comes to mobile. A search for a hotel may be part of a consumer seeking the best deal or nicest amenities during the "explore" phase on their desktop, but on mobile it may mean they want its location, cheapest prices, and availabilities for that day.

  • Deliver on immediacy with your results. Your user wants to take an action - make it easy for them too. After discerning their intent, make sure you SERPs (search engine result page) deliver that content whether it's to call, book a room, or search for flights in a click - or less.
  • Don't rest on your loyalty laurels. In-the-moment intent surpasses branded search. As a result, it levels the playing field for discovery and creates new opportunities to fuel brand discovery based on local intent. While good news for some, for other brands banking on loyalty it means simply: don't do that. Refine your mobile SEO strategy to compete with unbranded search.
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