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IgnitionOne exec: Retailers are quickly moving budget into mobile search

Some of the leading retailers in mobile search are Amazon, eBay, Apple, Target, Best Buy and Walgreens, according to panelists on the “Why retailers and brands must get mobile search right”webinar. While these merchants have made strong first steps, there is still significant room for improvement in how merchants leverage mobile search, which is expected to outpace desktop search in a few years.

“Our clients have been quickly moving budget towards mobile search,” said Roger Barnette, president of IgnitionOne, New York.

“These are big sophisticated marketers and understand the higher engagement we see on tablets, especially for retailers,” he said.

“Once a retailer understands how behavior on devices is different than on PCs, we see the light bulb click on.

In-store searchers
While Amazon and eBay are doing a great job of being present on all platforms that a searcher might be on, they are both missing opportunities by not using switchboard tags, per Bryson Meunier, director of search engine optimization strategy at Resolution Media, Chicago.

Mr. Meunier points to Sports Authority as one retailer that is getting mobile search right by foregrounding the ability to find a nearby store on the home page of their Web site for mobile searchers. The chain also uses switchboard tags to ensure Google understands how the mobile site relates to the desktop site.

“They understand that many mobile searchers – and mobile shoppers in general – are going to be in-store and looking for the best price, so they are making it easier for them to find Sears prices on items around them,” Mr. Meunier said.

The big players
Google, Apple, Bing and Amazon all set the tone for mobile search.

While Google remains the leader and is well positioned on mobile, the space is moving quickly and its hold is not permanent, so marketers need to be aware of what the other players are doing.

Google’s move to Enhanced Campaigns will make it harder to target campaigns by device and could also lead to higher costs for mobile search.

“Before Enhanced Campaigns came out, we saw a lot of marketers pushing campaigns to all devices and really using the same bidding structure and they were really missing out on an opportunity to take advantage of cheaper CPCs on mobile,” said Dennis House, senior search strategist at R/GA, New York.

“With enhanced campaigns, it is really an attempt by Google to close the gap on CPCs between desktop and mobile so that the window that we have to take advantage of this is closing quickly but it is certainly still there,” he said.

Amazon is a powerhouse in product search and worth watching as its advertising play gains share.

Additionally, YouTube, Facebook, Yelp and Twitter are increasingly being used as primary search engines on mobile.

The in-store equation
The panelists discussed why mobile search is key to in-store and mobile sales, with consumers increasingly using their mobile phones to find relevant information to guide purchase decisions when they are in retail stores and at home.

Research from Strategy Analytics shows that 67 percent of smartphone users and 14 percent of feature phone users engage in shopping-related activities such as product research and price comparison while in store.

Additional research from R/GA shows that 39 percent of consumers who walk out of a store without making a purchase were influenced by smartphone usage.

“Since we know they are already looking up information via mobile devices in-store, mobile search targeting is a natural way for brands to stay top-of-mind to consumers when they are in a purchasing mindset,” R/GA’s Mr. House said.

Per Resolution Media’s Mr. Meunier, the path to purchase today is like going across a high precipice over a rope ladder where the end of the ladder represents a conversion and each run represents an optimized experience on some platform.

If any one of the rungs is broken, a retailer could lose the conversion.

“Because of this, understanding and optimizing for mobile search today is as important to in-store and mobile sales as optimizing for desktop or broadcasting an ad on television,” Mr. Meunier said. “Without any one of them, the consumer is not able to convert, and the sale is lost.”

Mobile search is different
To make the most of mobile search opportunities, marketers need to understand how mobile search is different from PC search.

In mobile, users are likely to be on the move with less time to read results and potentially feel a greater urgency to find answers. As a result, location and time can help qualify user needs.

Often, users are trying to quickly look up information to solve a problem and are searching using shorter terms, meaning marketers need to tailor their search terms to reflect this behavior. Users are more likely to be action-oriented and using keywords such as “buy” or “reviews on.”

Also it is important to keep in mind that mobile users can also use voice search and are likely to click-to-call or use maps more readily than those conducting searches on PCs.

Additionally, mobile search can be used any time of day, with spikes in mobile search happening when users are away from the desktops, for example during community hours.

Another difference is that mobile search takes place on a smaller screen so there is limited real estate to view organic results and ads.

“When a user searches on a mobile device that intent is often completely different,” IgnitionOne’s Mr. Barnette said.

“At home if I search for pizza I may be looking for a recipe or menus but if I am walking down the street and search pizza, I want to know where to get a slice,” he said.

“Not only intent, but behavior is also different by device, especially tablets which see very high engagement. In Q1 we saw tablet users on average spent 17 percent more time on-site and had 9 percent higher engagement scores than PC users on average.”

Mobile optimization
When it comes to organic and search engine optimization on mobile, marketers need to make sure their Web site is optimized for mobile users and the mobile site is indexed by relevant search engines.

Many are using responsive Web design to optimize their sites for mobile. When going this route, it is important to not leave out content addressing specific mobile needs.

However, responsive Web design also presents some challenges.

“One of the increasingly important tips is not using responsive Web design as a blanket approach to mobile SEO,” R/GA’s Mr. House said.

“There are a lot of cases where if you take your current Web site design and make it responsive and call it a day, you are going to end up missing out on opportunities to address mobile-specific search needs,” he said.

The key is making sure a site is providing the information most needed, meaning information that will be useful for someone on the go, such as address, phone numbers, hours and model numbers.

Other tips include keeping in mind that mobile ranking algorithms differ from desktop, optimizing for action-oriented keywords and site load times since mobile users are impatient and insuring that meta tags on mobile phones are shorter and highly relevant.

Marketers may also want to have a Google+Local , as 15 percent of local searchers find businesses through social networking.

“Search engine optimization at the core is providing the information most needed,” IgnitionOne’s Mr. Barnette said.

“It is important to have the information on your site that will be useful for someone on the go,” he said.

“Especially for smartphones, the screen size limits ad copy and number of ad units – this represents an opportunity and challenge. The consumer searching on a smartphone is thinking about immediacy – your ad copy should reflect that.”

Effective campaigns
When it comes to conducting mobile search campaigns effectively, marketers need to look at which mobile search network provides the right audience, optimize the landing page, harmonize the campaign with other media, target the campaign based on location, time of day and device type and provide relevant content such as location and click-to-call.

Targeting campaigns by devices is an important tactic, but one that is likely to get more challenging with Google’s new Enhanced Campaigns, which removes some of the ability to target campaigns by device.

Best practices for device targeting include using device-specific keyword research to build campaigns and adjusting bids accordingly, as not all keywords are created equal across all devices.

Mobile maps
Apple, Google and Nokia are all pouring significant resources into improving mobile map services with an eye toward controlling and monetizing location-based advertising. This is opening up opportunities for marketers as these platform providers open up assets to the market.

While Google has the edge, it is important that marketers do not overlook more indirect discovery marketing such as Yelp and foursquare.

“The big players in the mobile space see increasingly that location and control of mapping and context are key areas,” said Nitesh Patel, London-based senior analyst for wireless media strategies at Strategy Analytics.

Local is very important for mobile search as local listings are bumped ahead of Web listings for many mobile search on Google.

Additionally, map searches are critical for bricks-and-mortar locations because there are more blended search engine results pages than ever before.

To improve results in local search, marketers need to embed maps into their Web site page, as Google and others like it when you use their products outside of their properties

“Ensure that all of your citations reflect the correct address and hours,” said Krista Olson, senior team lead for search engine optimization at OneUpWeb Digital, Traverse City, MI.

“So much of the drama that we saw in 2012 was related to misinformation showing up in local search, and while Google’s and Bing’s local verification process is improving, you still have to ensure everything from Yelp to local city directories have the correct address,” she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York