Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mobile Search: Is it for you?

Mobile search is in its infancy, but search providers are ramping up for a major growth spurt.

Stacked up against regular Internet search, the number of users currently searching on handhelds is tiny. The technology is still developing and search providers are trying to get in on the ground floor so they’ll be ready when mobile search takes off in the next few years.

Part of what’s holding mobile search back is the very thing that made mobile devices a success to begin with – the small size. Small screens make it difficult to display the search results and leave little–or no--room for advertising.

Search providers have to choose between showing relevant results and showing paid advertising as the first response to a query. There are a range of interfaces available to attempt to solve the screen size and navigation problems, but so far none of the formats has really hit it big.

Optimizing for Mobile Search

Mobile search offers some interesting new challenges for optimization. Getting your site to the top of the results isn’t enough. You need to make sure the content is mobile user-friendly. If a page is difficult to navigate, looks garbled or takes too long to search, users will quickly move on.

The on-the-go nature of mobile search demands simplicity. When designing your website to be mobile-compatible, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind:

- How will visitors enter the page? You can set it up so mobile pages are automatically generated under the same URLs as your desktop pages. You can also create dedicated mobile pages, or even add special sub-domains for mobile devices.

- Design pages for a much smaller screen size. Links, images and text must be clear and easy to read. You’ll want to avoid frames and keep copy brief.

- Pay attention to bandwidth considerations. Don’t use flash or large images. You should add alt-text to images because many users block downloading images in their browsers in order to save time and bandwidth.

It’s important to remember who’s accessing your website and why. Mobile search users tend to be out-and-about. They may be doing last minute product research, trying to find the nearest store location or just looking to waste some time.

Content providers, such as ring-tone or gaming services, already top the mobile search ranks. The next wave of advertisers to benefit from mobile search is likely to be national companies with branch stores in many locations. An auto parts shop in Albany may not get a lot of business from mobile search users just yet, but a chain of hotels with locations throughout the Midwest has the potential to do very well.

Mobile Search Advertising

Mobile devices are changing the face of search advertising as well. When advertising first moved to the search engines, companies had to get used to the new limits on the length of their ad text. With handhelds, ad space is even more limited. It’s possible that advertisers may have to tighten 70 characters of copy to less than 30.

Google, a leader in the mobile search field, has patented and begun testing on mobile click-to-call ads (http://www.google.com/mobile/loc_search.html#wml_feat) . The click-to-call ads would decide, based on the user’s handheld capabilities, whether it would be better to display an ad with a web link or an ad that places a phone call to the advertiser. This concept has a lot of sales potential as it compensates for the problem of entering credit card and shipping info using a small keypad.

Mobile search has a lot of growing up to do before it can compete with traditional Internet search but, once it does, advertisers had better be ready. Mobile search campaigns will become the best way to reach people when they’re in “gotta’ get it now” buying mode.

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