Update, 2/21/2009:


  • Google has released a mobile keyword tool that makes it easier for marketers trying to understand how mobile users search to find keywords and concepts relevant to their search behavior. See the following posts for information:Google Releases Mobile Keyword Tool in AdWords, 1/8/2009

    Top Mobile Search Keywords 2008, 1/27/2009

  • The information in this post can still be used to mine mobile queries, but the preferred method above all is to use the Google Mobile Keyword tool to mine actual queries. 

In tough economic
times, many businesses are looking for a little something they can do
for their sites to have a big impact—which is why it’s
surprising that so few people, even experts, talk about mobile
keyword research these days. Mobile keyword research isn’t just
for mobile sites. By understanding mobile user behavior through
mobile queries, a site owner can identify the wants and needs of a
growing mobile population, and optimize their content by including
those queries and variations of those queries in their desktop Web
content, mobile Web content (including mobile links), mobile paid
advertising like banners or paid search, mobile applications or
desktop widgets, local listings, and any content a user might access
from a mobile device.

At this point some
may ask “Why do mobile-specific keyword research?” It’s
clear now that mobile search is a large and rapidly growing search
, but do people search differently from their mobile phones than
they do from their desktop computers? Well… yes. Research has
consistently shown that mobile users search differently than desktop
users. Yahoo!, for example, has found differences not just in mobile
as opposed to desktop search behavior, but between different modes of
mobile search
(ie SMS vs mobile app vs mobile Web search). This would
be analogous in desktop SEO to needing to do keyword research for
each operating system or browser, which is substantially more
difficult, you may imagine, than logging into WordTracker or Keyword
Discovery and pulling data. Yet, in spite of the relative difficulty
of mobile keyword research, paradoxically fewer tools exist to aid
mobile SEOs in the practice.

The JumpTap mobile keyword tool
used to fill this gap to some extent, but it seems to have
disappeared following AT&T’s partnership with Yahoo!
oneSearch for MEdia Net. So what’s a mobile keyword researcher
to do in the absence of mobile-specific keyword tools? Fortunately,
all hope is not lost for those of us who are interested in
understanding how mobile users search. There are several options for
doing mobile keyword research, though none of them by itself is
ideal. What follows is a breakdown of 7 known methods for mobile
keyword research, and a summary of the advantages and disadvantages
of each.


1. Understanding Relative Search
Volume with Related Searches/Predictive Text



iPhone/iPod Touch/iPhone App/Blackberry Google Suggest

Google mobile search
suggest also available on the desktop here.

Yahoo! Mobile Related Searches


Google Mobile Related Searches


This is similar to the methodology laid out in my post on doing video keyword research using YouTube Suggest. When a character is inputted
into suggest tools, queries with high search volume are returned in
an attempt to predict what the user is searching for and complete the
query. Likewise, when a search is performed in Google or Yahoo!
Mobile, related queries are displayed at the bottom of the search
results in order to help a user find popular content they may be
looking for. It’s likely that mobile specific data is used for
these predictive text tools, as a mobile-specific interface would be
more likely to use contextually relevant data in order to complete a
user’s query faster.

I’ve asked
confirmation from several search engines on this, and while I don’t
have it at the time of publication, it’s clear from the
different queries returned in Google Suggest and the Google Suggest
tool for BlackBerry and the iPhone app that the queries for the
latter are not only different, but mobile in nature.


Not all search engines use mobile-specific data when returning suggest results, however, so keep that in mind when using this method.


Engine-Direct Research



Methodology: If you’re
advertising with the major engines and you have a dedicated account
rep, most of them will be happy to research mobile opportunity for
you. You can then take these queries and enter the more relevant ones
in strategic places on your web site or mobile web site.


Industry/Academic Research


Methodology: It’s
not difficult to find extensive research on the mobile Web, mobile
users, and how those mobile users search the mobile Web. Sometimes it
contains specific keywords and sometimes it’s engine direct.
These resources can give a researcher conceptual opportunities, if
not actual keywords, that can help with content development.


Ms. Kamvar is a researcher at Google and part author of pioneering
mobile query research, including Deciphering
Trends in Mobile Search
(August 2007).

Deciphering Mobile
Search Patterns: A Study of Yahoo! Mobile Search Queries
(and my

Yahoo! Research
Berkeley Blog: Mobile

SEO by the SEA:
Mobile and Mobile Search Marketing

Nielsen Mobile:
Nielsen Wire, Online and Mobile

Voices blog

Hitwise Blog

For other good
resources in this category, see my Delicious Bookmarks for


4. Desktop Tools for Mobile



Methodology: Use popular
keyword tools to do keyword research as usual, and then place those
keywords strategically to attract mobile users. Most of these tools
contain mobile queries, but aren’t mobile specific. This method
becomes stronger when used in conjunction with any of the tools that
provide mobile-specific data.


5. Web
Analytics Referring Keywords



Methodology: Web
analytics have referring keyword reports that can be mined for new keyword opportunities. If you can segment mobile users you can see
mobile-specific keywords and add those to your content. If not, the
data can still be used in the same manner as using traditional
desktop keyword research tools for mobile content. Of course, mobile analytics can be used for the same purpose but all data is mobile and need not be segmented.


Google Webmaster Tools Query Stats




Google Webmaster Tools has a query stats report which shows top
impressions for your site on various keywords, and which Google
property that page is showing up on. Mobile Devices and Mobile Images
can be segmented in the report, allowing site owners to see which
mobile queries their sites are appearing for, and optimize if


Hypothetical Scenario



Remarkably, many researchers still ask themselves and their friends
how they would search on a mobile phone and optimize for queries such
as those themselves and their friends would input. While this is an
important first step in any type of keyword research, it’s
important to understand the competitiveness and volume for a
particular keyword, which isn’t an inherent part of this

Which is Best?

I don’t think
that there is one best method for mobile keyword research. A
researcher attempting to get a complete understanding of mobile
search behavior will use all tools available, including all of those

That said, I think
all of these methods could be evaluated on six basic factors: Data
source, data type, linguistic output, volume output, whether the tool
allows you to see the total opportunity in mobile search, and the
barrier to entry:

Data source: Is the
data panel based or engine direct? How reliable is the data for
making projections?

Data type: Is the
data based on searches done from a desktop computer or a mobile
device? Is it possible to make assumptions about mobile search
behavior based on the available data?
Linguistic output:
Simply put, does the data provide mobile queries? Or simply concepts
and categories that are popular with mobile searchers?
Volume output: Does
the tool give actual or relative search volume numbers?
Total opportunity:
Does the tool allow a researcher to see the total available
opportunity in mobile search, or just those searches that the site
owner is ranking on?
Barrier to entry:
What kind of investment of time and resources is necessary to
complete the research?

When I considered
these factors relative to the methods in question and assigned a
numerical quality score to each method, the methods were ranked in
the following order (where 1 is best and 7 is worst)

  1. Relative Searches/Predictive

  2. Engine-Direct Research

  3. Query Stats

  4. Industry/Academic Research

  5. Web Analytics Referring

  6. Desktop Tools for Mobile

  7. Hypothetical Scenario

It’s not
entirely scientific, but it does roughly align to my own professional
preferences and recommendation. The score could vary depending upon
an organization or individual’s resources at hand. See the raw data to check my work, and adjust certain factors based on your organization’s needs.

In the future it is
my hope as a marketer that the marketing community can deliver more
relevant content to our customers and potential customers through a
self-serve engine-based keyword tool—similar to the Google
AdWords keyword tool, Yahoo! Client Buzz or Google Insights for
Search, except mobile-specific. At present, the aforementioned
resources are what we have. I hope you find these useful in
delivering your own relevant content to mobile searchers. If you know
of other resources that could help the community, please list them in
the comments for this post.