It was, of course, my great honor to speak at SMX Local & Mobile in San Francisco three weeks ago, and I think that the organizers and participants deserve credit for putting together the premier search conference for discussing opportunities in Local & Mobile search. I would almost say that it was, actually, worth postponing my honeymoon for. However, I believe someone needs to clarify that there is an ampersand in between local and mobile for a reason.
Many of the attendees and some of the panelists used the phrase “local mobile” as though mobile were only one aspect of local marketing and had no other applications to business. I understand why many participants used the phrase in this context, given that this was a conference devoted to both mobile search marketing and local search marketing, but in all fairness, local search is only one aspect of mobile search. To be clear: there is local search, there is mobile search, there is local search on mobile devices and mobile search with local intent, but all mobile search is not local in nature. In fact, not even most of it is.
At the conference I heard various estimates as to the percent of mobile searches that were local in nature, and the highest estimate I heard was 30%. If 30% was accurate I would still say that it’s a bit too low of a percentage to think of local mobile as a pleonasm, but the percentage is actually much lower according to the latest search engine query study, which I discussed in an earlier blog post. For those who haven’t read it, researchers from Yahoo! performed the largest mobile query study ever this past spring and submitted their findings as a refereed paper for WWW2008.
In their study, called Deciphering Mobile Search Patterns: A Study of Yahoo! Mobile Search Queries (PDF), the researchers build on earlier Google research on mobile queries, expanding the data set to produce a more comprehensive (and theoretically more reliable) measure of how mobile users search. The researchers used actual search engine logs for Yahoo!’s oneSearch product, analyzing 20 million queries over a 2 month span. The findings were fascinating in many respects to those of us who study mobile search behavior, but most relevant to this post is their finding on queries with local intent:
In addition to the topical categorization, there are a few notable query types or intent. First, there are queries with
local intent that intend to search for local information. This is not necessarily a topical category, but rather a meta category that can be combined potentially with any topical search. The local search intention might not be always explicit with the location information given with the query, such as a zip code or a city name. We estimate about 9-10% of our queries has local intention.
The total opportunity to connect with mobile users searching for information locally then, is at most 10%. Why is it then that so many analysts are focusing on the local aspects of search, using the phrase “local mobile” when they talk about mobile search? If Local Mobile is at most 1/10 of the opportunity represented, why are so many analysts using it when referring to mobile search?
I think it has more to do with intuition than data, honestly. The potential to increase relevant messaging through hyper-local targeting is attractive to marketers, so when they speak of mobile search, they have a tendency to highlight that local aspect of it in their nomenclature. This is understandable, but there is a danger, I think, in slowing the growth of mobile marketing by addressing it in terms of 10% of the total opportunity. Entertainment is actually the most searched category in mobile search, according to the Yahoo! study, with 55% of mobile browser search market share and 34% of mobile application search share. By comparison, if mobile search were referred to as “entertainment mobile search”, would local marketers be as interested in participating? Probably not. And it’s probably not helping entertainment marketers, sports marketers, retailers, travel marketers, technology marketers, and others interested in promoting something without local intention get into the space when the emphasis in the industry is on “local mobile”.
On this blog, then, when I’m referring to the local aspects of mobile search I will use the term “local mobile”. But if I’m talking about the other 91% of mobile search I’ll call it like it is. I would encourage others in this industry to do the same.
Bryson, I spoke to a couple of people who attended SMX and they said that people were getting confused with local and mobile – thinking all mobile search was local. So, even though I wasn’t there – I am going to agree with you.
I sincerely appreciate the thoughts presented in this post. Having been in both the Internet Search and Mobile Search space as a White-Label software vendor, there are very large differences between how a desktop-initiated vs. a mobile-initiated search is performed. Mobile-initiated searches can be incredibly more complex and certainly more than just local search.
I would also state that mobile search suffers from several critical problems, two of many are the lack of indexing of mobile sites and lack of SEO for digital content. I would argue that large physical brands want the same results as large digital brands — successful conversion to consumption of their products and services, not simply amassing the largest collection of eyeballs.
Bryson, I think what is being overlooked here is the context of that statistic. Yahoo, like Google is a generic search engine. Ask YellowPages.com how much of their search on mobile is local, or Weather.com or CitySearch. I think what you are seeing is mobile consumers turning to vertical search engines for their local information – especially on the mobile device.
Too often the industry tries to drive the market as opposed to observing what the market wants, or for that matter what they really need. AT&T recently ran a TV spot for their wireless connection service that depicts a landscaper and his crew getting a job because he could “check inventory, get a quote and get the job”. Is the true potential of mobile going to be realized by what today’s teens and young adults decide how they want to use it?
Eric is probably on mark with the lack of indexing and optimization. I’m hoping to help one of my clients maximize their mobile opportunity and will follow your thoughts on the topic.
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Seems to me that the confusion stems not from the types but the terminology. We’re familiar with, primarily and as Maya points out, 2 classifications for search: web and vertical. Vertical further distinguishes dozens of types including Local, Shopping, Video, etc.
In this context, there is no such thing as Mobile Search; that is, search for mobile things. I suppose you could build a mobile search engine that only indexes vehicles or cell phone plans and options (something I would personally love!). It is not the type of search that is confusing but the context of the terminology.
What do you mean by Mobile search? You are referring to search through a mobile device; search that requires much greater relevance to serve the right response in only 2-3 results. Mobile devices also have the benefit of conceptually being much more local than a desktop search, a mobile search could take place from a street corner, but in truth the experience isn’t much different: I can take my laptop to that same street corner and perform a local search.
That last point can be confusing so what am I getting at? Local search though a mobile device simply demands much greater sophistication to deliver a positive user experience. Given the construct we’ve defined for the industry, there is no such thing as “Mobile Search” – rather, there is search on a mobile device, the same search options as those which we’ve enabled through a desktop: Web and Vertical.
Maya, interesting point. It’s true Yahoo! isn’t the only place where mobile users look for information. Google search and the Weather channel are more popular channels according to Nielsen Mobile’s critical mass report. Do you have any other statistics that speak to your point about local searchers on mobile devices favoring vertical engines? Is it more than 9%? More than 40%? Just curious, as I don’t think it would change what I’m saying, regardless. My point is that search on mobile devices is not always local in nature, as the phrase “local mobile search” being misapplied to search on mobile devices would lead us to believe. Even if search on the less popular vertical channels was 100% local, it wouldn’t negate the fact that mobile searchers in general aren’t always looking for local information, and the general “local mobile” terminology that’s often applied to the space is erroneous. Thanks for your comment. Best, Bryson