Is Mobile Search Marketing a Mirage?

Is Mobile Search Marketing a Mirage?

There is a lot of pressure for digital marketers to go mobile for search. Sales of smartphones may have overtaken PCs. They’re the fastest growing sales category in history. Views and sales via smartphones are growing exponentially. Surely mobile search is marketing nirvana? I’m not so sure – at least as of January 2015 – here’s why:

Analyse that Data!

When presented with the mobile data (views, revenue etc.) ignore:
  • Sex –  (Sorry and stop smirking) Yes, it’s the biggest search term on the net. But there are probably specific reasons people prefer to view explicit content, in private, on a mobile.
  • Gambling and games – Huge views and revenues but they’re entertainment – is that your market?
  • Newspapers – I avidly read news when traveling – but are these views data relevant?
  • In app purchases whether via a game or via Amazon etc. app users have already bought into the relevant brand . That’s why they’ve downloaded the app – so app purchases aren’t comparable to search purchases.
  • Africa – Broadband isn’t available in much of Africa so a lot of business is transacted via mobile. But just how relevant is this data to your business?
Remove these and mobile views and sales become a smaller target for your search marketing than you might have previously believed.

Mobile is Messy

Mobile is messy – even when there is a decent signal.
  • There are constant distractions when browsing on PCs (phones, colleagues, family, emails) . But on mobile it’s “distraction squared”: trains, buses, announcements, rain ….. so keeping visitor attention on your lovely website is more challenging.
  • It’s more difficult to multi-screen on a phone. So phone calls and texts are more distracting plus all those apps sapping attention: FaceTime to Facebook music, video, Skype, text etc.
  • Other devices compete for attention (TVs, iPads, radio).
  • Whoops! Where’s my signal gone?
These distractions mean visitors are less likely to follow your “calls to action” i.e. buy, sign-up, call etc.


In general the costs associated with most mobile metrics are higher than PCs because:
  • It’s a more competitive market with fewer search results displayed per page.
  • Developing mobile websites adds complexity and cost. Consequently the effectiveness often becomes diluted. (In my experience the usability of responsive websites are generally far poorer than static sites)

Mobile Search / PC Conversion

Perhaps people search first on mobile and then convert via PC. But when tested, I’ve never seen the mobile-to-PC cross sale effect.

The Exceptions

Yes, there are exceptions to this. My data indicates mobile works well:
  • In some geographic markets (Africa, China and the Middle East).
  • In some specialized markets.
  • Searching for business locations (shops, restaurants etc.)
  • When a mobile is the only device available
  • Local searches
  • When the information need is small
But my concern is that mobile search is often over hyped and over-sold.


Next time you’re asked to allocate a budget to mobile search:
  • Obtain a commitment it will be cost-effective, based on objective data – not spin.
  • Trial it and check the results. Ditch it, if it’s not cost effective. Don’t just follow the crowd.
If you’d like to discuss improving your digital marketing please contact me. Speaking opportunities welcomed.