Marketers await the full emergence of mobile search

The launch date is near for HTC’s Dream, the first handset running Google’s new Android mobile operat­ing system — which could mean the first serious competition to Apple’s iPhone.

Emerging mobile technology means marketers must adjust their mobile strat­egies. However, search marketers may not need to rush optimization for these devices quite yet, some experts say.

“Despite all the hoopla about the iPhone, its market penetration is still fairly low,” said Noah Elkin, VP of corporate strategy at Steak. “Its impact on total mobile users is fairly small.”

David Berkowitz, director of emerging media and client strategy for 360i, agrees. “The biggest problem for mobile search is scale,” he said. “An advertiser might be able to do a $1 million [traditional search] buy on Google or Yahoo, but have a hard time spending thousands in mobile depending on the keyword. It’s still tough to come up with enough inventory to do a big cam­paign for most marketers.”

Nonetheless, it remains clear to those in the industry that mobile search is on the rise and not to be overlooked. According to the Mobile Marketing Association, 69 million people accessed mobile WAP sites in the first quarter of 2008.

“As we see these new devices launch along with improvements in mobile net­works, consumers will see improvements in mobile Web experiences,” Elkin said. “Then more people will shift to using these [mobile search] services.”

Mobile search works better for some types of companies than others. “It’s a must for your basic news, sports and weather,” Berkowitz said, “but financial services companies, for example, aren’t going to get the volume they’re used to.”

Also, consumers don’t search on their mobile devices in the same way as their PCs. Keyword phrases are shorter — usu­ally one to three words — and users make fewer attempts to find what they’re looking for. “People who do mobile searches are very much in decision making mode,” said Elkin, “So that puts premiums on oppor­tunities available to advertisers.”

Essentially, mobile search boils down to convenience. “[With mobile search] you should be able to accomplish your task as quickly if not more quickly [than traditional search], but that’s not always the case,” Elkin said. “It’s all about putting the right offer in front of the consumer when they need it.”

Recently, Yahoo’s OneSearch became the default search engine for AT&T MEdia Net. Bruce Stewart, VP and GM of Yahoo’s Connected Life Americas, said mobile search is a “very targeted solution because you know [the consumer is] mobile and you know they’re interactive.”

Stewart noted that more people may be using their phone as an alarm clock — mak­ing it the last item they see before bed and the first they see in the morning. “Advertis­ers can reach consumers [on a device that they have with them] 24/7,” he said.

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