Imagine a hale and healthy representative of your target market out for a stroll on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and this ideal customer just got paid, so she’s in a buying mood. Being youngish, technically savvy and prone to impulse shopping, it strikes her that she wants to buy a new digital SLR camera. But where to go?
Out comes her 3G smartphone and in mere seconds she’s tapping away, bringing up her mobile browser and typing “camera store” into her favourite search engine. Your large retail store–part of a national chain with an expansive website containing customer forums, product reviews and videos–is a 15-minute walk away. You know from experimenting that your company is in the top three natural search results for “camera store,” so you would expect this young woman to stroll through your automatic doors in a quarter-hour.
But she doesn’t.
When she hit the search button, your store was not on the first page of results. A mom-and-pop operation is the top result, and since it was only a three-minute walk away, our shopper has gone there instead.
This is not a glitch. Our hypothetical consumer was using her search engine’s local search functions that many expect will complicate already competitive search marketing by making physical location a key factor when consumers browse on the go.
Traditional search optimization requires a site to be relevant to a query, have lots of fresh content, and be recognized as an authority by plenty of inbound links.
But local search looks at a mobile phone’s GPS coordinates and goes looking for things like a business’s location, or whether it’s been tagged on an online map. Paid search ads are served the same way in local search, so even if you’re bidding on all the best terms it won’t matter if your national chain of stores’ online persona is linked to your corporate headquarters.
“Having a single campaign for your national coffee chain could be less effective in the future, as smaller local competitors’ ads will potentially be given priority based on their proximity to the searcher,” says Ari Shomair, director of marketing optimization at Toronto digital agency Henderson Bas.
Not only does this change the competitive landscape, it could affect the amount marketers have to spend on optimizing their searchability. “There is a definite lag in the sense that it’s unusual to find clients willing to invest the money necessary to maximize a truly local approach to [search engine marketing], even when it’s appropriate for their business. There could be many reasons for this. The biggest is that most clients are content with the current performance of their SEM campaign, and therefore do not see the justification to make the extra investment or take the perceived risk of launching more localized sub-campaigns.” As smartphone usage becomes more widespread, Shomair expects bigger local marketing budgets for national advertisers.
The increased spend will be worth it, says Eric Morris, industry manager at Google Canada, because mobile searchers are more likely to convert to paying customers. “If somebody’s gone to the trouble to search from a mobile device with a mobile search, it’s probably product related and they’re likely to purchase,” Morris says. “They’re in the store, looking for a product, doing comparison shopping right there.”
While Canadian stats are hard to come by, U.S. research indicates the number of mobile Internet search users is set to dramatically increase. The Kelsey Group, a division of BIA Advisory Services, LLC, anticipates a tenfold increase in the number of mobile search users–from 5.2 million in 2008 to 56.2 million in 2013. The research firm predicts U.S. mobile search advertising revenues will grow from $39 million in 2008 to $2.3 billion by 2013, a compound annual growth rate of 125.6%.
The major search players have also made significant investments in mobile ad serving operations. Most recently, Google announced its intent to acquire AdMob for US$750 million. “You have been able to bid on mobile terms before, but there’s never been a reason to because not many people were actually searching from their phone,” says Shomair. “The iPhone and Blackberry changed that.”
Through it’s still in its infancy, we can’t help but be a little excited by google goggles, an app for mobiles running Google’s Android platform. Back in December, the company released a video demonstrating the visual search tool. By taking a photo of a book, the video tells us, you can search for author and purchase information. The app can also be used to scan business cards to add contact information.
Also, using a smartphone’s GPS and compass data, Goggles can find information about retail stores just by pointing the camera at their storefront–click the name and the info appears. It is a Google Labs product and still being perfected. It apparently works well with businesses, books and famous landmarks, but not so well with cars or clothes. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a future where shoppers can find product information and reviews simply by snapping a photo.