Context Drives Value: Why Mobile Search is Not Web Search (And Why it May Be More Valuable)

These days, Web consumers have a pretty clear idea of what search is all about. They sit down at their computers, type in a key word or two and are presented with lots of links to pages that may or may not be relevant to what they seek online. The results are accompanied by paid listings which are often as relevant as the free (a.k.a. "organic") results. The overwhelming evidence behind the growth of online search volume indicates that users are getting value out of their online search experience.

It seems reasonable, then, for consumers to expect that a successful mobile search would involve merely replicating the online search experience -- but on a mobile device. When one examines the vastly different context in which a consumer conducts a Web search and a mobile search, however, the inefficiency of Web search in a mobile context immediately becomes clear. Online searchers are seated at a fast Internet connection, with time to browse, and 15 inches or more of screen space to display results. In contrast, mobile searches are on-the-go and goal-oriented, working with tiny screens and often slow connections. This fundamental difference in context shapes how and when consumers interact with search in a mobile world.

In order to provide the kind of user experience the mobile industry is still waiting for, it is incumbent on us in this newly emerging space to always keep the consumer's context in mind, so we deliver the best possible mobile search experience. As a nascent industry, everyone will benefit from increasing data usage among consumers by providing a fast, relevant, and directed search experience.

In practical terms, assuring a pleasing mobile search means a number of things, including: providing consumers a click-saving experience that returns answers instead of links; inferring a consumer's context from his or her device, location and other information within ranking algorithms; balancing the subscriber's short-term and long-term preferences to present personalized, relevant results that adapt to a consumer's changing context; and providing rich client interfaces with streamlined interfaces including custom shortcuts, auto-completion of search terms, or voice inputs to simplify the user experience. Mobile search will ultimately only see the same success as its online counterpart when it provides consumers with an experience that matches the consumer context.

If mobile search providers are able to provide that experience, the opportunities open to marketers and advertisers are very intriguing. Mobile phones represent an unprecedented way of reaching consumers during the "last mile" -- when they are on the move, in your competitor's store or right down the street from your store. The amount of marketing value that can be created through building broad adoption of mobile search is almost boundless. Capturing that value, however, depends on all players providing consumers with a positive mobile search experience by considering the consumer's context every step of the way.