So where are all of these mobile searches coming from? Here are three of the largest non-Google, non-Bing sources of mobile search for local business -- and why they’re important for search marketers to consider:
Mobile directories. Traditional directories have seen declining traffic over
the past decade, as was nicely summarized here. However, local and vertical directories have replaced
traditional ones, capturing a significant share of product or service research and selection by consumers. Consider that Priceline, which is more or less a “what-where” search for
hotels and flights, has a market capitalization of more than $70 billion. For those of you counting, that is more than 15% of Google’s market capitalization for just a single vertical
(according to market capitalization figures from market close, 2/27.)
Let’s expand the definition of directories from how they were conceived back in the print Yellow Pages days to Angie’s List, Yelp, Urbanspoon and hundreds of other locally and vertically focused guides. These are clearly the bottom of the sales funnel for millions on purchase decisions. And much of this traffic is now mobile. Yelp, for instance, recently stated that 30% of its reviews occurred on mobile devices.
Vertical aggregators. Ever been intrigued by a display advertisement that suggests if you simply knew “one simple trick” you could have cheaper car insurance, a better home mortgage, or whiter teeth? After all, who couldn’t use all three? This is one example of a strategy employed by companies that purchase massive volumes of inexpensive traffic on social networks and exchanges fishing for consumer intent: I call them vertical aggregators. Other sources of inexpensive traffic include long-tail traditional search and category information sites.
When consumers engage with one of these ads, they can be funneled to an experience qualifying them through a brief lead form. These “searches” are then sold to brands and agencies.
Vertical aggregators are increasingly using mobile advertisements to capitalize on passive intent. These ads now drive a consumer to “click-to-call." A phone call is often much more valuable than a form, as it leads directly to a conversation.
Mobile voice search. If you consider yourself tech-savvy, you may be surprised to find that tens of millions of consumers still use good old-fashioned directory assistance on their phones to conduct a “what-where” search. Directory assistance continues to be a billion-dollar industry, and some DA experiences are either partly or fully advertising-supported.
Of course, there is also Siri and Google Voice, which allow consumers to make searches directly to their smartphone for nearly every app and experience. Although a voice query to Siri is not available for a Google-style auction, it is reasonable to speculate that advertising on these types of searches is around the corner.
How Should Advertisers Buy These Sources?
A brand or agency can partner directly with mobile directories and vertical aggregators, or work with a company that specializes in emerging mobile search opportunities. It's most important that advertisers invest in a solution that comes with effective measurement. Google and Bing provide analytics and trusted sources in a (more or less) well-understood interface, so marketers should insist upon similar available capabilities from these alternate search advertising vehicles.
Acquiring search intent from a group of smaller players requires verification and measurement to ensure that resulting phone calls, leads, downloads and so on can be calculated to a certain cost-per-acquisition, and also enable a set of rules on what is and is not permitted by directory and search partners. When this is done well, search and digital marketers can tap consumer intent most effectively.