Mobile, Desktop Search Behavior Differs Greatly On Google, Study Shows

On the heels of Google's forthcoming AdWords change that allows advertisers to modify bids for smartphones, tablets and desktops, cClearly set out to take an in-depth look at the differences in consumer search behavior between mobile and desktop among industries, products, countries and search engines. Here's what they found.

cClearly's team sifted through billions of rows of our consumer panel data, which includes search query data for more than 50 million consumers, placed into categories and classified across thousands of data points.

Few similar themes span both mobile and desktop devices, according to the findings. The team found that the deeper they delved, the more differences they found between industries, products, countries and search engines. Search behavior insights from search queries on in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2016 reveal that consumers use search queries to assist them more frequently on mobile compared with desktop.

The study defines "assistance" as search queries that contain keywords that indicate that the individual wants to learn how to do something or inquire about a topic seeking assistant to complete a task. These search queries include keywords containing what, where, when, how, and why, among other contexts.

Among the categories, finance with 15.4% "assistance" queries on mobile versus 13% on desktop and telecom with 14.8% on mobile versus 11.8% on desktop stood out. Travel came in at 4.3% on desktop and 4.0% on mobile.

Location matters. Geo-modification -- defined as any query that include a location by referencing country, state, city, ZIP code, landmark or address in the search keywords -- were more common in Finance and Vehicles categories on mobile.

The Vehicles and Parts category stood out as having significantly more geo-modified search queries on mobile than on desktop, with 32.8% of queries being geo-modified compared to 25.3% on desktop, according to the study.

For the travel category, two-thirds of the search queries are geo-modified on both desktop and mobile. About one-third of the time consumers are doing travel searches that do not contain a destination in them. Those search queries seem to be primarily brand-modified search queries to navigate to their brand’s Web site.

The study finds that consumers are more reliant on brand searches on desktop compared with mobile when search queries include brand names, nicknames or abbreviations as a brand-modified search query in the Travel, and Vehicle and Parts categories.

The findings suggest that consumers use brand-modified search queries 50.2% of the time on desktop versus 42.1% on mobile -- about 19% higher in the Travel category, and 29.2% of the time versus 24.5% of the time in the Vehicles and Parts category -- about 19% higher. This indicates there may be more of an opportunity to influence consumer decision-making on mobile, where individuals searching may be less likely to have a pre-disposed brand preference.

In Finance and Telecom categories, consumers use brand names in their search queries on mobile more frequently. In Finance, 45.5% of the queries on mobile are branded versus 36.5% on desktop. The study suggests that consumers may be doing less research in those categories on mobile devices and are more likely to use mobile to seek assistance from the provider, such as speaking to a bank or calling a cable company’s customer service, according to the research.

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