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Replicating the Web: Will Google Dominate Mobile Search?

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Google announced last week that it will offer a search box to mobile Web publishers to plant on their sites and share revenue from search results.

This is an extension of its existing AdSense for Mobile program, and is no surprise. Google is following the same path it did online many years ago: Partnering with publishers to share ad inventory and planting its search box all over the place.

Before Google was a search behemoth with 63 percent U.S. market share, it built itself up by distributing its search box and text ads with the millions of publisher partners throughout the Web that have become the AdSense network.

It will see the same success in the mobile realm -- partly because it's Google, and partly because it will offer very competitive revenue splits with publishers. Online, it offers a roughly 80/20 split in favor of AdSense publishers.

To sweeten the deal, it will also offer co-branded mobile results pages to publishers -- a "your logo here" type of proposition on search results generated from their sites.

Mobile Land Grab

Stepping back, we're seeing mobile search providers stake claims that will soon become a much more substantial mobile Web. The name of the game will be landing publisher and carrier deals: For the latter, Microsoft recently became the search provider for Verizon; and Yahoo has a longstanding mobile deal (extension of its online deal) with AT&T for on-deck search applications.

But Google seems to be placing its bet on off-deck searches, which are growing as the mobile Web becomes more like the online Web.

In other words, online you're free to go wherever you want instead of being more or less stuck with the home page that your ISP gives you. The mobile Web is becoming friendlier to this scenario thanks to devices with full HTML browsers, which bodes well for Google's angle.

This week at SES London, Rank Mobile CEO Cindy Crum presented Nokia Forecast data showing that mobile devices with full mobile browsers will surpass PCs in 2010. More mobile data subscribers already search using the mobile Web than carrier portals, according to Nielsen Mobile.

Also mirroring its online efforts, Google is working the other side of the equation: advertisers. It has begun integrating mobile targeting into AdWords -- most recently letting advertisers choose to show up in Google searches on iPhones and (Android-based) G1 phones.

But building out a mobile AdSense network gives it much more inventory -- something that's lacking in mobile search. So the plan is essentially to build a large contextual ad network and a base of search traffic on one end. On the other end, it provides self-serve, performance-based advertising. Sound familiar?

Growth of the Mobile Web

Its moves to replicate this in the mobile arena will be a double-edged sword. It comes with its own set of challenges unique to the form factor, varying user intent, and abbreviated search inputs. But Google has also built up momentum (not to mention a massive advertiser base) to transition to mobile. It didn't have that luxury when it first built this model online.

But similar to its early search days, Google is looking at a growth medium in mobile. The mobile Web holds more than 50 million users in the U.S. (about 25 percent of the number of online users), a figure The Kelsey Group expects will nearly double over the next five years.

Along these lines, Cisco released a report earlier this week that forecast monthly mobile traffic sent worldwide to exceed an exabyte by 2012 (driven largely by the onset of video transmitted over the mobile Web).

If you think about what this means, the online Web sent about that much data in 2004, writes GigaOM, which was 30 years after the first e-mail was sent. If Cisco is correct, the mobile Web will reach this point 18 years after the first text message was sent.

Mobile behavior is quickly evolving, so it's hard to say what standards will emerge. But if trends continue, Google could be positioned well with AdSense for mobile.

Generally speaking, it could be positioned well for search overall. As the mobile Web becomes more like the online Web, online search behavior could carry over to the mobile environment -- a good thing for Google and its 63.5 percent market share.

It's already starting to happen. Google's 63 percent share of mobile search queries is eerily close to this online share. Now that it's effectively positioned an early lead in the next big growth medium, we can expect many more years of Google dominance (if there was ever a doubt).

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