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How to Optimize Tablets vs. Smartphones

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Having attended myriad web conferences over the years, we’ve heard most every prediction you can imagine. Some were a bit misguided (“Portals are the future direction of the Web!”) and others were spot on (“This Google thing seems to have legs…”).

Far and away, though, the most elusive prediction to get right has been “It’s the Year of Mobile!” Having heard this mantra since 2005 or so, it felt like my annual rallying cry regarding the Chicago Cubs World Series chances, with the results always seeming to fall short of expectations.

Expectations and reality finally crossed paths in 2011, and I now feel confident proclaiming that 2011 was indeed the “Year of Mobile” for consumers and marketers alike. More than 50 percent of all new phones purchased in the U.S. are now smartphones, and these devices are the clear driving forces behind the surge in mobile Internet usage.

But if 2011 was finally the Year of Mobile, then 2012 will be about the bifurcation of mobile devices. Tablet adoption has skyrocketed at a blistering pace, reaching almost 36 million devices in the U.S. by the end of 2011.

Although smartphones and tablets share many common attributes, they differ greatly as it relates to where the devices are used, what they use them for, and most importantly, how you should market via search to consumers on the different devices.

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How are These Devices Different?

A recent webinar collaboration between comScore and Performics explored the differences between the smartphone and tablets from both a behavioral and functionality perspective, and then dug into some specific techniques you can utilize.

Behaviorally, the first thing to note is where consumers use the devices.

Smartphones accompany consumers pretty much everywhere they go. As they explore the world, their search activity on this device mirrors this ambulatory motion. People look for maps, news bites, pricing comparisons, restaurants, and the like. This on-the-go activity is further supported by the fact that 63 percent of all smartphone Internet access is done via the mobile network.

Tablets, on the other hand, are primarily being used in the home at this time, with 92 percent of tablet Internet access happening on WiFi networks. People use their tablets while lying on the couch, possibly in bed watching TV, surfing the web while lounging. Perhaps it’s the first truly lean-back/lean-forward device. Ultimately the search activity on tablets more closely reflects that of the PC given the similarly stationary environment.

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Similarly, data from Performics indicates that tablet and desktop searchers spend more money directly on their device when compared to smartphone searchers. This helps to reinforce searchers desire for different content and experiences by screen size.

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Functionally, the search experience on a smartphone device is vastly different from that of a tablet, so here are some recommendations for how you should think about your search strategy across channels.

Smartphone Strategy

The small size of the search engine results page (SERP) and the on-the-go search needs on these devices means you should keep it short and simple. Assuming you're already optimizing your keyword lists for those “on-the-go” terms, the following are your top five most important strategy considerations:

  • Bid for positions 1 & 2: Anything lower will most probably never been seen and your CTRs will plummet.
  • Add sitelinks: You can take up almost one-quarter of the page by expanding the size of your ad creative
  • Include location extensions, hyper local formats, and local offers.

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  • Include Click to Call/Click to download options: It’s critical that your calls to action and KPIs reflect the unique needs of mobile searchers. Remember, this mobile device actually still makes phone calls.

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  • Optimize for organic search: Combine the top paid link with the top organic link and you pretty much have your own mobile SERP.

Tablet Strategy

As noted earlier, the tablet searcher will share more similarities with the PC searcher than the smartphone searcher, so you need to adjust your strategy accordingly. Your top five tablet search strategy considerations are:

  • Bid strategy can account for positions beyond 1 & 2: The large interface and the simple scrolling gesture to view the entire SERP allows for a more nuanced approach to the page/position rank optimization. Although being in position 1 is ideal, tablet campaigns can still work with lower positions.
  • Gear your copy and site links to tablet users: For example, “Purchase now from your tablet.” Since tablet users are most likely at home, your messaging should reflect the types of actions best suited to that environment (click to download is much better suited than click to call).
  • Drive tablet searchers to desktop and tablet specific landing pages: You don't want to serve a tablet searcher your smartphone optimized mobile landing page.
  • Avoid Flash: iPads make up more than 90 percent of all tablet traffic and they don’t render Flash, so avoid the technology for now.
  • Don't simply use your smartphone keyword list: Remember, think of tablets like desktops and adjust your keyword groups to best serve this type of searcher. Tablets will allow for longer tail and higher funnel awareness keywords.

Mobile marketers last year began to test the waters of targeting mobile devices differently than they would PCs and desktops. This was a good start, but the multiplicity of devices in use combined with the increasing sophistication of targeting options available is eventually going to require additional effort on your part to best optimize your mobile spend.

Take the time to study the numbers, stay up to date on the evolving trends, and you’ll find your mobile search ROI will move in the right direction.


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