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Does Mobile Search Really Matter?

Richard Stokes
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Search Engine Watch recently covered AdGooroo's Top 20 list of advertisers in paid mobile search, which found that some of the best marketers in desktop search weren't ranking nearly as well in mobile. Walmart and JCPenney, for instance, ranked 2nd and 5th in desktop search respectively, but only came in at 20th and 29th in mobile.

The question is, does this really matter?

Should Paid Search Advertisers Care About Mobile?

Judging by the numbers alone, the answer might be no.

We took a closer look at the mobile advertising market and discovered a number of revealing facts.

Mobile search is still pretty small. According to AdGooroo research, as of 2013, mobile makes up just 7.6 percent of total U.S. AdWords spend and just 8.2 percent of U.S. Bing spend.

Although mobile search has been growing, it's unlikely to ever overtake desktop search for a few key reasons. For instance, advertisers in most categories aren't willing to pay as high a price for mobile traffic as they are for desktop and tablets. Automotive and Travel are two key exceptions, but even for those categories CPC prices aren't drastically higher:

Google Desktop vs Mobile Cost Per Click

Moreover, as a percentage of total search traffic by vertical, mobile search generates less than 10 percent of paid advertising clicks for most categories.

Ultimately, however, the real reason that mobile search won't overtake desktop is due to real estate. Desktop and tablet devices show up to 12 ads on a search results page while mobile devices show a maximum of three. Fewer ads mean fewer impressions and clicks. Further, it makes competition for those three spots extremely heated.

Do Mobile Search Ads Makes Sense For Your Business?

So to return to our question, should marketers care about mobile search? Although Google's enhanced campaigns forces everyone to participate in mobile search, the answer really depends on your specific business.

In some industries, mobile makes a lot of sense, including:

  • Automotive (particularly local dealers)
  • Retail (especially local retailers who offer coupons)
  • Travel
  • Mobile apps
  • Lifestyle and entertainment
  • Small local business

If you fall into one of these industries and are willing to pay a premium for placement in one of the top three positions, you should consider mobile search ads.

Further, as a general rule, if consumers are likely to engage with your business on a mobile device (for instance, they are likely to call you), then you also should probably consider mobile paid search. Location-oriented advertisers like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase and Pizza Hut, for example, all rank in the Mobile Search Top 20, along with travel providers CheapOair.com and Booking.com and lifestyle/entertainment leader Apple iTunes.

Interestingly, Pizza Hut, Chase, Wells Fargo and Apple iTunes don't come any closer than 119th in desktop search rankings, suggesting that for some advertisers mobile may actually be more beneficial than desktop search. In fact, nearly a quarter of the top 20 mobile search advertisers didn't rank well in desktop search, including other household names like DIRECTV and less well-known brands such as health content site ActiveBeat.co.

For advertisers that don't fit the above criteria, the answer of whether to use mobile search may often be no. In fact, they may actually be better off to simply opt out of mobile, especially when you factor in the cost and complexity of management overhead and the fact that mobile clicks tend to convert at a much lower rate.

4 Mobile Search Recommendations for Advertisers

Ultimately, it's up to each individual business to decide whether to explore mobile search. Either way, marketers should consider the following recommendations.

  • "Opt Out": If mobile search isn't right for your business, you can, in effect, opt out on Google by setting the bid adjustment for "Mobile devices with full browsers" to -100 percent, which will turn off all bids for mobile.
  • Manage Desktop/Tablet and Mobile Separately: If you do target mobile searchers, you should be sure to manage your desktop/tablet ads in a separate campaign from your mobile ads. By default, Enhanced Campaigns will tie your desktop and mobile bids together, which prevents you from making separate bid adjustments for each device. That means that if you increase your bid on a keyword on desktop, it will automatically increase on mobile as well and vice versa, which could be the wrong strategic move and could lead to wasted money. To manage desktop/tablet and mobile separately, go to the Devices page (Settings > Devices) and set your mobile and desktop/laptop bid modifiers to -100 percent in each campaign, respectively.
  • Use Location Settings: It's also recommended to use the Locations settings (Settings > Locations) to turn off ads in unproductive locales, and to avoid using the Ad Schedule options unless absolutely necessary.
  • Target Yahoo & Bing Mobile Users: Although not mandated as on Google, marketers may also consider targeting mobile searchers on the Yahoo Bing Network, which is considerably simpler than AdWords. To do so, set up a campaign as you normally would on Yahoo Bing, but when you get to the "Targeting Options" form, click "Device," then "Smartphones and other mobile devices with full browsers". You can then set bids for your mobile keywords separately, just as you used to be able to do with AdWords.

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