SES San Jose Preview: A Conversation With Metric Voodoo

Readers of this blog are aware that we’re less than a month away from SES San Jose (Aug 10-14). In anticipation of some of the mobile local content that will be featured at the show, I was able to catch up with Michelle Moore, director of search engine strategies at Metric Voodoo. We’ll be sitting on a panel on Day 1 of the show, entitled Keeping it Local: The Convergence of Phones & Local Search. Here’s what she had to say:

MB: What are the biggest market factors that you see driving mobile search adoption on the part of both users and content owners or advertisers? (i.e. smart phone penetration? Better device standards? Etc.)

MM: Technology adoption with regard to smart phones is outstripping most previous major technology adoption rates, including touch tone phones, cassette tapes, hi-def TV and DVD video players. There’s an entire generation in high school right now who’s never known a time without cell phones. This ubiquitous adoption is already causing a measurable trend where smart phones are replacing computers, especially with regard to localized searches. People’s habits are changing – when that happens, it forces market adjustments all the way around, not only with how advertisers will get their messages in front of consumers, but also what sorts of targeting these users are willing to accept. Phone searchers love being “helped” but they hate being “tracked.”

MB: What are some of the fundamental differences of mobile marketing and SEO, compared to online marketing and SEO?

MM: I think the main difference now (which I’m single-handedly trying to rectify, heh) is that mobile marketing is a better proving ground for what I call “pervasive SEO.” You’re already dealing with limited screen space. How much more impactful do you think it is to be mentioned on the first 15 search results on several other sites when someone searches your chosen keywords, than to just be number three and show up once for your own domain name. Even if you’re number one, if you’re only there once someone else placing pervasively on ten or twelve OTHER sites will look more appealing, or more like an expert, or more prevalent. Internet users aren’t naïve anymore. They know that what’s on your web site was put there by you. If a dozen other sites are also saying good things about you, that’s much more effective in terms of earning consumer trust.

MB: What are some of the most common mistakes or misconceptions of companies entering the mobile space (media companies, app developers, web publishers, advertisers, etc.)? What about misconceptions preventing companies from playing in the mobile sandbox?

MM: I think there’s still a disconnect between the left and right brain that prevents advertisers from recognizing opportunities in the mobile space, especially for small to medium-sized business. For example, local search – which is one of my main prongs of attack with any business that has a physical location… it takes me about a dozen repetitions and even demonstrations over several weeks of the immense practicality of local business search on a phone before the little light bulb starts to glow. Ultimately, I have to sit back and wait for my clients to actually use their phone in this manner to make a decision or a purchase or answer a question, and then point out to them afterward why they ended up using the vendor they selected. “Do you remember why you ended up calling CVS Pharmacy?” “Yeah, the first phone number I found for Foster’s Pharmacy wasn’t in service anymore.” “OK, so what happens when you change your business phone number and no one bothers to update all your local business listings that are floating all over the internet?” It’s as if small business owners think that because they have a web site with their name and address and phone number, that’s all they need. They don’t think far enough down the smart phone path to realize that their site might be all in Flash, or that the average local business search through a smart phone portal may put results from CitySearch or Superpages above your business’ own domain name… and oddly, SMBs are who absolutely need to succeed in this arena or get overrun by the big chains.

MB: Is the state of the economy currently having an effect on this adoption, any more so than other media? In other words is mobile’s “experimental” nature preventing companies from utilizing it as a content and/or ad delivery platform in uncertain economic times?

MM: I think this depends on who you’re asking. I don’t know a single consumer who’s given up their mobile phone. But I read all the time about companies abandoning or “back-burnering” their mobile marketing initiatives. It makes me want to ask marketers, “why are you doing this when that market is one of the only markets not shrinking?” Fewer and fewer people read printed newspaper, but more and more people use cell phones.

MB: Conversely, is mobile’s targeting capabilities, greater ad performance (CTRs etc.), and measurability making it resonate to a greater degree during these times when advertisers are demanding more concrete ROI?

MM: You’d think, wouldn’t you? I’m not sure about national numbers, but in the South where most of my work is done, it seems that there’s a different barrier to entry. Much like with social media, there’s a general lack of awareness (and therefore, confidence) in mobile marketing. I’m constantly preaching a reduction in faith-based advertising models like television, radio and newspaper, and a shift to trackable advertising, whether it’s plain old PPC or mobile advertising. But there seem to be a lot of marketing execs who lack experience with the medium, making it harder to convince the rest of the C-suite to support mobile marketing initiatives. It’s like the fact that you can measure ROI at all doesn’t matter – they’re not willing to dabble in mobile unless you can prove ROI to start with. It makes no sense to me.

MB: It’s my contention that mobile and local are so closely related. Online, searches with explicit local intent are about 10% of overall searches. On mobile, it is currently about 2x-3x more than that, and growing. Do you agree?

MM: Yes, I do agree. Every statistical report I’ve seen in the last 8 months indicates that at least 25% of all searches on phones are local business searches. This is why I start my discussions by showing folks the Sprint commercial that was released in May – “Right now, 6000 people are researching restaurants in the back of a cab.” How many “right nows” are there in a typical day… times 6000.

MB: What are the capabilities of the mobile device that will force advertisers to think differently when it comes to marketing or content delivery? Too many advertisers are porting over existing strategies (i.e. display ads) to a smaller screen. Will this change and “grow into” the capabilities of the mobile device including portability, location awareness, etc..?

MM: I think what consumers react most strongly to in the mobile arena is the gradual return of instant gratification. That’s why local business search volume is soaring. What businesses are slow to realize is that searches on phones are not in any way, shape or form about your web site. They’re about your physical location. This is why porting existing ad campaigns from the web will not be sufficient. I’m waiting for someone to fully develop an app that lets you not only research the restaurant, but see a layout, pick your table, and make your reservation without making a traditional phone call or sitting on hold or even talking to another person… then tie into and hook you up with a dinner date too.

MB: What kind of search models and ad formats will we see as a result? More location targeting? More cost per action? Actionable ways to drive local conversions, such as coupons?

MM:Oh I guess I got ahead there… I’ve always wanted to ask – how do you use a coupon on a cell phone? Do you just flash it like an FBI badge? I’d love to be able to walk through my kitchen with a phone [example] and flash it at stuff I’m low on and see which store has the best current price on that exact item or something – not traditional ads at all, but access to the most up to date info that allows me to make the best decision.

The item in the video [example above] is a wearable cross between a smart phone, a web cam, a projector, and a massive instantly accessible “google” to let you immediately interact with everything. I think the roadblock along the path to better technology is that people won’t let go of the outmoded ideas that are associated with traditional advertising. In the example in that video, the gentleman is accessing environmental data on the fly with regard to a toilet paper purchase in the grocery store. There’s no traditional advertising message opportunity here – but there’s tons of opportunity for companies who tap into what consumers are really interested in – and the newsflash is the consumer isn’t interested in hearing corporate schpiel. They want honest information so that they can come to conclusions. It’s great to know that the consumer is in the store on the toilet paper aisle, but I doubt that flashing a Charmin ad will have any effect. I think product marketing will become more about product awareness and corporate reputation as inventions like these progress.

MB: Who is doing it right? Any mobile sites or apps that you admire for delivering content in a way that is fitting to the mobile device and the way people are using it?

MM: The most awesome new phone app I’ve seen was on a Nationwide Insurance commercial. You have a wreck? You click an app that’s connected to everything you need – it calls emergency services for you, it gives you a checklist for your information exchange, locates the nearest agent or office for you, takes pics of the damage for you, starts your claim process for you, and even includes a flashlight function! This is an example of the total 180 that major companies are going to have to learn to do. This app is all about the consumer. Of course, it doesn’t do you a lot of good unless you are a Nationwide customer but this app is all about helping the consumer handle a difficult situation. Companies have got to figure out that they will get a lot farther when their advertising models are more focused on the consumer, not all about the company. On another note, I’ve seen the television commercial announcing this iPhone app ONCE – it made that much of an impact that I defied all “repeat seven times” advertising advice and remembered it after one viewing… I cannot begin to count how many Allstate, Geico, Liberty Mutual and Progressive commercials I’ve seen. I have no idea of the estimated cost of all those commercials compared to the one airing of the Nationwide commercial that I saw, but I can guarantee you that when my insurance renewal rolls around, I’ll be getting a quote from Nationwide for good measure. The return on the investment in more efficiently serving the customer will most definitely pay off with a higher ROI than those 6 million untrackable television commercials for the other major carriers.

MB: Some of the money spent at the local level (online and off) is national advertisers targeting locally. About a $17 billion chunk is the SMB segment. Very fragmented and hard to wrap your arms around. How will mobile advertising be bought and sold to this SMB segment? Self serve a la AdWords? Local sales channels like newspapers, and yellow pages?

MM: I think a handful of the major online advertising sources will be the obvious choice. SMB doesn’t have the resources for a lot of research and due diligence so they’re more likely to allow their traditional marketers or PPC management firms to take on the task of local business advertising. I think that will translate to more ad business for Google. SEO really has never lent itself well to local business presence, despite a decade of SEO “experts” telling us it works. I don’t see traditional printed ads gaining share.

MB: Any other advice for companies entering the mobile space or online publishers trying to seek out opportunities in mobile?

MM: Be proactive. Buck the old traditions and hire some new blood (says the 40-some-odd year old). Take steps to build an online reputation before you are forced to take steps to correct it. Be an expert in your area and make sure to let people know about it. Put yourself everywhere you can afford in order to have the best chance of being found – be that online yellow pages, paid ads in a search engine, paid sponsorship of a mobile portal, name on a bus stop bench, name on the back of a little league jersey, where ever you can get publicity without offending people’s sensibilities. If you can associate that with a topic consumers are passionate about, so much the better.

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