Will the Rise of Mobile Apps Kill SEO and SEM?

At Yahoo’s first mobile developer conference in New York City, the company’s senior vice president of publishing products Simon Khalaf said that SEO, SEM, and blue links “are gone” on mobile because people are not using browsers. As apps dominate mobile activity, is traditional search marketing via SEO and SEM going to disappear?

Not necessarily, industry experts say. Although mobile apps offer a convenient way for users to access a large variety of services, there’s a tremendous amount of information they need to navigate through browsers, according to Sastry Rachakonda, chief executive officer (CEO) of iQuanti, a digital marketing company that specializes in search.

“Will people stop searching because of mobile apps? I don’t think so because they need information,” Rachakonda says. “SEO and SEM will still be there, but what will change is how SEO and SEM are done. Mobile data gives you the opportunity to largely improve the quality of search. The more data, the better search outcome you can deliver.”

Vikas Gupta, director of marketing at data company Factual, agrees that search behaviors will remain. He believes that SEO has become an abstract concept for the manner in which marketers optimize themselves to be found digitally.

“I think the way people traditionally look at SEO, which is effectively optimizing for blue links, will continue to change dramatically,” Gupta says. “It will become less important for a specific set of search behaviors, such as local search, that is very fragmented across different mobile apps including Apple Maps, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare and so forth. But SEO will remain important for some search behaviors, like business-to-business sales type of search.”

While Rachakonda and Gupta don’t think SEO and SEM will disappear soon, they both point out that mobile apps have become a real threat to Google, the number one player in search. As more people buy things on Amazon, select restaurants on Yelp and book cabs on Uber, they won’t need Google to be an intermediate. Even Facebook’s virtual assistant can handle some search tasks, Factual’s Gupta adds.

The search giant is aware of mobile app’s threat and has taken action. Google has been working hard to optimize search results or mobile display, in addition to integrating search with other mobile app experiences on Android through “Now on Tap” and aggressively indexing mobile app content. But while its search app can reach 50 percent of the U.S. mobile market, according to comScore, Rachakonda thinks Google has to do more.

“Google built a search engine primarily for desktop, but now search behaviors have changed. They are not the same as someone going to a search bar on desktop,” he says. “I think Google is aware of this change, as it has been making lots of mobile efforts like encouraging HTML5 and indexing apps. Google may have forward-thinking business plans, but it’s difficult for the company to completely transform its business model.”

As the conventional search model is transforming, what could be an ideal search format for a mobile world? Nobody has a good answer at the moment. But Gupta believes that the best format should be highly intelligent.

“If you look at what Google Now or Microsoft’s Cortana is trying to do, the idea is that a user does not actually need to tell a device anything, while the device can predict what the user would be interested in and send them information accordingly,” Gupta says. “What is the easiest way to get the most accurate answer? If you can develop search products that solve users’ pain points and offer more convenience than the existing solutions, you will win in the long run.”

Homepage image via Shutterstock

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