Mobile Ad Revenue Outlook: Local Search Leads the Way

Earlier this week, BIA/Kelsey released its U.S. mobile local advertising forecast, projecting $5.8 billion in revenue by 2016. Full disclosure: I’m the author of that forecast, so I decided to provide an exclusive breakdown of some of the mobile search numbers for SEW readers.

Before we get into those breakdowns, here are three main highlights:

  • U.S. mobile local advertising will grow from $664 million in 2011 to $5.8 billion in 2016, a CAGR of 54.2 percent.
  • This represents a 41 percent share of 2011 overall U.S mobile advertising ($1.6 billion) growing to 58 percent of 2016 mobile advertising ($9.9B).
  • Search is the largest mobile local revenue component and will remain so through the forecast period. It will grow at a a 52 percent CAGR, from $390 million to $3.2 billion.

Let’s take those in order.

The top line is notable because mobile local advertising is growing so rapidly. This is defined as advertising that’s targeted based on a user’s location. There’s lots of nuance, but examples can include display ads within defined geofences, or search queries refined by GPS or geo-modifier.

One thing that sticks out is local’s growing share of mobile advertising. This will come about as brand advertisers increasingly evolve their campaigns to the realities of mobile usage (Google says 50 percent of mobile search is local); and the native capabilities of the device (i.e., location targeting).

Mobile advertising will also move down market to SMBs through a combination of self-serve tools, and local media direct sales channels. We’ll also see premiums develop for location-targeted ads – a function of higher performance that’s already evident from data shared by mobile ad networks.


Another important breakdown of these mobile local ad revenues involves format. Though mobile continues to broaden into different forms of “native advertising” (i.e., Facebook News Feed Ads), most mobile ad formats today fall into the main categories of search, display, SMS, or video.

The story here is that search eclipsed display last year as the leading format, and will continue to increase its share in the coming years. This has a great deal to do with evolving devices that are search friendly. But it also has a lot to do with user evolution to brave the mobile web, where search is central.

In this way, search’s fate as a mobile ad format is tied closely to the “apps vs. mobile” web debate that faces app developers and publishers. For users, apps have created a warm and fuzzy environment (so search isn’t relied upon as heavily). But look for the mobile web to grow at a faster rate.

Much of that will result from its economics: It’s cheaper and easier to build and update a mobile website than a native app. And one can reach many more users in avoiding platform fragmentation. Meanwhile app-like functionality can increasingly be achieved with things like HTML5.

It’s true that apps still beat mobile web in functionality – especially for media-rich mobile experiences such as gaming. But for lots of app categories like social, local, and news, sufficient functionality can be seen on the mobile web. Here the debate shifts from functionality to discoverability.


App stores have proved to be a safe and easy place for early smartphone users to find things. This is compared to the wild west atmosphere that is the current state of the mobile web. But as the above developer economics set in, the mobile web itself will become more user-friendly and optimized.

That will create more usage, which will in turn boost search volumes; as search is the front door to browser based experiences. Google – with its 95 percent share of mobile search – will benefit greatly from this. That’s a clear reason it’s pushing for a more user friendly and optimized web (see GoMo).

But back to our forecast, all of these factors will converge and ignite mobile search query volume in the coming years. In addition to volume, the dollar share shift will accelerate from the premiums placed on search ads (compared to display) – a function of their intent-driven and pull-based nature.

Local intent will boost that even further. Once again, 50 percent of mobile search queries have local intent. One year ago that was 40 percent, and the year before that, it was about 30 percent. This should tell us something about mobile local search and its impact in shaping the ad revenue opportunities of the next few years.

Related reading

SEO tips tools guides 2018
5 schema markups for local SEO