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My take on: Why it’s time to rethink mobile search


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This week Stephen Kenwright, Director of Search at Branded3, says it’s time to rethink desktop and mobile search.

Almost 20 million people in the UK search Google on a mobile device each month (source: Ofcom). That’s 50% of Google’s user base. 35 million people still use a desktop or laptop computer to search Google. 30 million use a desktop or laptop to search Yahoo! or Bing. Desktop search is still huge – and it’s still growing.

…but mobile is growing faster.

More than half of Google searches globally are conducted on mobile devices and Google didn’t have to pay much attention to mobile for its first decade of existence.

The first mobile phone capable of accessing the internet didn’t become available until a year after Google was created. The iPhone is nine years old; the first Android phone is seven. Responsive web design has only been around for six years and already more traffic comes through mobile devices than through the rest of the 25-year-old internet.

Mobile is the future of the internet – and the future of search – but that doesn’t mean smartphones.

Mobile means the freedom to move from one device to another without any dip in experience. Right now conversion rates are still higher on desktop because searchers enter a website on one device and checkout on another. But consumer confidence in checking out on a mobile device is increasing rapidly.

In reality, the gap in conversion rate on desktop and mobile is down to the way websites are built: desktop first. Because mobile websites are typically cut-down versions of desktop sites, users do experience a dip in experience.

The effects of this could be seen in the differing conversion rates between Android and iPhone: the huge variety of screen sizes and browsers on Android meant a 20% lower conversion rate than on iOS in 2014. As adoption of mobile web design increased that gap fell to 5% in 2015.

Mobile analyst Benedict Evans said that “for as long as the idea of the ‘mobile internet’ has been around, we’ve thought of it as a cut-down subset of the ‘real’ internet… it’s time to invert that – to think about mobile as the real internet and the desktop as the limited, cut-down version”.

Websites will continue to convert better on desktop for as long as we continue to build them that way. That we’re now seeing some clients achieve their highest conversion rates on mobile devices gives me confidence that hanging onto desktop at all costs is not the right strategy.

My take on… Why digital isn’t everythingInstead we need to think about where desktop search is relevant, and to who.

In 2011’s ‘Winning the Zero Moment of Truth’ ebook, Google explained the new marketing model it – and other search engines such as Amazon – have created.

Traditionally a stimulus, whether a TV ad or conversation with a friend, would provoke people to go and check out a product in a store. Since then, search has become the dominant response – and mobile is the medium searchers overwhelmingly choose to take the first step.

But what about step 2?

To understand how our strategies must shift to incorporate mobile – and still retain desktop – we need to understand how our customers are currently engaging on their mobile devices and accept that they’re doing so in spite of our designs.

Fortunately, we have all this data on our fingertips. As Aidan Cook wrote a few weeks ago, “our tastes, preferences and perspectives can be (with increasing accuracy) used to drive art, advertising and marketing”.

But where to start?

As mentioned above, search engines are used differently. When it comes to mobile versus desktop, Google is split down the middle – but Bing and Yahoo! are dominated by desktop use (74% of their users search on a desktop or laptop). Analytics platforms can tell us how engaging pages are to visitors on different devices – and the experts in our own businesses can tell us the best way to get that information across.

Rather than thinking about mobile and desktop versions of our website, perhaps it’s time to think about a site that just works however our customers want to find it?

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