There’s a new buzzword in the internet search marketing world, and it deserves some attention because it represents a convergence of a few major trends. The new word is SoLoMo, which is shorthand for Social Local Mobile search. It has effectively replaced the term “hyperlocal search”, which was used to describe the localization of all Google Searches. Any search term that Google interpreted as having a local component would use your location to return relevant local results ahead of all others. The new terminology reflects the growing trend of throwing both social media and mobile search into that mix, and all of the marketing opportunities that this implies.
The proliferation of smart phones and mobile devices, and their subsequent use in conducting mobile search have changed local marketing. Players that dominated local marketing for years, like the yellow pages, are being pushed out. It began with all search becoming local, and continues now to an even greater extent by local search becoming both more mobile and more social.
A recent article by Samantha Murphy on Mashable.com identified this trend, and some of the emerging players poised to take advantage of it. Service companies like Groupon, Yelp, and Foursquare, and retailers like Starbucks have embraced geo-location strategies that attempt to fine tune location search. Initially local search could use IP address for locations, but by offering deals these services can entice users to give up more precise geo-location in exchange for more targeted deals. Facebook flirted with the SoLoMo concept with its check-in via places to check-in, and it’s now defunct competitor to Groupond, Deals. They haven’t gotten it right yet, but expect a new initiative soon to put Facebook back into the SoLoMo search mix.
If you are a business owner who competes for local business, these are important trends to understand. If you have a large yellow page marketing budget, are you really getting any bang for your buck? If you think your marketing dollar could be better spent, but you’re too busy running your business to understand the ins and outs of the rapidly changing Social, Local, Mobile search world, an online marketing consultant can help. At Primatir, Online Presence Management is our business, and we can help you develop a strong online presence in all of the places you need to be, to make sure you are found by today’s social, local, mobile searchers who are looking for you.
How many minutes a day do you spend surfing the web? Think of a number. Now, how many minutes do you spend on mobile apps? This includes tablets and smart phone, but for smart phones don’t include time spent calling or texting. Do you think this number is greater than the time you spend surfing the web? Well some interesting data from Flurry shows as of December, 2011 that the average person using both technologies spent 72 minutes surfing the web, and 94 minutes using mobile apps.
From the data above it appears that daily time spent web browsing may have peaked around 74 minutes in mid 2011. Time spent on mobile (both apps and mobile web) is continuing to increase.
If you have an online presence, you need to make sure that however people are finding you, you have a strong online presence. Clearly from this study, more people who find you are increasingly more likely to be finding you on a mobile device. If you don’t take mobile users into account when optimizing your site, or if you don’t use mobile marketing, you may be missing out on an ever increasing segment of potential customers. It also means that social media and reputation sites that are geared towards mobile devices are going to be increasingly influential to customers who spend more time on mobile devices. Managing your reputation on these sites needs to be part of you online presence management strategy.
On December 19th, two US Senators, Herb Kohl and Mike Lee, the Chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calling for an investigation of Google’s trade practices. In the letter, which you can read here, they cite the testimony from Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman who testified before them in September. They specifically cite his admission that Google has a monopoly on search. They go on to cite the extent to which search now pervades commerce. Statistics they cite include 240 million Americans use the internet, eCommerce was $170 Billion last year, and 92% of Americans use search engines. They go on to state that Google started as a search engine who’s only goal was to redirect users to relevant sites. They state definitively that Google’s business model has changed dramatically in recent years. They say that Google has made numerous acquisitions, and question whether it is possible for Google to remain an unbiased search engine when they have holdings in so many vertical markets where they tend to favor their properties. They point out that Google has been known to penalize certain websites in their search rankings, and questions whether Google uses these penalties fairly, or to favor their properties or maintain their domination of search. They go on to state that they are not acting out of an interest to protect any specific competitor, but to maintain robust competition in search, especially the mobile search market.
Google’s main response has been a June blog post that they keep referring back to, that according to Google, states their 5 driving principles that will stand up to any non-competitive scrutiny. Those five principles are:
- Do what’s best for the user.
- Provide the most relevant answers as quickly as possible.
- Label advertisements clearly.
- Be transparent.
- Loyalty, not lock-in.
(Read more about these principles here.)
Besides citing these five guiding principles, there other main defense to anti-competitive charges seems to be the “competition is only a click away” argument. This kind of arrogance, in light of their own admission of nearly complete dominance of the search space, is just the kind of hubris that will make me root for the FTC in the coming battle.
An article today in Search Engine Journal had the provocative title “Will Google be around in 2 years?” I read it with some skepticism, expecting a bait and switch type article where the attention grabbing headline was some kind of play on words. Google, not around in 2 years, how is that possible? But after reading the article, the scenario is not that farfetched.
The presentation was a Ted talk. If you haven’t checked out ted.com, you should do it. It’s like youtube for smart people. The presentation is by Roger McNamee. He points out that people search the web for information using indexed search (search engines) as well as all other methods (Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Dictionary.com, etc.). He makes a case that indexed search has peaked, but other methods are growing. He even makes a case that we have reached a tipping point where the number of other types of search now equals the number of indexed searches on a daily basis.
He makes the case that Google even realizes that this is happening. That’s why they are trying to monetize other revenue streams besides search advertising, including their drive to become a social media player with Google+.
Another point he makes is that people are increasingly choosing non-commodotized content over commoditized. (They trust organic search results more than paid links). Google’s drive to add more and more commoditized content will in the end drive people away.
Is last point is the one that made me a believer. People are increasingly using mobile and apps for search. With all the talk lately of how Siri could potential threaten Google, this argument suddenly made a lot of sense to me. More and more search is going mobile. At the risk of being too general, I would say that search that is done on a mobile device is probably done by people closer to the moment of truth of making an actual purchase. Desktop searchers are more likely to be doing research, mobile searchers are more likely to be looking to find a business and make a purchase. The future of search is mobile, and Google does not have a lock on mobile search at all. They are vulnerable. People that may be fed up with the over commoditization of Google may look for alternatives in mobile search. Google may always be a leader in indexed search, but index search could become just one player in a search conglomerate that parses your question and determines if your question can better be answered by Yelp, Urban Spoon, Wikipedia, or Bing. A mobile search conglomeration would be the real winner, and Google could be the big loser. Now all that talk about the significance of Siri doesn’t seem so crazy, and the thought of a future without Google seems a little more probable.
In my last blog post I made the case that an increasing number of the potential visitors to your website will be using mobile platforms, such as an iPad, iPhone, or other smartphone. Most people agree that going forward, this will be an ever growing number. If their experience with your website in their mobile browser is not a good one, you could come off as unprofessional, and lose a good chunk of this every growing market.
As part of managing your online presence, you have to manage the visitors experience on your website. And more and more that experience is going to be on a tablet or smartphone. As you begin managing your online presence, one part of that process will be using SEO techniques. This will improve your search engine rankings. As you get better search engine rankings, you will get more first time visitors to your site. If they are on a tablet or smartphone, you need to make sure your site is easy to navigate, graphically appealing, engaging, and as informative as if they were viewing your main website in a desktop browser. In this blog post I’m going to outline the basics of making sure your website is well represented on mobile platforms.
Once you’ve decided to make your website mobile friendly, the first question is to decide which of the following two routes you will take:
- Optimize your existing website to be mobile friendly.
- Create a separate, parallel mobile site completely streamlined for mobile users.
When making this decision, one of the main things you need to consider is the percentage of current users of your website that are from a mobile platform. Your current weblogs or analytics should allow you to get a percentage of all visitors to your site who are using a mobile platform. This report from comscore.com shows that currently 7% of all digital traffic is from tablets and smartphones. This is the average across all types of web sites and for all demographics. Depending on the nature and target demographic of your website, the number you get from your analytics could be substantially higher. If it is in the 25%+ range, you should definitely consider a separate, parallel mobile website. Creating a separate parallel mobile site will give that 25%+ segment of your visitors a more satisfying experience. If your current visitors on mobile platforms are in the 10%-25% range, either path is probably a good option, depending on available resources. If less than 10% of your current visitors are on a mobile platform, you can probably safely consider streamlining the existing website for better mobile viewing.
Optimizing your existing site to be Mobile friendly
Optimizing your existing site for mobile friendliness will involve testing, tweaking, and refining your current website to make it more mobile friendly. By testing how your website performs on various platforms, you will quickly begin to see which features perform well, and which feature perform poorly, or don’t perform at all. For example if your site uses Flash menus, your users will be literally stuck on the home page when they view your site on an iPhone or Ipad. Simply replacing your menus with similar HTML 5 menus solves that problem. By continuously testing and refining your site, you can establish new design specifications for your site. Eventually, you can get to the point where the experience on most major mobile platforms is acceptable. You may never get the full user experience for your mobile visitors that they would have gotten if you designed and maintained a separate mobile website. You should at least get to the point where the mobile device user can navigate the site, easily peruse content, and generally feel like they are getting something of value from a professionally designed site.
To begin the process of testing and refining your site, the following tools check cross browser and cross platform compatibility by showing your website in all of the many mobile configurations:
- W3C mobile – A simple tool at the W3.org website that validates web pages as mobile OK.
- Gomez Cross-Device Mobility Test – A free test for your website on the big 4: Google Android, Safari on IPad, Safari on iPhone and Blackberry.
- Crossbrowsertesting.com – Web-based software to easily view your website across all major browsers and all major platforms, with a free trial and plans starting at $29.95/month.
- Perfecto Mobile – Cloud based application, you pay for the time you spend viewing your website on any browser platform combination ($10-$14 per hour)
- Multi-Browser Viewer – Standalone software that simulate iPhone, Blackberry, Windows mobile, Google Android, and iPad mobile with all of the major browsers. ($139/year, $99 Annual Refill and update)
Creating a separate mobile site
Creating a separate mobile site will increase you web development costs. There will be costs to set it up as well as increased maintenance cost of your website going forward. More and more, website visitors are using these platforms for a greater share of their web browsing. All indications are those numbers will continue to increase. The extra cost justification should be easy once analytics show more than 25% of your visitors are on a mobile platform. A separate web site designed to offer a professional, easy to use, scaled down version of your main site should easily pay for itself.
There are many tools designed especially for creating a website that is tailored for use on mobile platforms:
- Mofuse – Build and host your mobile site on their platform (starting at $39.00/month)
- Mobify – A leader in ecommerce mobile sites
- WPtap – Specializes in themes/plugins to convert a WordPress site to a mobile site.
- Mobisite Galore – Build and host your mobile site on their platform (10 page pack $156/year, unlimited page pack $225/year)
- WPTouch Pro – Converts WordPress (WP) based websites into mobile friendly sites. (Cost: 1 WP website $39, 5 WP Websites $69, Unlimited WP Websites $199)
As part of strong online presence management strategy, you need to understand where your visitors are coming from. A larger percentage of them will be coming from tablet and smartphone devices, as people spend more of their online lives on these devices. You need to make sure that no matter what platform or browser those visitors are using, they need to come away from your site feeling more engaged and more informed.
Smartphones and Tablets now drive nearly 7 percent of total U.S. Digital Traffic, according to a report released October 10, 2011 by comscore.com. The report was entitled ‘Digital Omnivores: How Tablets, Smartphones and Connected Devices are changing U.S. Digital Media Consumption’. Some key findings of the report were that the mobile media user population (defined as anyone who browses a mobile web, access mobile applications or downloads mobile content) grew 19% to more than 116 million people. Also, nearly half of all iPad owners had made a purchase using their iPad. See more of the report here.
These numbers seem to support conventional wisdom that if someone is searching for a product or service on the web, more people than ever are doing that from a tablet or smartphone, and those numbers will continue to grow. Having a strong Online Presence means you need to understand the ever changing online world. You have to insure that your website is friendly to all of the platforms that your potential new customers are using.
Also, a study by www.emarketer.com showed that mobile ads seemed to have a stronger influence than similar ads displayed on a desktop PC. The various factors that seemed to be influenced more strongly by the mobile ad are shown in the chart below (and see more info on the study here):
These reports show an opportunity for online marketing. SEO experts are noticing that for whatever reason mobile users don’t seem to be tuning out advertising at the same rate they have been conditioned to tune out PC based advertising. This could change over time, but seems to be the case right now. Businesses that have a strong Online Presence Management Strategy need to insure that the mobile users experience with their website is optimized for their platform. If you choose to use pay-per-click search engine advertising as part of your online presence management strategy, mobile advertising may be the best way to spend the money. You need to keep in mind going forward that as you improve your search engine ranking, there is an ever growing chance that those who find you will be finding you on a smart phone or tablet. When they do, you or your SEO expert need to make sure your website is ready for them.
A recent personal experience gave me something to think about in terms of mobile devices and search. Locked out of my apartment, I pulled out my smart phone and Googled “Locksmith Indianapolis”. The first listing had a phone number in the description, so I clicked the number, made arrangements, and was soon back in my apartment.
As someone involved in internet marketing, this experience raised a few questions:
- What percentage of searches comes from mobile devices? Is there a trend towards mobile?
- Are mobile search results different than desktop search results? How are they different?
- Do mobile searchers behave differently than desktop searchers? Are they more or less likely to become customers?
I did a little research, and found the answers interesting.
What percentage of searches comes from mobile devices? Is there a trend towards mobile?
Efficient Frontier data study from March of 2011 tells us that on average 10-15% of search traffic comes from mobile devices, and there is no question that this percentage is trending rapidly upward. These numbers varied widely by market, sometimes even doubled. Their study showed that 5.4% of all paid search impressions came from mobile, quite a jump from last year. The following chart shows their data for ad spending for paid search on mobile devices:
Are mobile search results different than desktop search results?
It is true that Google’s mobile search results differ from desktop result. Exactly how they differ, like most things Google does, is a closely guarded secret. A recent article in searchengineland.com documented 14 differences between mobile and desktop search results. Some of the 14 were trivial. The more interesting differences included apparent higher priority for localized listings in mobile search, and differences apparently due to differing Click-thru-rates and bounce rates from mobile users as compared to desktop users. Bottom line, since mobile search results seem to prioritize location, to be successful in an ever-growing mobile search arena, it is important that your business is correctly registered in Google places, so that you are found by local mobile searchers. Your description tag should be concise enough to communicate all important information in the smaller mobile search result, and your website should have a mobile version.
Do mobile searchers behave differently; are they more likely convert to customers?
This answer surprised me. Mobile searchers seem to click-thru only about 70% as much as desktop searchers. The only explanation I can think of for this is that desktop users might browse more, clicking on multiple sites and exploring their options. Mobile users may be behaving more like I was when looking for a locksmith. They may be looking for a solution for a particular problem, and not browsing or clicking thru on multiple listings.
Now I’m fairly certain I didn’t get the best deal on that locksmith that I could have gotten. With “as-needed” types of businesses like locksmiths, people often want the quickest or surest , not necessarily a decision with a lot of due diligence for the best deal. These types of businesses in particular need to be transitioning there advertising dollars from old school methods, like yellow page advertising, to more effectively being found in search in general, and mobile search in particular. And once found, they need to make sure their website has been optimized with a mobile version. For those local businesses providing “as-needed” services, winning the moment of truth with mobile searchers, being found, and then providing information to mobile searchers could be the difference between success and failure.