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The changing search landscape
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The changing search landscape 

The way people perform online searches has changed, and that has implications for businesses. Jennifer Johnstone, senior search and biddable media manager at the advertising agency Essence Digital, explained how companies can adapt to this shift.

Johnstone pointed to recent research that supports anecdotal evidence of how search is changing. “According to a new research study from Google, people expect search ads to be relevant to their context and location, customized down to their city, zip code or immediate location,” she commented. “As we move into a world where 1 in 4 online searches are now conducted on mobile devices, this becomes even more apparent. Mobile users want hyper-targeted results, ad copy that speaks to them and understands the context of their searches.”

There is a paradox, though. “Almost inversely, searches on mobile devices actually tend to be shorter than the longer-tail searches often executed on desktops,” Johnstone remarked. “With this, a user gives us less information, but based on the location and context of the search, actually want us to infer more information.”

Another development in search is the things for which people are searching. “Customers now have more information than ever – right at their fingertips,” Johnstone noted. “With such easy access to technology, we are seeing users synthesize more complex information on mobile overtime.” She acknowledged that consumers continue to perform simple searches for places such as their local electronics store. “But now it’s common for users to take it a few steps further by price-checking items right in the store to ensure they’ve got the best deal or, by checking out the customer reviews to ensure their product is top-notch,” Johnstone added. “As advertisers, we need to understand that our mobile users are no longer satiated with only simple information. To speak to them, we need to meet them at their level, which is advancing far beyond just the typical phone number and address listing.”

Johnstone has also begun to see the rise of in-app search as well. “Though not the majority, many customers are now downloading relevant apps and searching for products and services in-app (Amazon, Target, etc.) rather than through the traditional search engines,” she stated. Johnstone urged advertisers to understand how mobile users interact with applications, which includes learning why they download apps in the first place and what drives them to interact with in-app advertising.

What can companies do to navigate the changing search landscape? “Businesses who want to reach mobile users should be taking location and context into consideration (assuming location makes sense for their business model) when creating their search campaigns,” Johnstone advised. “They should also be noting how searches on mobile devices differ from the searches on desktops and should be prepared to provide the user all the information they need to convert. The information that impacts purchases (or conversions) can be found in search query reports and additional mobile data sources. Are mobile users looking for reviews on your business? Have they been checking into the prices? Searching for your phone number? Make sure that you have an ad that triggers with the requested information when a search like this is executed by a user.”

The search specialist also offered advice on applications and searches. “For the users that are searching within apps or spending more time engaging with apps, businesses need a way to get their attention,” Johnstone said. “For some, this will mean creating in-app ads, and for some this will mean creating a mobile app of their own. Mobile sites are beneficial, but engagement rates on applications tend to be so much higher.”

Transitioning to the mobile search space will not pose many obstacles, Johnstone believes. “With all the information on the internet, I’m not sure if ‘real’ barriers truly exist for advertisers looking to incorporate mobile into their strategy,” she asserted. “There is a slew of information on mobile, tons of credible studies, how-to guides by pioneers in the industry and more. Advertisers who aren’t up to speed will surely miss out, but the information to get started and make a case for mobile is definitely out there. For the most part, mobile tends to be much cheaper than standard desktop campaigns, so if you’re running on desktop, and mobile makes sense for your business, you can’t play the ‘budget’ card without testing it.”

Johnstone recognized that companies will have to work a little bit harder to implement mobile search strategies. “The evolution of customer search begs businesses to evolve as well,” she remarked. “For businesses, this will mean more time, more data and more analysis – and when mobile campaigns are implemented correctly, it will mean more converting traffic coming from mobile.” However, the consequences for ignoring mobile search will be drastic. “Advertisers that haven’t adjusted their strategy to meet the needs of mobile users will fall behind in 2014,” Johnstone warned.

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