Mobile search is one of the most discussed topics in the mobile, Internet and advertising industries, and for good reason. 

As more people use their mobile phones to access content, information and entertainment, a search function becomes a vital tool for finding what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

Mobile search is emerging as a major source of revenue and market-differentiation opportunities for mobile operators, marketers and content providers worldwide.  By making it fast and convenient for mobile users to find information and content, mobile search has the potential to change the way consumers view their mobile devices.  That creates revenue opportunities for mobile operators and their business partners by creating a perception among consumers that they can just as easily find and download content – such as songs – on their mobile phone as they can on a PC.  Mobile search has the added advantage of encouraging and accommodating impulse buys.  For example, if a consumer hears a new song and immediately wants it, she can use mobile search to find and download the MP3, rather than waiting until she’s at home in front a PC.

The Internet clearly is an extremely efficient sales and marketing channel.  Yet, many analysts predict that this success will be overshadowed by the mobile web.  One reason is reach: There are more than five billion mobile devices in use worldwide today.  The mobile web is becoming an increasingly popular way for consumers to go online when they’re away from their PCs or if they don’t own a PC.

Additional market drivers include the always on and always available nature of mobile devices.  That’s a major advantage over PCs, especially among consumers who spend most of their day away from home and thus away from a PC.

Mobile devices are a natural fit for marketing initiatives that include one-click call completion, where mobile users can be immediately connected to the company to learn more about or purchase a product. This ability is another example of how the whole concept of mobile search is centred around convenience and instant gratification.

Mobile search has enormous potential, which can be measured in a variety of ways.  For example, the installed and grown base of five billion-plus mobile users is already generating a significant amount of mobile search traffic even though many, if not most, of those users are still learning about mobile search.  This usage is creating tremendous revenues through proven online search marketing models.  It’s not a stretch to see analysts and investors giving members of the mobile search ecosystem valuations comparable to the Internet search world.

How is Mobile Search Different from Internet Search?

Rohit DadwalOne fundamental difference between mobile search and Internet search is the form factors of the devices used.  Even with QWERTY keyboards and increasingly common large screens, mobile devices still require search platforms designed to make it fast and convenient for users to find information and content on a handheld device.  Internet search engines and strategies can’t be simply ported to the mobile environment.  Instead, they have to be modified – often significantly – in order to accommodate device and network limitations.

A second fundamental difference is the type of information sought.  Internet users often seek comprehensive, lengthy information, such as material for a term paper, analyst reports on their company’s competition or prices for flights and mortgages.  By comparison, mobile users typically seek concise, actionable information, such as news headlines, sports scores, weather, movie times or a list of nearby hotels.  Mobile users also increasingly seek ringtones, downloadable music and video clips, all of which must be organized in a way that makes it fast and convenient to find exactly what they want.

Multiple Players, Multiple Beneficiaries - Mobile search engines benefit wireless consumers, marketers and mobile operators by fostering a cycle where: 1) Consumers use search to find content, services or information.  2) Marketers present relevant products and services, and are willing to pay for traffic.  3) Search engines provide what consumers seek and consumers find what they are looking for.  4) Operators provide a useful consumer experience while enjoying new revenue streams. For example:

Search Providers – Mobile search provides a way for search providers to continue serving consumers when they’re away from their PCs.  In the process, search providers give their advertisers, content providers and other business partners a way to reach consumers anytime, anywhere.  By expanding into mobile search, search providers can also expand their advertising revenue by placing ads in conjunction with mobile queries.

Consumers – Mobile search provides consumers with a convenient way to get actionable information, such as weather, and immediate gratification, such as song downloads.  Mobile search can also leverage the location technologies (e.g. GPS) built into many phones to make search results even more focused and actionable.  For example, with GPS, search results could go beyond just a list of nearby Italian restaurants to include turn-by-turn directions to each one.

Marketers – Search allows marketers to reach mobile users with offers that are highly relevant to their immediate interests.  Although that sounds as obvious as it is, there’s more to this ability than is immediately apparent.  For example, instead of hoping that consumers will remember something – such as a song they heard or a purse they saw – when they’re back home and in front of a PC, mobile search provides marketers with a way to serve those needs and wants on the spot.  Put simply, mobile search gives marketers a way to provide instant gratification.

Mobile Operators – Because they have major control over the applications, services, portals and menus that appear on their customers’ devices, mobile operators are ideally positioned to provide their customers with search tools that make it easy not only to find information and content, but also to spend money once they’ve found what they’re looking for.  In the process, the mobile operator benefits in at least three ways: 1) additional revenue from data services; 2) the potential for royalties from content downloaded as the result of a search or from sponsored links; 3) reduced churn if the search tools are more convenient and sophisticated than what rival operators offer.

Portals and Publishers – Mobile search gives Internet portals and publishers a way to serve consumers when they’re away from a PC.  That additional reach can directly impact their bottom lines by, for example, driving additional sales and additional advertising revenue.  These searches can be performed at the publisher’s own site or through the use of a third party’s search engine.

Content Providers – Mobile search makes it convenient for consumers to find and use a wide variety of content anytime, anywhere.  That benefits content providers because it increases their addressable market and revenue potential far beyond people who are in front of a TV or a PC.  In the process, mobile search also gives content providers a way to sell into markets that have low PC and Internet penetration rates.

With mobile search, consumers get what they are looking for, marketers find buyers for their goods and services, and mobile operators get additional revenue from data usage and, in some case, royalties.  That’s why the mobile search ecosystem is one of the most efficient and powerful marketplaces in recent history.  As mobile search matures, the market dynamics will improve even more, unlocking additional revenues for all members of the value chain.

By Rohit Dadwal, Managing Director, Mobile Marketing Association Asia Pacific Limited