Mobile Search – Improving Findability of Content

Mobile Search – Improving Findability of Content

This article appeared on the launch of by Peggy Anne Saltz. We were also quoted in Peggy’s excellent article Mobile Content: More effort than it’s worth?


Mobile Search – Improving Findability of Content

An executive at a prominent mobile operator recently asked me – is there any money in Mobile Search? Should we just get Yahoo or Google in here and not worry about it? Is there something at stake here that we should worry about? Mobile Search is a dilemma to many in the value chain. Should they cede control or innovate for the long-term? As the discoverable content increases in depth and breadth, it is inevitable that mobile search will drive user navigation on devices. Whether it is by user keying in a few keywords or short cuts or search engine generating a personalized, to-the-minute user interface that directs user navigation, mobile search strategies will start taking center-stage on majority of decks. Also, advertisers are starting to discover the power of mobile channel to connect with the consumers.

A key problem for the mobile data industry is subscribers trying to find a specific piece of content or a specific application. All of the major operators offer an excellent and expansive range of games, ring tones and many other applications. While choice is great for the consumer, if they can find what they are looking for, the sheer number of options available is bewildering. It is impossible to browse and navigate the labyrinth navigation structures available today. Mobile search helps tie together otherwise silo?d catalogs and deep navigation trees for ringtones, graphics, games, music, sports, news and other content.

There are several differences between Internet (aka Google) search and mobile search. While Google on desktop might return a useless list of 2M hits (the useful results are generally in the first dozen links), mobile search needs to take in more variables before it figures out the “answer” to the user input. These variables are driven by context, history, preferences, device capabilities, and social network. You weir off a bit and the experience starts to waffle. Understanding “user?s intent” is key. The business models are also slightly different. While Google might present the paid-search-results on top, on the side or even blended in the main body, search results needs to very optimized and customized to the query and context. In addition, several new models come into play like “click-to-call” where real money is to be made. Some calls such as in real-estate business can yield over $30 per call for referrals. You can do the math. Clearly, we are in the early experimentation phase and some of the high CPMs and CPCs will eventually settle on a more reasonable metrics, but the need and demand is there.
The majority of the searches initially will happen via browser and using keypad input from the user but will gradually be integrated tightly across applications and platforms and will accept voice, image, bar code, and others input mechanisms.

Mobile ‘Long Tail’

We are all used to a hit driven games and ringtones business that is constrained by the limits of deck or storefront menus and by shelf space. Mobile Search helps eliminate the need to market and arrange the storefronts for the lowest common denominator and instead foster up hundreds of niche categories and storefronts. A successful long tail model in mobile will be driven by two core requirements:

  1. Easy access to all of the content in the category being sold. But also must have access to the hits in the category.
  2. Easy ways for content buyers to find the rare stuff in niches. Menus on menus on menus linked from the home page won?t cut it on a small screen. You can?t display it all.

Blended results

Most mobile keyword searches will involve answers that come from multiple sources and databases. In such cases, search results are „blended? or federated and results collected amongst numerous databases. These databases are all generated by mobile-centric crawlers or filtered from web-centric real-time API feeds or content integration into a catalog.

Search modality

Initially, majority of the searches on the device will happen via a browser. However, in the next few years, search application(s) will be embedded in majority of the devices and will become a standard feature just like SMS or IM clients on the devices today. Other means of input to search would be voice, picture (camera) or bar code (camera, barcode reader). Results from searches could be cached and potential content of interest can be pushed to the user device for quick access. At the end – users really do not care about modality, they care about relevancy.

Finding content from anywhere

Mobile search solution should empower user with flexibility and on-demand capability. If the user is using a desktop, they should be able to send results or customized queries to not only their phones but also to all parties of interest. Similarly, user might be in a car and the situation demands a voice input and text out capability. User should be able to find relevant information by speaking some key words instead of tapping them in.

Running promotions

The search results page can provide an area for carrier driven promotions. The subscriber?s search term determines which promotion is presented. The process of creating a promotion and tagging it with relevant keywords is performed in the content management system. After being published, retrieval and presentation of a promotion is an automated background process. To stem declining ARPU and grow revenue, one needs to make it easier for consumers to find what interests them by delivering “relevance on top”.

Local search

Local search is an important part of mobile search offering. Often times, people are looking for people, places, and events around them. The capability to seamlessly look up local information based on position location and present the results sorted by context, community ratings, and user preferences is essential. The ability for local advertisers to tap into this new promotion medium provides an opportunity for 1-to-1 marketing.

Mobile Advertising

Advertising also takes a new dimension with mobile. The wealth of user information and the capability to have 1-to-1 relationship with the user makes it a very powerful platform for the multi-billion dollar advertising industry. They get the user demographic information along with the confirmation of a “view” which is gold for advertisers. Having said that, a few missteps can also alienate users for months.

Coming back to the questions we posed early on, in the short-term, the revenues will be generated by finding sellable goods on the device. There is ample evidence in current incarnation of mobile search deployments that just be making the findability simpler, there is at least 5-10% boost in revenue. If you can build recommendations on top of that, your revenues will increase further, then if you link your silos to cross-promote and cross-sell, another few percentage uptick is experienced. Just mining the existing store will pay off the mobile search investments within weeks, not months. Then extending the search universe to off-deck and the Internet will help user expand their choices which again benefits the eco-system. Then, promotions, advertisements, quad-play, social-networks, user-generated content, .. you get the picture. We are just starting to scratch the surface. And yes, the industry benefits from the tension between operators, OEMs, media giants, and Internet behemoths. In the end, mobile search will help drive quality of content, personalization, and better user experience.