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Mobile Search Reshapes the Path to Purchase

The consumer journey now takes place across devices

Mobile search may be the future, but desktop search remains a heavyweight for marketers. Thanks to a sizable advantage in conversion metrics, the desktop promises to be a key player throughout this decade, according to a new eMarketer report, “Desktop Search 2014: Marketers Find a Balance with Mobile.”

Desktop search remains a favorite among marketers because of its deep consumer behavior history—which benefits search engine optimization on the desktop and mobile—its existing best practices, its measurable return on investment (ROI) and its wide usage. But with a mobile revolution under way, the desktop is finding a long-term home as a piece—but no longer the center—of the consumer journey.

Key to the future of desktop search is understanding how it will be informed by mobile usage in terms of design and measurement. Marketers now aim to intercept consumers at various times on various devices, and more frequently it’s mobile devices that catch consumers’ attention first. September 2013 data from comScore showed that overlap between mobile and desktop accounted for nearly half the unique visitors among the top 15 US web properties.

Adapting to a consumer who has already viewed something on mobile presents major shifts in how search results pages are designed.

Designs can be tweaked to smooth transitions between devices, but measuring cross-device results with the same consistency is more difficult. Marketers are challenged in proving that a mobile activity—conducted without the tracking capability of desktop cookies—contributed to an eventual sale and, thus, how it factors into the ROI calculation. Matching up mobile, tablet and desktop activity so that advertisers can establish best practices remains a work in progress.

The future for maximizing desktop search, marketers say, lies in identifying purchase intent by blending signals from other platforms across the purchase process. Advertisers are now trying to identify intent for consumers who may have come across information in any number of ways—YouTube, Twitter, mobile site, tablet, TV ad—and aligning such activity with a desktop search campaign.

Paid search traffic turns into sales more often on desktops, so the underlying goal for marketers will be to invest in a marketing mix that gives consumers what they need on mobile, identifying them once they transition to desktop and delivering the right search results and content in a consistent format.


The full report, “Desktop Search 2014: Marketers Find a Balance with Mobile,” also answers these key questions:

  • When will mobile search spending surpass desktop search spending?
  • Why are conversion rates so high for desktops?
  • How has Google’s Enhanced Campaigns affected the paid search landscape?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.

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