In 2012, search marketing reached an inflection point in the US, according to a new eMarketer report, “State of Mobile Search 2013: Key Trends in Mobile SEO and SEM.” Desktop search volume declined for the first time, while the share of queries from smartphones and tablets reached roughly 20%.
Impressive as the growth has been, the results are more noteworthy: US marketers that ran tablet- or smartphone-targeted search campaigns in 2012 saw clickthrough rates (CTRs) well above desktop averages, while cost-per-click (CPC) rates were below desktop norms. In 2013, eMarketer estimates US mobile search ad spending will top $3.5 billion and represent 18% of digital search ad spending, up from 11% in 2012.
eMarketer estimates there were 121 million smartphone and 94 million tablet users in the US in 2012, a 31% and 180% increase, respectively, compared with 2011. Anecdotal data from several US digital marketers and retailers suggests roughly 20% of total page views come from smart devices.
But search behavior between smartphones and tablets cannot be lumped together. The difference in search behavior on the devices mirrors the difference in their usage patterns. More searching happens on the tablet, but it is largely located in the home. Searching on the smartphone is less common, but more likely to happen outside the home and result in an action.
Google estimated that 20% of searches across all platforms worldwide have local intent, but the search giant doesn’t disclose the share that comes via the mobile web.
However, data from local media and advertising consulting firm BIA/Kelsey found the volume of local searches conducted via the mobile web was growing at a much faster clip than desktop. In March 2012, the firm estimated that one-third of all local searches in the US would come through a mobile phone in 2012, a 56% year-over-year increase. Taking the 2012 local search ratio together with increased mobile usage, it seems likely that the volume of mobile local search queries in the US could very well surpass desktop local search in 2015, which BIA/Kelsey estimated.
The rising tide of mobile queries brought several search engine optimization (SEO) matters to a head in 2012.
Desktop SEO is a daily practice for a majority of marketers worldwide, but a much smaller group has implemented mobile SEO tactics. One reason is that marketers have been unclear about the degree to which search engines, particularly Google, differentiate mobile search queries from desktop.
In June 2012, Google delivered its clearest set of instructions regarding the three smartphone website configurations it supports and how web developers should implement the configurations to ensure proper indexing. The company supports responsive web design, dynamic serving of differing content from the same URL, and differing site URLs between mobile and desktop.
On the SEM side, mobile’s high CTRs and low CPCs have encouraged marketers in the paid search realm, and they are confident mobile is having a positive effect on sales in other channels. Morever, the February launch of Enhanced Campaigns promises to simplify the mobile search campaign process.
All the while, consumer search behavior continues to evolve. Apps and consumer adoption of virtual assistants, as well as Facebook’s progress with Graph Search, could further diminish consumer reliance on traditional search methods.