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In 2012, search marketing reached an inflection point in the US. Desktop search volume declined for the first time, while the share of queries from smartphones and tablets reached roughly 20%. Nowhere is the increased usage of mobile devices more evident than in search statistics. Google reported that search traffic from smartphones and tablets worldwide increased 80% year over year in 2012.
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.
Overall, the outlook for mobile search is positive. However, US marketers face significant challenges with paid and organic mobile search, namely mastering Google's Enhanced Campaigns—a new version of AdWords announced in February 2013 that promises to make buying mobile search easier but requires a steep learning curve—and dealing with the inability to identify search referral traffic from iOS 6 devices. All the while, marketers need to keep a close eye on US consumers' use of mobile apps for vertical search.
2012 was a watershed year for mobile search as US smartphone and tablet users became a mass audience and the volume of mobile internet traffic grew large enough for marketers to identify similarities and differences between smartphone and tablet search behaviors.
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. The smartphone user group alone represented half of all internet users in the US. While it’s tempting to add the population of smartphone and tablet users together to estimate the penetration of total smart device usage among US internet users, it’s not a straightforward calculation. Significant overlap exists between the two groups, and data is just beginning to surface about the number of US consumers who own both devices. For example, comScore’s “US Digital Future in Focus 2013” report noted 28% of US smartphone subscribers tracked between October and December 2012 also owned a tablet. Still, it is safe to assume that the smartphone and tablet user groups as a whole accounted for a significant majority of US internet users last year.
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