When “Local Mobile” is Just Mobile Search

It was, of course, my great honor to speak at SMX Local & Mobile in San Francisco three weeks ago, and I think that the organizers and participants deserve credit for putting together the premier search conference for discussing opportunities in Local & Mobile search. I would almost say that it was, actually, worth postponing my honeymoon for. However, I believe someone needs to clarify that there is an ampersand in between local and mobile for a reason.

Many of the attendees and some of the panelists used the phrase “local mobile” as though mobile were only one aspect of local marketing and had no other applications to business. I understand why many participants used the phrase in this context, given that this was a conference devoted to both mobile search marketing and local search marketing, but in all fairness, local search is only one aspect of mobile search. To be clear: there is local search, there is mobile search, there is local search on mobile devices and mobile search with local intent, but all mobile search is not local in nature. In fact, not even most of it is.

At the conference I heard various estimates as to the percent of mobile searches that were local in nature, and the highest estimate I heard was 30%. If 30% was accurate I would still say that it’s a bit too low of a percentage to think of local mobile as a pleonasm, but the percentage is actually much lower according to the latest search engine query study, which I discussed in an earlier blog post. For those who haven’t read it, researchers from Yahoo! performed the largest mobile query study ever this past spring and submitted their findings as a refereed paper for WWW2008.

In their study, called Deciphering Mobile Search Patterns: A Study of Yahoo! Mobile Search Queries (PDF), the researchers build on earlier Google research on mobile queries, expanding the data set to produce a more comprehensive (and theoretically more reliable) measure of how mobile users search. The researchers used actual search engine logs for Yahoo!’s oneSearch product, analyzing 20 million queries over a 2 month span. The findings were fascinating in many respects to those of us who study mobile search behavior, but most relevant to this post is their finding on queries with local intent:

In addition to the topical categorization, there are a few notable query types or intent. First, there are queries with
local intent that intend to search for local information. This is not necessarily a topical category, but rather a meta category that can be combined potentially with any topical search. The local search intention might not be always explicit with the location information given with the query, such as a zip code or a city name. We estimate about 9-10% of our queries has local intention.

The total opportunity to connect with mobile users searching for information locally then, is at most 10%. Why is it then that so many analysts are focusing on the local aspects of search, using the phrase “local mobile” when they talk about mobile search? If Local Mobile is at most 1/10 of the opportunity represented, why are so many analysts using it when referring to mobile search?

I think it has more to do with intuition than data, honestly. The potential to increase relevant messaging through hyper-local targeting is attractive to marketers, so when they speak of mobile search, they have a tendency to highlight that local aspect of it in their nomenclature. This is understandable, but there is a danger, I think, in slowing the growth of mobile marketing by addressing it in terms of 10% of the total opportunity. Entertainment is actually the most searched category in mobile search, according to the Yahoo! study, with 55% of mobile browser search market share and 34% of mobile application search share. By comparison, if mobile search were referred to as “entertainment mobile search”, would local marketers be as interested in participating? Probably not. And it’s probably not helping entertainment marketers, sports marketers, retailers, travel marketers, technology marketers, and others interested in promoting something without local intention get into the space when the emphasis in the industry is on “local mobile”.

On this blog, then, when I’m referring to the local aspects of mobile search I will use the term “local mobile”. But if I’m talking about the other 91% of mobile search I’ll call it like it is. I would encourage others in this industry to do the same.

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