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January 13, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 10:20am

Mobile search engines: Can Google once again be a pioneer in search?

Analysis: Experts weigh in on Google and the mission to revolutionise mobile search.

By Alexander Sword

Can Google do for mobile search and advertising what it did for desktop search?

As mobile device ownership amongst the global population reaches saturation point, perhaps it is not as an exaggeration to say, as Bing Ads’s UK Sales Director Ravleen Beeston does, that "this year, mobile will no longer be part of the marketing strategy, it will be the marketing strategy."

But mobile is a new landscape, perhaps as different from the PC as the PC was from the television. What kind of changes can we expect from the world’s favourite search engine in the near future?

One innovation that Google has already announced is the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, slated for launch before the end of February. Google explained in a blog post that it was working to "allow webpages with rich content like video, animations and graphics to work alongside smart ads, and to load instantaneously."

Part of what feeds into this need is the unique experience of the mobile device. Smartphone owners rarely if ever use their mobile devices to just do one thing, or at least not to the extent that they would on a desktop PC. Most users tend to flick between apps rather than stay in one place.

Added to this is the innate idleness of the mobile device. It is unusual to sit next to a desktop computer while watching television, and occasionally turn on the desktop to look up a salient fact or when an email comes in.

This, however, is almost universal behaviour on a mobile device, which due to its size can be kept on the person and easily accessed at will.

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"Consumers prefer to use their mobile device even when not on the move because their digital experience is convenient and more personalised than on the desktop," says Beeston of Bing Ads.

When the notification prompt triggers further browsing on the internet, however, the user is not looking to be sold anything, and an advert that takes too long to load could easily scare them away.

"Publishers around the world use the mobile web to reach these readers, but the experience can often leave a lot to be desired," reads a Google blog on the launch of AMP. "Every time a webpage takes too long to load, they lose a reader — and the opportunity to earn revenue through advertising or subscriptions.

"That’s because advertisers on these websites have a hard time getting consumers to pay attention to their ads when the pages load so slowly that people abandon them entirely."

AMP is being built as an open source project, which suggests that Google will not try to monopolise the benefits of it.

"We also want the same code to work across multiple platforms and devices so that content can appear everywhere in an instant — no matter what type of phone, tablet or mobile device you’re using," the Google blog reads.

"On the surface it appears Google is trying to ensure AMP has broad appeal and avoid creating a ‘walled garden’ – I think this approach is welcome and beneficial," says Ian O’Rourke, founder and CEO of Adthena.

The AMP project provides a glimpse into some of the innovation that Google already has planned. As with its desktop search tool, it has zeroed in on a customer problem and is aiming to build a solution.

There are several other limitations of the mobile device that Google may try to address in the coming months. In mobile advertising, the parameters of the mobile device itself also come into play. Since the screen is much smaller than a desktop screen, there is a limit to the amount of advertising that people can be exposed to.

"There is the obvious restriction of screen real estate for displaying ads on mobile, so only the top two results really matter," says O’Rourke.

But where this really matters is in display advertising rather than search, as Kun Dang, Head of Search at Babel PR explains:

"Ads on mobile can be far more intrusive when compared to browsing on a desktop. There’s nothing worse than waiting for an ad to load when you are expecting to see content! Innovations in ad personalisation and integrating placement in line with user habits will be the key to overcoming these hurdles."

But what about the mechanics of the search itself?

"The adoption of voice recognition and gesture control demonstrates that consumers today don’t want to rely on typing; they expect to interact with information in more natural ways," says Beeston.

"As a result, we are likely to see new search behaviours emerge, focused on the conversational nature that voice search supports. With digital personal assistants already in our pockets, we’re bound to see wider audiences adapting behaviour to utilise this new technology."

Another area where we can expect innovation will be attribution. Last year, Google adjusted its search algorithm to prioritise mobile-friendly sites. Perhaps this is another area Google can take further, as O’Rourke says:

"Attribution in mobile search is going to get much better, already Google is making inroads, connecting mobile search to things like store traffic and offline sales and allowing more personalised campaigns," said O’Rourke.

"When advertisers can attribute mobile search very clearly to sales with 100% confidence they’ll increase their mobile search investment and mobile CPCs will rise significantly."
We should also expect mobile search to incorporate an increasing amount of contextual information, such as location, time and date, and previous searches, as Nick Leech, the digital director at 123-reg explains:

"Ad platforms will continue to expand the range of data and analytics they use to understand what’s interesting, valuable and timely for mobile users, and it giving them before they search."

Overall, then, there are countless areas where Google could innovate; AMP is just the start.


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