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The insiders guide to mobile search marketing

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Posted by mobiThinking - 02 Mar 2009
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Navigating the search maze

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Mobile search providers

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abcnews.mobi uses Medio’s search

While you may not have heard of Medio Systems, if you’ve used an own-brand search engine on an operator portal or big content provider in the US or Europe, you could well have been using Medio. Among the clients who use Medio’s white-label search are Verizon, T-Mobile, Telus Mobility, ABC News Mobile, CBS News Mobile, CBS Sports Mobile and Disney Mobile.
mobiThinking asked Michael “Luni” Libes, chief architect and co-founder at Medio Systems, to give you the inside track on mobile search optimization/marketing.

See: telus.mobi, abcnews.mobi, wap.cbsnews.com, wap.cbssports.com, disney.mobi

What is mobile search marketing?
It helps to think in terms of discovery, rather than just search. Your mobile site needs to be found to be used. Visitors don’t just find your site though search engines, but also via directories, blogs, reviews, word of mouth and other means – this is all part of organic discovery.

What does it involve?
To make sure your mobile site is discovered, you need to follow many of the same guidelines as with the traditional (i.e. PC) Web. This starts with site creation. Follow the best-practice guidelines: make sure each page has a descriptive title; add tags; and use HTML headers for header.
Next register your site at as many mobile portals as possible. Then register your site with as many mobile search engines as possible. Make sure your site links to other relevant mobile sites and encourage them to back-link to you.

What makes it different to the online search marketing?
The immaturity of the mobile Web makes it even more important to do comprehensive search marketing. It just isn’t as easy for mobile search engines to discover mobile sites, as it is online: First, search engines rely on cross-links between sites to map the Web and many mobile sites have no links at all.

Second, there’s no well-known ‘David and Jerry’ list of good sites (which is how Yahoo got started online). Nor is there an established, comprehensive, hand-built directory of mobile sites (again like Yahoo).
Third, there isn’t a reliable, definitive way to determine if a Web site is designed for mobile or not, or, more specifically, no way for a search engine to know if a site will render well and be usable on a given handset. With the (PC) Web in the ‘90s, there was no such issue: if a site existed, then it would render.

Is search marketing difficult? Can I do it myself?
It’s not difficult, but neither is it trivial. There are more mobile portals and mobile search engines than most brands and site owners know; and no one search engine dominates mobile search like Google does online. You can certainly do it yourself, but why risk your investment in time and effort you put into creating your mobile site? Spend some money on an expert in search engine optimization/marketing and get found. There are plenty mobile users worldwide who will visit your site, if only they know you exist.

How much should I spend?
If you go through the effort and expense of setting up a mobile site, or “mobilizing” an existing Web site, then you want as much site traffic as possible. How much did you spend developing your site? How much do you plan to spend on adverts to “buy” traffic? Take some of that money, and use it to drive organic discovery instead.

Do I need to pay for listings?
You shouldn’t have to pay for standard listings, site registrations, or anything else that includes your site in the organic search results. However, you should expect to pay for sponsored results on mobile search engines, a.k.a. search advertising or other related forms of advertising.

Can I get analytical results?
Search engines will provide statistics of impressions and click-through from paid-for listings, but not for free/organic search results. However if you use an agent for search engine optimization/marketing, they should be able to help you set up analytics on your site to track usage further, including referrals from search engines.

What are the most common mistakes in mobile search?
Two common mistakes are sites full of pages with no titles and sites full of pages with the same title. In both of those cases, the search engine has to generate a title to show in the results. Let’s just say you don’t want to leave it up to that algorithm. This type of mistake is easy to make because, on many handsets, the title is never displayed, and so the error is not easily caught.
My favorite mistake is sites containing pages with no text. I commonly see mobile pages consisting of nothing but a series of images, with no title, no meta tags and no alt tags on the images. To a search engine, this is a blank page so will never be found. Even with a title, it’ll be ignored versus almost any other page with a matching keyword.

What’s the biggest myth?
The biggest myth is that Google and Yahoo dominate mobile search. No research firm truly measures the white-label search providers, leading people to assume they are just small players. If properly measured, it could be that by combining the usage figures of white-label search engines such as Medio, the total would equal or even exceeds that of the big brands.

Who are the main players in mobile search?
Mobile search engines fall into four categories:

  • First, there are the big brands from the PC Web Google and Yahoo are serious participants in mobile search by any measure. Microsoft, AOL and Ask all also have mobile search offerings.
    See: google.mobi, yahoo.mobi, msn.mobi, aol.mobi, m.ask.com.
  • Second, there are the white-label providers, led by Medio Systems and JumpTap, who are behind the mobile operators’ own-brand search engines. With the best white-label providers, you should only need to register your mobile site once to be found on all client search boxes.
  • Third, there are a smattering of consumer-oriented, mobile search engines, such as Taptu and 4Info.
    See: Taptu.mobi and 4info.mobi
  • Beyond this there are numerous niche players who focus on vertical sectors and catalog search.

Is mobile search still in its infancy?
Absolutely. Four years ago, when Medio was starting out, few sites and few operator portals included a search box. Now they understand that search is useful to mobile subscribers, things have improved a lot.
Meanwhile search engines are still looking for the balance between providing sufficient relevant results, while keeping the page-height mobile-friendly. Google limits the mobile search page to 10 results, Yahoo goes for a cluster of results, while Medio takes an approach in between the two.

  • Also see: What no links? How the Oscars, film distributors and news sites are all at sea over mobile

  • Posted by mobiThinking - 02 Mar 2009

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    mobiThinking focuses on everything you need to know on the business of mobile and web. With an exhaustive compendium of mobile statistics, practical guides to mobile agencies, ad networks, top mobile markets and more; interviews and analysis, industry events and awards.

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