There’s no doubt about it, mobile search is struggling to capture the imagination of users on anything like the scale of its desktop alter ego. That’s despite the fact that there are now almost half as many search-enabled smartphones in circulation worldwide as PCs.
It’s especially telling given that mobile search has been available to users for a number of years, it’s had plenty of time to build awareness. Yet the alternatives on offer to smartphone users – particularly via the huge choice of apps out there – is putting the brakes on a mobile service once considered as a pretty sure long term bet.
The evidence is compelling – our own recent research has shown that mobile search queries are only running at around 10% of the volume of PC-based search, with UK users being slightly more enthusiastic than average, with mobile search rates at 16.5% of PC search overall.
Use of mobile search varies according to subject and market sector, with categories such as consumer electronics and people seeing mobile search rates at 25% the levels of desktop.
Mobile technology searches are among the best performing, but only searches for ‘iPad’ (55% of desktop volume) and ‘blackberry apps’ (also at 55% of desktop volume) are currently managing to reach some level of parity with desktop.
Even for search topics that are currently the fastest rising in popularity overall, mobile search volumes fail to get anywhere near those of desktop, with top 10 search topics such as ‘justin bieber’ seeing only 20% of searches carried out via mobile devices. Among a very few notable exceptions, is the preference of UK searchers to find ‘cricket scores’ via their mobile, with search rates running at over 270% of desktop.
So, with independent figures showing that there are now in the region of 500 million browser-enabled mobile devices in use worldwide, compared to over 1 billion PCs, search volumes aren’t even close to parity. Arguably, mobile search has tougher competition than desktop given the enormous popularity of apps that are increasingly fulfilling the search needs of users.
With new IDC figures predicting app downloads to soar worldwide from 10.7 billion in 2010 to a frankly mind boggling 182.7 billion as soon as 2015, pressure on mobile search from app developers and massive consumer support will increase considerably. IDC also point out that the app development industry is racing to ‘Appify’ just about every physical and digital interaction possible, so if you can get a niche app with search capability to suit your precise needs, why would you use a generalist search engine?
Add to this increasing competition from social networking, which is also hugely popular among mobile users who increasingly use it as a recommendation search tool, and the idea that mobile search will become as ubiquitous as desktop search seems remote. The pressure is certainly telling, and it’s something that brands should take note of in building their search strategies. It also underlines the value of keeping all digital channels under review to ensure mass market trends can be closely followed.
Clearly there is likely to be long term demand for mobile search, but on what scale? As a service it seems the odds are now very much stacked against it to deliver value for the search providers, their advertisers or consumers with anything like the success of its desktop counterpart.
By Farhad Divecha