Searching through the tiny screen

Searching through the tiny screen

Geraldine Wilson

Geraldine Wilson, VP and general manager, Yahoo! Connected Life Europe

 
Paul Nerger
Paul Nerger, vice president for advanced services and applications at dotMobi, of .mobi domains and developer of find. mobi, a mobile search engine designed to only returns mobile pages

Google was one of the first to hit the mobile web, with a move back in 2001. Growth has been slow, however; by the beginning of 2008 mobile search was still only equal to 2% of desktop search, with 10 billion searches per annum on the mobile compared to 490 billion on the desktop, according to figures from Taptu. Yet this year that has started to change; Heather McLean takes a look at where this technology is going.

In 2008, the number of mobile internet users got closer to the number of desktop internet users, at 800 million versus 1.2 billion, Taptu states. From March 2007 to March 2008, the US saw a 10 times increase in mobile broadband connections, from three million connections in 2007 to 32 million in 2008 (GSMA April 2008). Off the back of those figures, search advertising spend for 2012 is forecast to hit $900 million for Western Europe and $1.4 billion for the US (eMarketer, February 2008).

“The mobile web is exploding,” states Paul Nerger, vice president for advanced services and applications at dotMobi, of .mobi domains and developer of find.mobi, a mobile search engine designed to only return mobile pages. “We’re seeing a real increase in the number of mobile sites. At the end of November 2007 we put this number at just over 25,000 sites, and as of the end of July 2008 it had grown to just over 147,000 sites! Like the fixed web before it, the mobile web is uncharted and getting larger very fast. Search engines provide the charting.”

The raft of recent announcements, involving market giants such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and a growing number of whitelabel search providers including InfoSpace (now rebranded Motricity), Fast Search & Transfer (which was recently acquired by Microsoft), Medio Systems, JumpTap and Mobile Content Network (MCN), shows carriers and content companies are clearly excited about mobile search.

Different strokes…

Yet for mobile search to work, the industry has to be aware that the usage case for search on the PC and search on the mobile is completely different, says Geraldine Wilson, VP and general manager at Yahoo! Connected Life Europe. She states that people typically do not conduct intensive research on their mobile; they look for an immediate answer that provides highly relevant information. That makes understanding the context of the query and the user’s intent highly important on the mobile.

Peggy Anne Salz, publisher and chief analyst at MSearchGroove, explains: “In view of the differences between the mobile web and the internet, a retrofitted web search solution – think Google, Yahoo Microsoft – is not fine tuned to pick up on cool content on the mobile web. In fact, I agree with the conclusion of Mobile Commerce, that found that Google and Yahoo typically deliver relevant results for the web, that is, the internet search, and rubbish for the mobile web.”

Nerger comments: “PC search is of course important but for the mobile user,

using a PC search engine could result in frustration. It is important to format the results and only to return links to the pages that will display on the individuals’ device. Additionally, mobile users are new to using the web on their phones. You certainly don’t want to frustrate them or give them a bad experience, for they will then quit using the mobile web.”

Mobile search, like its desktop counterpart, is the de facto interface to all things digital and mobile, says Salz. “But mobile as we know is our personal space,” she states. “Our devices are personal and with the advance of GPS-enabled devices, as well as tools and technologies that allow companies to determine our location without depending on mobile operators for lookups, our location is also part of our mobile persona.

“Connect the dots and you have the inputs that enable a more personalised and contextual mobile search experience, one that takes the heavy lifting out of finding what we want on the fly,” Salz continues. “And let’s not forget search advertising, which can now also be more contextual. The goal is to deliver the right ad to the right user at the right time and place. People on the move want answers to specific questions or they want to kill time and find something to amuse themselves; they want results that are genuinely useful, and lists of links like we know from the PC is an unacceptable user experience.”

 

Yahoo! and Google size up the competition

Speaking from the PC search perspective, Wilson says: “Before Yahoo! oneSearch, mobile search was fundamentally broken with everyone, ourselves included, providing users with a sea of PC-style links to pages that didn’t load well on their mobile phone screens. On mobile, users don’t need or want two billion results; they want quick and easy bite sized answers to their queries. In January 2007, we changed the way that consumers access and use the internet on their mobile phone by launching a search service designed specifically for mobile users.”

Yahoo! oneSearch is designed to surface results to user questions in the first page. Yahoo! recently announced the addition of voice-enabled search. oneSearch with Voice is currently available on a range of BlackBerry devices in the US and will be coming to more handsets and markets in the near future, including the UK.

Desktop search engines such as Google and Yahoo! are keen to replicate the PC experience on portable devices. However, Steve Ives, CEO at Taptu, states: “At the moment, using top desktop search engines on mobile is slow, requiring too many clicks and scrolls. More importantly, the algorithms which determine relevancy were designed for the desktop world and so the search results are often inaccessible or inappropriate on the mobile; sites require plugins like Flash, have an unusable layout or a page payload that’s beyond reason for a mobile phone. Consumers are left frustrated and unsatisfied.

“This frustration is negated with mobile specific search engines,” he continues. “Typically, they provide consumers with a better user experience, more relevant results and therefore users complete tasks quicker. Taptu is on average two times quicker than its competitors,” he claims.

Additionally, Tomer Lustig, vice president of adoption at Olista, comments on Google: “A specific concern regarding the utilisation of Google as the main mobile search engine in the portal is that on one hand, the brand and capabilities are an important asset for the operator, but on the other, Google is also a threat for the operator as an entity that can have an independent relationships with the consumers in general, and for mobile advertising purposes in particular.”

Yet Kamran Ahmed, corporate accounts, Cortel, comments that big brand search engines are still where the consumer looks for mobile search: “I think as far as most people are concerned, Google is probably the most frequently used website [on the mobile]. Mobile integration of search capacity is still in its infancy and most platforms are just an extension, and mostly a limited one at that, but there is a gap in the mobile search market that most providers and resellers are not taking advantage of.”

Easy access for the tiny screen

The trick to mobile search is it has to be easy to access. There is not the space on the tiny screen or keyboard, or time for users on the move to dig around. Norman Nielsen research showed that most mobile users are capable of making 12 clicks in the space of 30 seconds. Yet an analysis of 20 top European mobile portals by Norman Neilsen revealed the average click-distance from the portal homepage to the desired content is at least 16.

According to Salz, a closer examination of the content available within 12 clicks from the portals found that on average just over 35% of portal content services falls within this limit. “In short, a whopping 65% of mobile content is positioned too far away from the homepage, making it invisible to users,” Salz exclaims. “Recent usability studies, from Sweden’s Mobile Matrix, argue mobile portals must bring content to users within six clicks,” she adds.

“Improved discovery techniques would improve operator revenues over five years by around $10 billion cumulatively in Europe, and just over $4 billion in

Kamran

MAKING MONEY

As for whether mobile search can make money for dealers, Kamran Ahmed, corporate accounts,

Cortel, says: “Absolutely, the scope to add value to end user experiences is broad. Obviously [there is] the ability to deliver content and up to date prices on new products, billing services and help forums, and also in the future the ability to promote third party services to your captured market.” Cortel is looking into mobile search providers right now. Ahmed explains: “We are launching our MVNO and will be deciding soon on which search engine to apply. A customisable mobile search engine that users could bias searches on industry, interest or geography would be incredible and is something we are researching.”

Steve Ives, CEO at Taptu, says dealers are very influential in consumer buying decisions and have a major role to play in the future of mobile search. “We’ve seen in our usability testing and research that dealers often play an important role in educating consumers about new services or applications. We would like to see a future direction where dealers recommend applications and services to consumers; perhaps this is a new revenue opportunity for dealers?”

North America, amounting to just under $14 billion in the two regions combined,” warns Salz.

Yet Ives criticises operator portals: “It is important that the industry recognises changes in consumer behaviour and focuses on meeting these needs. Carrier portals have offered users ‘search’, but in their walled gardens, and thereby only a subset of the available content and services is available. This is clearly doing the consumer a disservice and we don’t see this as sustainable.”

 

New kids on the block

There are many hugely interesting mobile search companies appearing now, setting themselves up as rivals to the often messy and tedious searches provided by the brand name search engines on the mobile, such as Google.

Thumbplay launched an innovative mobile search service in June this year, which allows mobile users in the US to search for and buy ringtones, games, videos and wallpapers from their devices. Thumplay’s service, called GET, is an SMS-based search. All users do is send a text naming an artist or song name to THUMB, and they are immediately sent a link to relevant content by SMS.

abphone is another one. It is a free mobile site that can help users find content specific to the mobile phone, including videos, images and games. Salz comments that abphone, a French company that launched mobile video-only search service last year, is set to follow up with a search service for mobile games and music. Another one she rates is Veveo, a company that offers vTap, a free application that lets users search and view videos on their mobile. It recently sealed a deal with Motorola, which now has the option to preinstall vTap on its devices. Mobile Commerce, an LBS and mobile content integrator, recently took the wraps off its Monetised Mobile Search solution, Salz states. She says the solution allows any WAP site owner, regardless of network, to install a search box within their interface and manage a keyword auction.

Mobile Commerce blends the search results from a number of different search pools and presents these relevant results in the format and context that is most useful to the searcher. Companies to have signed up for the service including The Sun, The News of the World, and Carphone Warehouse.

Taptu, a mobile-specific search engine that launched in July, combines entertainment search with social networking. Salz comments on Taptu: “In the past, if users wanted to make themselves heard they created a webpage.

What we’re seeing now with Taptu is the potential for communities to form based on their search behaviour and passion for results that reflect what humans want and not what algorithms dictate.”

Ives comments: “The mobile is a supersocial device that is always with users. The mobile is the most personal device many users own. Simply re-purposing content and the interface from the web isn’t going to be enough to meet these needs and the current market numbers support this.”

Peggy Anne Salz

Peggy Anne Salz, publisher and chief sums up. n analyst at MSearchGroove

 
Steve Ives
Steve Ives, CEO at Taptu
 

Winner takes all

Yet Lustig feels that ultimately, the big brands will win out: “Mobile search engines such as Google and Yahoo! will dominate the mobile search arena, but at the same time new designated search engines will be introduced. These engines can be designated to the operator to optimise their content download revenue potential or to specific areas of interest, such as sport, music and youth.”

However, Ives disagrees and says for mobile search to be an effective service, it needs to use different technology, display results differently and take into account that both the needs of the users and the devices are different. “As the debate about desktop sites that are mobile-compliant versus mobile-specific sites runs on, there is no doubt that there is a need for a search engine tailored to mobile, since search behaviour on mobile is so different,” he sums up.

Tomer Lustig

Tomer Lustig, vice president of adoption at Olista

 
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