It seems every year about this time consultants and pundits like me become clairvoyant and share their wisdom with those of you who lack the capacity to see beyond the daily planner.
While I usually avoid such lofty predictions in an industry like ours that is so maddeningly unpredictable, here are a few things I think mobile and search marketers need to be aware of when preparing for the inevitable rise in mobile search in the New Year.
Social Local Mobile Marketing (SoLoMo) may seem so 2011 to you at this point, but it really is just beginning to take off.
As I mentioned at SMX Social Media Marketing last month, 42% of Facebook’s users regularly access the service through a mobile device. As social continues to influence search results through Google+ and Facebook shares, it will undoubtedly affect mobile search as well.
Currently, mobile results do not display plus one data or verified author stats, but I would think it would be difficult for Google to ignore the synergies between social and mobile for long. And with their push for ubiquity in search results and their use of GPS to provide more relevant search results to mobile users, it’s probably just a matter of time before Google finds some way to incorporate social data into mobile search results as well.
Savvy marketers should be thinking now about the effect of social on search results, both desktop and mobile in 2012.
Mobile Visual Search Optimization
This is something that I’ve been expecting for a while now but that’s never really come to fruition on a large scale. However, as marketers continue to develop mobile websites as a result of Google’s massive 2011 push in ZMOT and GOMO, it’s likely that SEOs whose mobile websites are well optimized will have to find another channel for search traffic. I expect this channel to be Google Goggles and other augmented reality search apps like Layar, who are developing a new image-based model for search on mobile devices.
Mobile visual search optimization is currently largely Google Image Search optimization with a focus on returning mobile formatted content with the image, but there could be additional signals and techniques in 2012 as more consumers adopt Google Goggles and other visual search apps as part of their standard routine.
Mobile Search Results Continue To Diverge
I’m not sure what search engines Rand Fishkin is talking about when he says “2011 has helped prove that the search world is pretty device agnostic”, but it’s not Google.
In 2011, I demonstrated that there are at least 14 differences between Google desktop and smartphone search results, which would account for the variations in ranking observed by Resolution Media and Covario in separate studies.
Further, with the introduction of a smartphone Googlebot in December 2011 Google is proving just the opposite of what Fishkin says– that they actually prefer if you give users content that’s fast, simple and relevant, and that the device they access the content from can change the user experience for the worse.
Google already has separate user interfaces for tablet, feature phone and smartphone, and this past year they made mobile landing pages a factor in quality score for AdWords and changed the search results completely for certain queries from the desktop results.
As more searches are done via smartphones and tablets and more Webmasters create content that’s optimized for these users, I would expect Google to continue to try to unearth the best user experience, which will almost always be the one that doesn’t require additional pinching and zooming in order to view.
Separate Content for Smartphone, Tablet, Feature Phones
In December of 2010, Google added smartphone volume to the AdWords keyword tool. So for a year now, marketers have had the ability to do keyword research and write content specifically for mobile or smartphone users.
I would imagine that as more marketers create more mobile sites we will need a way to differentiate our sites from our competitors. One of the reasons SEO works is because it allows marketers to see what their audience needs through keyword research and to give them what they need through content development.
Marketers who are only using desktop keywords to develop content and then reformatting the sites for mobile devices and tablets are at a disadvantage to those who develop content based on what the user needs in context because they could be missing keywords and concepts that mobile users are searching for.
Whether it’s incorporating these mobile keywords into the information architecture and content of your core site and formatting that for mobile, desktop and tablet users, or creating separate sites at different URLs with these keywords and concepts included, I think marketers who will get the most traffic from mobile search in 2012 will be the ones who understand what their audience is looking for and giving it to them.
Mobile Searchers Continue To Influence Core Search
In June of 2011 Google took two features that were previously only available on mobile and made them accessible to desktop searchers: search by voice and search by image.
Ubiquity is important to Google, as they mentioned at this event. Because of this we can expect more aspects of mobile search to influence not just mobile search results, but search results in general.
In the study I mentioned last month, I discovered that having a mobile site is strongly correlated with top three rankings in Google smartphone search. As Google continues to ensure that their results are usable regardless of device I would expect this trend to continue for core search as well.
Marketers Continue To Optimize Both Sites & Apps
Readers of this column know that in the debate over whether mobile apps or mobile Web will win the hearts and minds of consumers, I am pulling for the mobile Web. However, with comScore’s recent announcement that mobile app usage has overtaken the mobile Web for the first time, mobile app proponents are louder than ever.
However, the fact remains that consumers use both mobile websites and mobile apps, and marketers who only optimize for one platform miss out on the other. And since we’re talking about mobile search, the primary way to reach mobile searchers who aren’t putting in app queries is still by optimizing mobile sites.
Unfortunately there still will be no winner to the mobile Web vs apps debate in 2012. Marketers who want maximum reach in search and mobile will need to continue optimizing for both mobile Web and apps.