It is estimated that 94% of people in South Africa have mobile access compared to 11% with internet access in 2011. For many people, mobile is their primary means to access information, yet the adoption by mobile web users and marketers has up to now been slow.

Mobile search is filled with a number of challenges and opportunities for the many players that make up the mobile search ecosystem, and although technologies and devices have evolved rapidly over the past couple of years, many marketers have not yet embraced or even considered the benefits that it can provide. South African marketers are still in a very favorable position to benefit from the early-adoption advantage.

The global challenges facing mobile search adoption include education of both consumers and marketers, the development of user-friendly mobile content, and the ability to provide a good user experience across multiple devices and networks.

Mobile Search Google image

Key Mobile Players

To better understand mobile search, marketers need to understand the relationships that exist between the various players that make up the mobile search ecosystem: Consumers/Users who search for content; Mobile Operators who enable the search; Search services who deliver the content; and the Marketers who present the content on behalf of the Publishers.

While the Operators and Search Engines have various opportunities to earn revenue through the process of mobile search, marketers often have to pay for the opportunity to present their content to targeted users. Mobile search has a number of beneficiaries which include not only the search providers and operators, but also includes the consumers, marketers, publishers, portals and content providers.

Search Providers: Earn advertising revenue while delivering content.
Consumers: Can leverage location technologies and gain instant gratification.
Marketers: Offer relevant content to immediate needs.
Operators: Earn revenue through data services, royalties or partnerships while facilitating the user experience.
Publishers: Increase sales or advertising revenue while serving customers needs either on their own website or through a 3rd party search engine.
Content Providers: Increase their market and revenue potential by delivering content to a market that they were not previously reaching.

The Mobile User accesses content either through mobile websites or via on-deck (operator portal applications) or off-deck applications (downloaded directly from a web address). The mobile user can input a search query in various formats such as text on a keypad (often relying on predictive text); through speech (where voice recognition software converts the query to text); or via an image (e.g. Taking a photo of a product barcode). The output of the search results should consider the display size and network speed available to the user, and should provide that user with an option to perform an immediate action such as an SMS, click, share or purchase.

The Mobile Operator has an opportunity to differentiate itself from its competitors by using search to create a favorable market perception which should translate to increased average revenue per user (ARPU), a key metric used to measure an operators competitive position, where such revenue can be earned through subscription data plans, content partnerships, sponsored links or sale of ringtones and other downloadable content provided through it’s storefronts. Operators have a further opportunity to increase their revenue by customizing its billing systems to support premium SMS content delivery and real-time location data.

Many operators offer search services which could be operator-based or off-portal (off-deck) or as a combination of both. In order to increase its advertising revenue, operators will need to be able to provide useful demographic data to advertisers to facilitate behavioral and contextually relevant content while simultaneously protecting the privacy of it’s consumers.

Mobile search services should consider the user’s perceptions, expectations and current or past experiences in order to leverage these revenue opportunities while continuously providing the mobile consumer with a great user experience. To do this, it will need to ensure that the content delivered is compatible with the user’s network and device; taking into consideration the bandwidth, speed, screen display size, sound capabilities, device memory levels, operating system and of course the user’s level of awareness of the service available to them,

The Marketing Opportunity

An opportunity exists for markets to plan and execute a mobile marketing strategy as an early adopter to create additional sales opportunities and increase revenue. As with Internet search, the mobile search strategy should include both natural and paid search campaigns. For natural search, marketers should concentrate on helping the mobile user to get to their mobile-friendly content as quickly as possible by eliminating excessive navigational steps. Marketers can also facilitate the user experience by offering mobile alert functionalities.

Mobile Paid Search Campaigns (or keyword advertising) should, as with any other campaign, start by defining the campaign goals upfront. By carefully monitoring and measuring the click-through and conversion rates, the marketer can refine the keywords, sponsored link titles and landing page to reach the desired goals. Where marketers are able to deliver intelligent location-based content, the conversion rates could easily achieve a click through rate of close 25% with a 5% conversion rate for relevant content delivered in real-time to a carefully targeted opt-in audience.

Marketers should not feel overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of mobile search marketing and they should not be afraid to experiment with different ideas. As exciting as mobile applications sound, marketers should first concentrate on creating mobi-friendly websites before investing time and money into the developing and marketing of mobile apps.

Marketers will find that most consumers are far more likely to adopt mobile search if they can find more content rich, mobile-friendly sites.