Google Holds the Right Cards for a Horizontal Market

First published January 9, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

android_trhoneFunctionality builds up, then across. That was the principle of emerging markets that I talked about in last week’s column. Up – then across – breaking down siloes into a more open, competitive and transparent market. I’ll come back here in a moment.

I also talked about how Google + might be defining a new way of thinking about social networking, one free of dependence on destinations. It could create a social lens through which all our online activity passes through, adding functionality and enriching information.

Finally, this week, I read that Google is pushing hard to extend Android as the default operating system in the Open Automotive Alliance – turning cars into really big mobile devices. This builds on Android’s dominance in the smartphone market (with an 82% market share).

See a theme here?

For years, I’ve been talking about the day when search transitions from being a destination to a utility, powering apps which provide very specific functionality that far outstrips anything you could do on a “one size fits all” search portal. This was a good news/bad news scenario for Google, who was the obvious choice to provide this search grid. But, in doing so, they lose their sole right to monetize search traffic, a serious challenge to their primary income source. However, if you piggy back that search functionality onto the de facto operating system that powers all those apps, and then add a highly functional social graph, you have all the makings of a foundation that will support the ‘horizontalization” of the mobile connected market. Put this in place, and revenue opportunities will begin falling into your lap.

The writing is plainly on the wall here. The future is all about mobile connections. It is the foundation of the Web of Things, wearable technology, mobile commerce – anything and everything we see coming down the pipe.  The stakes are massive. And, as markets turn horizontal in the inevitable maturation phase to come, Google seems to be well on their way to creating the required foundations for that market.

Let’s spend a little time looking at how powerful this position might be for Google. Microsoft is still coasting on their success in creating a foundation for the desktop, 30 years later.  The fact that they still exist at all is testament to the power of Windows. But the desktop expansion that happened was reliant on just one device – the PC. And, the adoption curve for the PC took two decades to materialize, due to two things: the prerequisite of a fairly hefty investment in hardware and a relatively steep learning curve. The mobile adoption curve, already the fastest in history, has no such hurdles to clear. Relative entry price points are a fraction of what was required for PCs. Also, the learning curve is minimal. Mobile connectivity will leave the adoption curve of PCs in the dust.

In addition, an explosion of connected devices will propel the spread of mobile connectivity. This is not just about smart phones. Two of the biggest disruptive waves in the next 10 years will be wearable technologies and the Web of Things. Both of these will rely on the same foundations, an open and standardized operating system and the ability to access and share data. At the user interface level, the enhancements of powerful search technologies and social-graph enabled filters will significantly improve the functionality of these devices as they interface with the “cloud.”

In the hand that will have to inevitably be played, it seems that Google is currently holding all the right cards.

What’s Apple’s Plan for 2014?

First published January 2, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

apple-storeWhen new markets open, value chains first build up, then across. Someone first creates a vertically integrated experience, and then the market opens up as free competition drives efficiency. This is the challenge that currently lies ahead of Apple.

Apple has been the acknowledged master at creating seamless vertically integrated experiences. They did it with the personal computer. They did it with music. They did it with mobile. They did it with tablets. The advantage of working within a closed value chain is that you control every aspect of the experience. You can make sure that everyone plays nice with each other.

The challenge is that at some point, as adoption heats up, you simply cannot scale fast enough to meet market demand. Open competition drives horizontal competition, which drives down prices. The lack of control up and down the chain introduces some short-term user pain, but eventually the dynamics of an open market overcome this and the advantages of having several companies working on an opportunity outweigh the disadvantages.

Apple loves early markets. Or, at least, they have in the past. Under Jobs, they had a knack of creating an elegantly integrated experience that was carefully crafted from top to bottom within the walls of Cupertino. The vision and obsession with detail that defined the Jobs era was a potent combination when it came to building vertical experiences. Somehow, Apple was able to open new markets over and over again, seemingly at will. They were able to bridge Geoffrey Moore’s “Chasm” – by making new experiences painless enough for the front end of the adoption bell curve. As markets rode up the curve, markets turned from vertical to horizontal, driving a decline in margins and prices. This is where Apple tended to kick out and look for the next wave to catch.

But that was then, and this is now. As mentioned, Apple doesn’t do very well when markets turn horizontal. They depend on high margins. Only once, with the Mac, were they able to come back and stake out a respectable claim in a horizontal market. And they almost disappeared in the process. The number of dependent circumstances that would be required to repeat that trick is such that I doubt they’re eager to go down the same path with the iPhone or iPad.

In the year end summaries, many are talking about a seeming anomaly –  that despite Android’s massive market share dominance over iOS (81% vs 12.9%, according to a recent Forbes article) it’s Apple that’s ringing up the holiday sales with mobile shoppers (23% vs Android’s paltry 5%).  This becomes more understandable when you put it in the context of a vertical market that is becoming horizontal. Shopping experiences are still much less painful on iOS. And, you have a user base that is much more comfortable with mobile ecommerce because they’re on the leading edge of the adoption curve. They’ve had a mobile device for a number of years now. Android users, in general, tend to be further back on the curve. As the benefits of Darwinian competition redefine the mobile marketplace along more horizontal lines, those ecommerce numbers will revert to a more natural balance, but it will take some time.

As this inevitable change in the marketplace happens, the question then becomes, “What does Apple do next?” Can they find the next wave? And, if they do, does an Apple without Jobs still have what it takes to create the vertical experience that can open up a new market? There are plenty of opportunities – the two most notable ones being connected entertainment devices (the much-rumored new generation of Apple TV) and wearable technology (iWatches, etc).

Apple has always been known for keeping their cards glued against their chest. In 2014, it remains to be seen if they have anything amazing up their sleeve.

Pursuing the Unlaunched Search

First published November 29, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Google’s doing an experiment. Eight times a day, randomly, 150 people get an alert from their smartphone and Google asks them this question, “ What did you want to know recently?” The goal? To find out all the things you never thought to ask Google about.

This is a big step for Google. It moves search into a whole new arena. It’s shifting the paradigm from explicit searching to implicit searching. And that’s important for all of the following reasons:

Search is becoming more contextually sensitive. Mobile search is contextually sensitive search. If you have your calendar, your to-do list, your past activities and a host of other information all stored on a device that knows where you are, it becomes much easier to guess what you might be interested in. Let’s say, for example, that your calendar has “Date with Julie” entered at 7 p.m., and you’re downtown. In the past year, 57% of your “dates with Julie” have generally involved dinner and a movie. You usually spend between $50 and $85 dollars on dinner, and your movies of choice generally vacillate between rom-coms and action-adventures (depending on who gets to choose).

In this scenario, without waiting for you to ask, Google could probably be reasonably safe in suggesting local restaurants that match your preferences and price ranges, showing you any relevant specials or coupons, and giving you the line-up of suggested movies playing at local theatres. Oh, and by the way, you’re out of milk and it’s on sale at the grocery store on the way home.

Can Googling become implicit? “We’ve often said the perfect search engine will provide you with exactly what you need to know at exactly the right moment, potentially without you having to ask for it,” says Google Lead Experience Designer Jon Wiley, one of the leads of the research experiment.

As our devices know more about us, the act of Googling may move from a conscious act to a subliminal suggestion. The advantage, for Google and us, is that it can provide us with information we never thought to ask for.  In the ideal state envisioned by Google, it can read the cues of our current state and scour its index of information to provide relevant options. Let’s say we just bought a bookcase from Ikea. Without asking, Google can download the user’s manual and pull relevant posts from user support forums.

It ingrains the Google habit. Google is currently in the enviable position of having become a habit. We don’t think to use Google, we just do. Of course, habits can be broken. Habits are a subconscious script that plays out in a familiar environment, delivering an expected outcome without conscious intervention. To break a habit, you usually look at disrupting the environment, stopping the script before it has a chance to play out.

The environment of search is currently changing dramatically. This raises the possibility of the breaking of the Google habit. If our habits suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar territory, the regular scripts are blocked and we’re forced to think our way through the situation.

But if Google can adapt to unfamiliar environments and prompt us with relevant information without us having to give it any thought, the company not only preserves the Google habit but ingrains it even more deeply. Good news for Google, bad news for Bing and other competitors.

It expands Google’s online landscape. Finally, at this point, Google’s best opportunity for a sustainable revenue channel is to monetize search. As long as Google controls our primary engagement point with online information, it has no shortage of monetization opportunities. By moving away from waiting for a query and toward proactive serving of information, Google can exponentially expand the number of potential touch points with users. Each of these  touch points comes with another advertising opportunity.

All this is potentially ground-breaking, but it’s not new. Microsoft was talking about Implicit Querying a decade ago. It was supposed to be built into Windows Vista. At that time, it was bound to the desktop. But now, in a more mobile world, the implications of implicit searching are potentially massive.

A Decade with the Database of Intentions

First published September 27, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

It’s been over 10 years since John Battelle first started considering what he called the “Database of intentions.” It was, and is:

The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo). This information represents, in aggregate form, a place holder for the intentions of humankind – a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, supoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends. Such a beast has never before existed in the history of culture, but is almost guaranteed to grow exponentially from this day forward. This artifact can tell us extraordinary things about who we are and what we want as a culture. And it has the potential to be abused in equally extraordinary fashion.

When Battelle considered the implications, it overwhelmed him. “Once I grokked this idea (late 2001/early 2002), my head began to hurt.” Yet, for all its promise, marketers have only marginally leveraged the Database of Intentions.

In the intervening time, the possibilities of the Database of Intention have not diminished. In fact, they have grown exponentially:

My mistake in 2003 was to assume that the entire Database of Intentions was created through our interactions with traditional web search. I no longer believe this to be true. In the past five or so years, we’ve seen “eruptions” of entirely new fields, each of which, I believe, represent equally powerful signals – oxygen flows around which massive ecosystems are already developing. In fact, the interplay of all of these signals (plus future ones) represents no less than the sum of our economic and cultural potential.

Sharing Battelle’s predilection for “Holy Sh*t” moments, a post by MediaPost’s Laurie Sullivan this Tuesday got me thinking again about Battelle’s “DBoI.” A recent study by Google and EA showed that using search data can predict 84% of video game sales.  But the data used in the prediction is only scratching the surface of what’s possible. Adam Stewart from Google hints at what might be possible, “Aside from searches, Google plans to build in game quality, TV investment, online display investment, and social buzz to create a multivariate model for future analysis.”

This is very doable stuff. All we need to create predictive models that match (and probably far exceed) the degree of accuracy already available. The data is just sitting there, waiting to be interpreted. The implications for marketing are staggering, but to Battelle’s point, let’s not be too quick to corral this simply for the use of marketers. The DBoI has implications that reach into every aspect of our society and lives. This is big — really big! If that sounds unduly ominous to you, let me give you a few reasons why you should be more worried than you are.

Typically, if we were to predict patterns in human behavior, there would be two sources of signals. One comes from an understanding of how humans act. As we speak, this is being attacked on multiple fronts. Neuroscience, behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology and a number of other disciplines are rapidly converging on a vastly improved understanding of what makes us tick. From this base understanding, we can then derive hypotheses of predicted behaviors in any number of circumstances.

This brings us to the other source of behavior signals. If we have a hypothesis, we need some way to scientifically test it. Large-scale collections of human behavioral data allow us to search for patterns and identify underlying causes, which can then serve as predictive signals for future scenarios. The Database of Intentions gives us a massive source of behavior signals that capture every dimension of societal activity. We can test our hypotheses quickly and accurately against the tableau of all online activity, looking for the underlying influences that drive behaviors.

At the intersection of these two is something of tremendous import. We can start predicting human behavior on a massive scale, with unprecedented accuracy. With each prediction, the feedback loop between qualitative prediction and quantitative verification becomes faster and more efficient. Throw a little processing power at it and we suddenly have an artificially intelligent, self-ssimproving predictive model that will tell us, with startling accuracy, what we’re likely to do in the future.

This ain’t just about selling video games, people. This is a much, much, much bigger deal.

The “Field of Dreams” Dilemma

First published May 3, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

There’s a chicken and an egg paradox in mobile marketing. Many mobile sites sit moldering in the online wilderness, attracting few to no visitors. The same could be said for many elaborate online customer portals, social media outposts or online communities. Somebody went to the trouble to build them, but no one came. Why?

Well, it could be because no one thinks to go to the trouble to look for them, just as no one expects to find a ball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. It wasn’t until the ghosts of eight Chicago White Sox players, banned for life from playing the game they loved, started playing on the “Field of Dreams” that anyone bothered to drive to Ray Kinsella’s farm.  There was suddenly a reason to go.

The problem with many out-of–the-way online destinations is that there is no good reason to go. Because of this, we make two assumptions:

–       If there is no good reason for a destination to exist, then the destination probably doesn’t exist. Or,

–       If it does exist, it will be a waste of time and energy to visit.

If we jump to either of these two conclusions, we don’t bother looking for the destination. We won’t make the investment required to explore and evaluate. You see, there is a built-in mechanism that makes a “Build it and they will come” strategy a risky bet.

This built-in mechanism comes from behavioral ecology and is called the “marginal value theorem.” It was first identified by Eric Charnov in 1976 and has since been borrowed to explain behaviors in online information foraging by Peter Pirolli, amongst others. The idea behind it is simple: We will only invest the time and effort to find a new “patch” of online information if we think it’s better than “patches” we already know exist and are easy to navigate to.  In other words, we’re pretty lazy and won’t make any unnecessary trips.

This cost/benefit calculation is done largely at a subconscious level and will dictate our online behaviors. It’s not that we make a conscious decision not to look for new mobile sites or social destinations. But unbeknownst to us, our brain is already passing value judgments that will tend to keep us going down well-worn paths. So, if we are looking for information or functionality that would be unlikely to find in a mobile site or app, but we know of a website that has just what we’re looking for and time is not a urgent matter, we’ll wait until we’re in front of our regular computer to do the research. We automatically disqualify the mobile opportunity because our “marginal value” threshold has not been met.

The same is true for social sites. If we believe that there is a compelling reason to seek out a Facebook page (promotional offers, information not available elsewhere) then we’ll go to the trouble to track it down. Otherwise, we’ll stick to destinations we know.

I believe the marginal value theorem plays an important role in defining the scope of our online worlds. We only explore new territory when we feel our needs won’t be met by destinations we already know and are comfortable with.  And if we rule out entire categories of content or functionality as being unlikely to adapt well to a mobile or social environment (B2B research in complex sales scenarios being one example) then we won’t go to the trouble to look for them.

I should finish off by saying that this is a moving target. Once there is enough critical mass in new online territory to reset visitor expectations, you’ve increased the “richness” of the patch to the point where the “marginal value” conditions are met and the brain decides it’s worth a small investment of time and energy.

In other words, if Shoeless Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Happy Felsch, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver and Fred McMullin all start playing baseball in a cornfield, than it’s probably worth hopping on the tractor and head’n over to the Kinsella place!

Look at the Big Picture in 2012

First published December 29, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Another year’s pretty much in the can. And because I’m working on idle this week, trying to catch my breath with my family before plunging headlong into 2012, search marketing falls somewhere behind the recent releases on Netflix and trying out the new Wii game on the list of things preoccupying my mind. So, don’t expect any salient and timely search news from me!

When I look back on what has preoccupied me over the last 12 months, I will say that much of it has been spent “stepping back” and trying to look at the bigger picture. As online interactions have taken a bigger and bigger chunk of our lives (you’ll notice that both of the recreational options I mentioned have online components woven into them), trying to understand how our actions play out against a broader online backdrop has been the thing I think about most often.

We digital marketers tend to take that “bigger picture” and break it into pieces, trying to make sense of it by focusing on one small piece. Digital marketing lends itself to this minute focal depth because of the richness of each piece. Even the smallest chunk of an online interaction has a lot to explore, with a corresponding mound of data to analyze. We could spend hours drilling into how people use Linked In, or Twitter, or Google+ or Facebook.  We could dig into the depths of the Panda update or how local results show up on Bing and never come up for air.

But think back to what, at one time, was another holiday season pastime. Some of us remember when we used to get a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas. You’d dump out all 5,000 of those little photographic morsels and then begin to piece it together into a coherent image of something (usually a landscape involving a barn or a covered bridge). Success came not only from examining each piece, but also in using the image on the boxtop to help understand how each piece fit into the bigger picture. Without understanding what that bigger picture was supposed to look like, you could examine each piece until the cows came home (again, often a topic for jigsaw art).

So, much of my 2011 was spent trying to understand what the picture on the top of the puzzle box was supposed to look like. What would ultimately tie all the pieces together?  In physics terms, I guess you could say I’m been looking for the Unified Field Theory of online marketing. And you know what I realized? You won’t find it by focusing on technology, no matter how cool it is. Foursquare marketing or search retargeting or hyperlocal optimization are all just pieces of a much bigger puzzle. The real picture emerges when you look at how people navigate the events of their lives and the decisions they must make. It’s there where the big picture emerges.

A few weeks ago I was speaking to a group of marketers about the emerging role of mobile.  This was no group of digital slouches. They knew their mobile stuff. They had tested various campaign approaches and honed their tactics. But the results were uneven. Some were hits, but more were misses. They knew a lot about the pieces, but didn’t have the boxtop picture to guide them.

My message (for those who know me) was not a surprising one: understand how to leverage mobile by first understanding how people use mobile to do they things they intend to do.  Don’t jump on a QR code campaign simply because you read somewhere that QR codes are a red-hot marketing tool. First see if QR codes fit into the big picture in any possible way. If you do that, you might find that QR codes are a puzzle piece that actually belongs in another box.

After delivering my sermon about the importance of understanding their respective big pictures, I asked my favorite question: “How many of you have done any substantial qualitative research with your customers in the past year?” Not one hand went up. This was a group of puzzle assemblers working without any boxtop picture to guide them.

If you want to sum up my past year and fit it into one final paragraph for 2011, it’s this: Understand your customers! Spend a good part of 2012 digging deep into their decision process and their online paths. Make it personal. Stalk if necessary. Ask questions that start with “why.” Observe. Make notes. Broaden your online reading list to include blogs like Science Daily, Futurity, Neuroscience Marketing and Homo Consumericus. At some point, the bigger picture will begin to emerge. And I bet it will be much more interesting than a landscape with a barn and some cows in it.

Bye Bye Big Box, Hello Digital

First published November 3, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

My friend Mikey (whom you may remember from the “Mikey Mobile Adoption Test”) and I were recently driving through our hometown, past a long row of new big-box retail locations that have recently sprung up.

I, somewhat exasperatedly, said, “Who the hell is going to buy all this stuff?”

Our town’s population is only 120,000 but we seem to have a huge overcapacity of retail space, with more going up all the time, thanks in part to a development-hungry First Nations band with plenty of available real estate.

Mikey replied, “Well, the town isn’t getting any smaller and people need to shop somewhere.”

That, and a recent article by MediaPost reporter Laurie Sullivan, got me thinking. Do we? I mean, do we need to shop “somewhere,” as in a physical store location?

I paused, and then replied, “I’m not so sure. I buy a lot more things online.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

A few days later, I was in a presentation where someone showed digital marketing growth projections for local advertisers on a slide. The growth over the next few years was relatively moderate: about 5% to 6% year over year. This despite the fact that the current penetration rates were well short of 50%.

Put it all together and I can’t help wondering whether we, collectively, are “sandbagging” our local digital growth potential. Modest growth projections assume fairly linear trends in the future. We use past adoption and extrapolate these into the future. Statistically, it’s probably the rational thing to do, but it doesn’t take into account the possibility of a dramatic shift in behavior. For example, what if we’ve reaching a tipping point where, as Sullivan notes, it’s just a lot easier to shop online than to actually hop in your car, drive across town and then try to navigate through a 25,000-square-foot massive retail location?

That’s the way things tend to go in real life. We don’t incrementally change behaviors, we change en masse. And when we do, we trigger massive waves of change that deconstruct and reconstruct the marketplace. I suspect we’re getting close to that tipping point.

Personally I, like Sullivan, find the physical act of shopping a royal pain in the tuchus.  Recently, my wife and I decided to go buy some coasters, those little squares that go under cups on your coffee table. Indiana Jones has embarked on less daunting quests. When we finally found them I reckon that, accounting for my wife’s and my time at fair market value, those coasters cost somewhere around a thousand dollars. All this for a six-dollar set of coasters that I don’t even particularly like (don’t tell my wife)!

We’re to the point now where shopping should be painless — a search, click and buy, then relax and wait for FedEx to deliver. Even local shopping can become massively more efficient through mobile technology. At some point, we have to realize that going to huge retail stores that are built to maximize per visit sales rather than enable you to find what you’re looking for is a horribly inefficient use of our time. And when we do, the current retail paradigm is flipped on its pointy little head. The net impact? Those modest growth curves suddenly shoot for the sky!

And all those big-box stores that Mikey and I drove by?

Perhaps bowling will make a sudden comeback. I know several great locations for an alley.

The “Mikey” Mobile Adoption Test

First published July 14, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

The time to get serious about mobile is here. I say that not based on any analyst’s report, industry intelligence or pronouncement from any of the companies who have billions riding on it, but rather due to the “Mikey” test.

What, you ask, is the “Mikey” test? I thought you’d never ask.

My friend Mikey (and, yes, he lets me call him that and yet we’re still friends) is a building contractor. Recently, he oversaw the renovations on our home. We were a little concerned by the fact that in the middle of renovations, during a critical period when kitchen cabinets would be installed, old walls would be ripped down, new ones put up and our bathroom floor would be retiled, we would be 3,000 miles away on the most remote land mass in the world, Hawaii.

“It’s all good!” said Mikey (he says that a lot, which is another reason why we’re friends), “I’ll keep you up to date with this!” From his pocket, Mikey pulled out a brand-new iPhone. “I’ll just take pictures and send them to you!”

I was shocked. Mikey and I have a lot of things in common: love of family, appreciation for a good hand-crafted beer, dedication to a job well done, becoming reluctantly middle-aged — but technology is not on the list. His wife, Rosie, does his emailing for him. He was the last guy I expected to get an iPhone, let alone use it to send pictures via email. But sure enough, each day we’d get an update from Mikey, complete with fresh pictures of the progress.

But my biggest shock was still to come. When we returned, Mikey asked us to go to the Lennox website and print off the installation instructions for our gas fireplace insert. As I dropped by after work to drop off the print-outs, Mikey cornered me and said, “Tell me, if I had an iPad, could I look up this type of stuff online?” I would have been less surprised if the neighbor’s cat made me a martini. Mikey is a smart guy, but an early tech adopter he’s not.

For those of us in the biz, the benefits of mobile are obvious. We’ve been crowing about mobile being a game-changer for almost a decade now, but those messages never seemed to move beyond our little circle. But some time in the last year, something fundamental switched. During that time, the Mikeys of the world have suddenly become aware of how mobile might be applicable to them.

Just this past week I did a workshop for a company that makes sandpaper. Mikey is a customer of theirs. Keeping in mind the Mikey test, I decided to check and see what percentage of search queries for their key terms came from mobile devices. Obviously Mikey isn’t the only one who got himself an iPhone. Over 20% of searches for sandpaper and other terms came from mobile devices. And that percentage has more than doubled in the past year. These are numbers you have to pay attention to.

Why is the Mikey test important? There are a number of reasons why this marks a sea change in digital marketing. First of all, Mikey is only interested in mobile because it lets him do things that are important in his job. This isn’t about checking restaurant reviews, looking up show times or updating your Facebook status; this is about getting the job done. That sets a pretty stringent bar for user experience, one that most industrial marketers haven’t even considered. They’re still struggling to make their website a place that doesn’t cause mass user suicide.

Secondly, If Mikey is looking at mobile, we’ve already moved into the steepest part of the adoption curve. That means things are going to move very quickly. Moving quickly is not something that industrial marketers are very comfortable with. If we’re already at 20%, with a doubling in the past year, expect next year to be at 40 or 50%. That is a pace of change that is going to leave a lot of marketers behind.

It’s time to think seriously about mobile — but don’t do it because I told you to.

Do it because Mikey likes it.

Different Platforms, Different Ads

First published June 9, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

There’s little argument that mobile’s time has come. According to Google, mobile searches make up anywhere from 5% to 12% of the total query volume for many popular keywords. And for many categories (like searches for local businesses) the percentage is much higher. That officially qualifies as “something to consider” in most marketing strategies. For many marketers, though, the addition of mobile is a simple check box addition in planning a search campaign. In Google’s quest to make life simple for marketers, we’re missing some fundamental aspects of marketing to mobile prospects. Okay, we’re missing one fundamental aspect:  it’s different. Really different.

Last week, I talked about how my behaviors vary across multiple devices. But it’s not just me. It’s everyone. And those differences in behavior will continue to diverge as experiences become more customized. The mobile use case will look significantly different than the tablet use case. Desktops and smart entertainment devices will be completely different beasts. We’ll use them in different ways, with different intents, and in different contexts. We’d better make sure our marketing messages are different too.

Let’s go back to the Jacquelyn Krones research from Microsoft, which I talked about in the last column. If we divide search activity into three buckets: missions, excavations and explorations, we can also see that three different approaches to search ads should go along with those divergent intents.

Excavation search sessions, which still live primarily on the desktop, are all about information gathering. Success ads for these types of searches should offer rich access to relevant content. Learn to recognize the keywords in your campaigns that indicate excavation queries. They are typically more general in nature, and are often aligned with events that require extensive research: major purchases, planning vacations, researching life-altering events like health concerns, moving to a new community, starting college or planning a wedding. In our quest to squeeze conversions off a landing page, we often not only pare down content, but also on-page navigation pointing to more content. For an excavation-type search, this is exactly the wrong approach. Here, the John Caples approach to copy writing might be just the ticket: long, information rich content that allows the user to “create knowledge.”

Missions, especially on mobile devices, are just that. You get in and you get out, hopefully with something useful — that lets you do something else. Successful ads in this environment should do the same thing: take you one (or several) steps closer to a successful completion of the mission. Ad messaging should offer the promise of successful mission completion, and the post-click destination should deliver on that promise. Clean, hassle-free and exquisitely simple to use are the marching orders of mobile advertising.

Perhaps the most interesting search use case is that on a tablet device. I’ve chatted with Yahoo’s relatively new VP of search, Shashi Seth, about this. He believes tablets might open the door for the visually rich, interactive ads that brand marketers love. And Krones research seems to indicate that this might indeed be the case. Tablets are ideal for exploration searches, which tend to be meandering voyages through the online landscape with less specific agendas. The delight of serendipity is one big component in an expedition search. And it’s this that marks a significant departure for most search marketers.

Every search marketer learns the hard way that it’s incredibly difficult to lure search users away from the task they have in mind. When we do our keyword analysis, we’re usually disappointed to find that the list of highly relevant words is much smaller than we thought. So, we extend our campaign into keywords that, while not directly relevant, are at least adjacent to the user’s anticipated intent. If they’re looking for a jigsaw, we might try running an ad for free children’s furniture plans. Or, if they’re looking for a new car, we might try running an ad that reminds them that they can save 15% on their car insurance just by clicking on our ad.

We’ve all been here. In the mind of the marketer, it makes sense to buy these keywords. After all, the two worlds are not so far apart. A new owner of a jig saw might indeed be interested in building a set of bunk beds. And the new car owner will need car insurance. The problem is, neither of those things are relevant “in the moment,” and “in the moment” rules in most search interactions. So, after a few months of trying, we reluctantly remove these keywords from our campaign, or drop the bid price so low they’re buried 3 pages of results deep.

But perhaps tablet users are different. I’m certain the search experience on a tablet will soon look significantly different than it does on a PC. I would expect it to be more tactile and interactive – less rigidly ordered. And, in that environment, given the looser constraints of an expedition-type search, we might be more willing to explore a visually rich distraction. Shashi Seth thinks so. Krones’ research seems to also point in this direction. For this search marketer, that’s reason enough to test the hypothesis. Or, I will test it, as soon as Google, Yahoo and Bing make that possible.

The Segmentation of My Slime Trail

First published June 2, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

My connected life is starting to drop into distinct buckets. Now that I have my choice of connecting through my smartphone (an iPhone), my tablet (an iPad), my work computer (a MacBook) and my home computer (a Windows box), not to mention the new Smart TVs we bought (Samsungs), I’m starting to see my digital footprints (or my digital slime trail, to use Esther Dyson’s term) diverge. And the nature of the divergence is interesting.

Take Netflix, for example. It’s finally come to Canada, although with a depressingly small number of movies to choose from. My Netflix account stretches across all my devices, but the things I watch on my iPad are quite a bit different than my choices on an iPhone. And there is yet another profile for the things I choose on my MacBook (mainly when I travel). On the iPad, it’s typically an episode of “Arrested Development,” “Fawlty Towers” or, if I have a little more time, “Mad Men,” (and yes, I realize those three choices create an interesting psychological profile of myself) that offers some respite when the women of my household commandeer all available TV sets. On the new Samsung, it’s usually a movie intended for viewing by myself and at least one other member of my family.

Kindle offers a similar divergence of reading patterns — again, one application that’s spread across multiple devices. And, like my movie watching, my reading habits vary significantly depending on what I’m doing the reading on. I almost never read on my laptop, but it’s my preferred platform for research and annotation. My favorite reading device is my iPad, but it’s primarily used at home. I only take it on the road for extended trips. My fall-back is the iPhone, which gets called into duty when I have time to kill when traveling or in between my kid’s volleyball games.

Jacquelyn Krones, from Microsoft, did a fascinating research project where she looked at search habits across multiple devices. She found that our searches could be grouped into three different categories: missions, excavations and explorations.

Mission is the typical task-based single interaction where we need to get something done. The nature of the mission can be significantly different on a mobile device, where the mission is usually related to our physical location. In this case, geo-location and alternative methods of input (i.e. taking a picture, recording a sound or scanning a bar code) can make completing the mission easier, because the outputs are more useful and relevant in the user’s current context. This is why app-based search is rapidly becoming the norm on mobile devices. Missions on the desktop tend to be more about seeking specific information when then allows us to complete a task beyond the scope of our search interaction.

Excavations are research projects that can extend over several sessions and are typically tied to an event of high interest to the user. Health issues, weddings, major travel, home purchases and choosing a college are a few examples. The desktop is the hands-down winner for this type of search engagement. It provides an environment where information can be consolidated and digested through the help of other applications. Krones calls this “making knowledge,” implying a longer and deeper commitment on the part of the user.

Finally, we have exploration. Explorations are more serendipitous in nature,  with  users setting some fairly broad and flexible boundaries for their online interactions. While excavation can become a part of exploration, the behaviors are usually distinct. Exploration tends to be a little more fluid and open to suggestion, with the user being open to persuasion, while excavation is more about assembling information to support an intent that is already decided upon. Tablets seem to be emerging as a strong contender in the exploration category. The relaxed nature of typical interaction with an iPad, for example, supports the open agenda of exploration.

What this means, of course, is that the trail I leave behind on my mobile device starts to look significantly different than the trail on my laptop or tablet. Each fits a different use case, as they start to become tools with distinct capabilities, over and above the fact that they’re all connected to the Internet.