Mobile Search vs. Traditional Search: How User Behavior Differs and How to Optimize for It
Fighting for real estate atop search engine results pages (SERPs) has always been a challenge. Thanks to smartphones, it's getting a lot tougher. Gone are the days of searching exclusively from your desktop from work or home; now, most people carry search engine access in their pockets and are using Google on their mobile browsers.
Not only have smartphones taken over, but mobile search results pages are changing, too. When using Google on your smartphone, you're far more likely to get results with locator maps, call buttons, hours of operation, reviews and more. To the Average Joe, this is incredibly convenient. But for online marketers, this is somewhat frightening. Now all those SEO experts are vying for top positions on tiny smartphone screens with significantly less real estate.
The players are changing, and so is the game.
This paradigm shift can't be ignored. Cling to your desktop strategy, and eventually your website will be outranked by those adjusting for mobile. Adapting is the only way forward. Here, we'll review some key differences between mobile and traditional searches and how to make the most of the changing behavior of Web users.
Differences Between Mobile and Traditional Web Searches
So, mobile search usage is picking up and showing no signs of slowing down — what does this mean to you?
First, consider the factors driving the change. We already reviewed the reduction of real estate; most desktops are hooked to 20-inch monitors, while the new iPhone 7 sports a relatively tiny 4.7-inch screen.
Then there's the fact that most smartphones are viewed vertically, while desktop searches are viewed on horizontal monitors. Desktop users scroll and click; mobile users swipe and tap. Studies have also shown that mobile users tend to know what they want; mobile searches result in more short-term sales at local businesses than desktop searches.
Keep that in mind as we review these important differences between mobile and desktop search pages:
1. Top organic search results are pushed further down on pages.
First, the good news. If you have a coveted top organic SERP placement, you'll still get good traffic to your website. However, Web users need more time to find these placements on mobile devices. A 2014 study by the marketing firm Mediative found that people took 87 percent longer to find the top placement for a car show when it was placed below a Google Knowledge Graph (that box containing a summary of information either on the top or the right side of SERPs).
There isn't much you can do about this problem — at least, nothing in the short term — other than to make your content as unique and compelling as possible. Never before has standing out on SERPs been more important.
2. Getting a top-four placement is a MUST on mobile.
We capitalized "MUST" for a reason. Getting a top-four placement was important even on desktops considering just 16 percent of organic clicks went below the fourth-ranked result. But 16 percent is still a sizeable portion of traffic. For mobile searches, on the other hand, the Mediative study found more than 92 percent of clicks went to the top four organic results, leaving just 7.4 percent for everything below. Ouch.
This is a huge problem for marketers who haven't optimized their websites and landing pages for mobile Web browsers. It's not enough to be content with moderate search rankings on desktop searches. Those searches are shrinking. Mobile is the future.
3. Knowledge Graphs are stiffer competition on mobile.
Google created Knowledge Graphs to bring even more convenience to its users. For marketers, though, these can be a real headache — especially on mobile. The Mediative study found that Knowledge Graphs funneled away 11 percent more clicks on mobile SERPs than on desktop SERPs. This is because small smartphone screens require users to scroll beneath the Knowledge Graphs to find organic results.
4. Sponsored Ads bring more value in mobile.
If you never invested in AdWords, now's a great time to get started. Mediative found that 91 percent of searchers viewed top sponsored ad placement. The study also found more than 19 percent of all SERP clicks went to the top two ad placements. Keep in mind that AdWords, Bing Ads and other platforms allow you to show ads only to smartphone users. You can buy some exposure on mobile SERPs while being content with your desktop SEO.
5. Maps and local listings dominate mobile results.
Maps and local listings that display atop mobile SERPs get 47 percent more clicks when above organic listings, the Mediative study found. For marketers and small business owners, this means brushing up on local SEO is critical. Website content must be relevant to people's needs as well as where they live.
How to Stay Competitive in Mobile
Feel like you're trying to kick a field goal through moving goal posts? Don't worry - you're not alone. SEO is always evolving, and the changes in mobile SERPs is just the latest problem. Fortunately, we have some tips to help you split the uprights.
- Create a mobile responsive website. This one should be obvious, but if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, then you’re going to struggle in the mobile search results.
- Start a Google My Business profile. It's fast and free, and this lays the groundwork for your business to appear on SERPs with locator maps and other engaging extensions.
- Get reviews from your customers. Ask them to post reviews on your Google My Business page and anywhere else you have a directory listing.
- Make profiles on business directory sites. Piggyback on highly ranked sites such as Yelp and AngiesList to get your business seen above the fold.
- Revamp your meta tags. The titles and descriptions that dictate organic search results must be as compelling and on-point as possible.
You can't get too comfortable in the world of SEO. Mobile search results are forcing marketers everywhere to change and step up their games. Fail to evolve, and you might be left behind. Top rankings in mobile are more valuable than ever, and rising to the challenge requires patience, discipline and strategy. Desktop SEO is still worthwhile, but business owners and marketers who invest in mobile SEO now will eventually be ahead of the game.
Phil is Founder and COO of Main Street ROI. Phil leads the company’s operations and is primary creator of Main Street ROI’s marketing training programs. He is an expert in search engine marketing, website analytics, and sales funnel optimization. Phil’s marketing thought leadership has been published on Forbes.com, Inc.com, MSN.com, and many other major business media outlets.
Phil earned his Master of Engineering Management degree from Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck School of Business and his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from Dartmouth College. While attending Dartmouth, Phil started every game on the varsity football team as the defensive safety.