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What Marketers Should Know About Google and Mobile Search

A review of statistics for 2011 from NetMarketShare shows that Google is the overwhelmingly dominate platform for mobile search in the US and far more so than with desktop search. The data shows 93% of mobile search traffic is from Google, compared to 75% for desktop. Historical research shows that Google’s mobile search share has held steady over the past few years.

 

Search Engine Share and Desktop and Mobile > Data from NetMarketShare

Why Google?
The two dominate smartphone platforms in the US are Google’s Android and Apples iOS. In both cases, Google is the default search engine. Integration into the platform and the mobile web browsers means that the vast majority of people use the default for mobile search. With US smartphone market share having reached 50% amongst mobile subscribers earlier this year, the dominance of Google as the search engine for mobile is unlikely to change anytime soon*.

Implications for Mobile Marketers
Without getting into detailed mobile SEO practices, it’s not too hard to see that watching what Google does with mobile search is absolutely essential. So understanding the implications of a December 2011 change in mobile index crawling by Google is a place to start.

As a simplified explanation, prior to December, websites were indexed by a Google crawler as well as a a mobile crawler. The mobile crawler was designed to index older, WAP/XHTML-MP sites – the kind used by fliphones. This mean that mobile-optimized websites – those that used HTML5 and frameworks such as jQuery Mobile, weren’t treated with any special algorithms – at least as far as outsiders could discern.

After December, Google implemented a smartphone crawler, “Smartphone Googlebot-Mobile”, to specifically index mobile-optimized sites. This crawler hits a desktop site and identities itself as a mobile device. If there is special treatment of mobile on that website, such as a redirect to a mobile-optimized site, the smartphone crawler follows and indexes the mobile-optimized site.

Mobile Searchers Get Something New
One immediate result of this new crawler is if Google finds the mobile site, it will record that site’s URL and present it as the default to mobile searchers. So if the desktop-formatted site is ‘www.mydomain.com’ and the mobile-optimized site is ‘m.mydomain.com’, mobile searchers will see the mobile URL. The results is that when mobile searchers click-through, they will bypass the re-direction process from the desktop site and go immediately to the mobile site – a potential time savings of a second or so.

The Future
We expect that there will be many more tweaks and changes for mobile searchers on the Google platform. We wouldn’t be surprised to see higher ranking for mobile-friendly sites vs desktop-only sites, for one thing. That’s an important possibility to consider – nearly 80% of websites today are not mobile friendly. Marketers might be able to help their clients do better on mobile searching by getting mobile-optimized websites built now.

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* One Caveat: should Apple move to a different search platform as the default in a future version of iOS, that could have a serious impact on Google’s mobile search market share.

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