Is Google vulnerable in mobile search?
By Chantal Tode
December 5, 2012
Google dominates mobile search
While Google dominates search, most agree that neither Google nor anyone else has yet to figure out the perfect formula for mobile search. This suggests there could be an opportunity for a newcomer to disrupt the landscape.
Google’s difficulties monetizing mobile search are well known at this point as paid search ads in mobile generate significantly lower revenues than their desktop counterparts. The mobile search experience on Google has also been criticized, a potential weakness that new entrant Kickvox hopes to capitalize on with a mobile search app that takes a more visual approach.
“In terms of mobile search Google is unrivaled,” said Katerina U. Potter, search marketing leader at iProspect , Boston. ”Their offering is not perfect and there is no doubt that users can benefit for stronger competition in the field.
“The way Google chose to address mobile search is by looking at the Web as a whole, regardless of format or device,” she said. “Their intent is for every Web site to have one core Web site that can be viewed from any device through responsive design.
“For them it poses a great challenge of storing data when publishers have different Web sites for the different devices.”
A visual approach
On desktop, Google’s share of searches is about 65 percent to 70 percent while on mobile the number is closer to 95 percent. It has been said that Google’s dominance in mobile search is not a result of it offering a superior product but because there are not many other options.
While there are a number of targeted mobile search options such as Yelp that are performing well, speaking to the contextual natural of mobile, Google search is the default search engine on most devices.
Kickvox, a new mobile search app, hopes to challenge Google’s dominance by taking a more visually appealing approach to search. The app’s results are powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
Kickvox saw an opportunity to address some of the specific behaviors in mobile with a more visually rich experience that uses icons at the top of the page to identify search results, making it easy for searchers to quickly pinpoint what they are looking for. The app also brings in content from third party apps such as Yelp.
“There really hasn’t been anybody innovative in the space even though the actual mobile experience for search is dramatically different because there is a tiny screen and fewer results per page,” said Alan Nowogrodski, co-founder and CEO of Kickvox, Toronto.
“Part of the objective is to make a more friendly search experience that is much more visually oriented and suited for mobile,” he said.
As on desktop, one of the key must-haves for a search engine is delivering results that are relevant to the user. This becomes a challenge in mobile because of the way mobile users conduct searches.
Currently, Google leads in this area via its voice search offerings and its integration of Google+ Local and Google Now in mobile search.
“The challenge behind remaining relevant is that the way people search on mobile can often be quite different,” said Marc Poirier, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Acquisio , Brossard, Canada . “For example, instead of searching for ‘best sushi Brooklyn,’ voice-enabled search allows people to look for ‘where is the best sushi in Brooklyn?’
“The algorithms are going to have to keep up, and Google is, for the moment, number one in this area, leaving Siri in the dust,” he said.
“Of all of the mobile search platforms right now, Google’s is easily providing the most relevance.”
Discoverability a challenge
Kickvox sees an opportunity because, it insists, users are not that loyal to Google search in mobile.
“One of the things we found through our research is that the loyalty to Google search on desktop is fairly high,” Kickvox’s Mr. Nowogrodski said. “But there is not as strong an affinity in mobile, which would mean the barrier to switching is a little lower.
“This is because on mobile, users have been using Google search for the last year or two whereas on desktop, they have been using it for 10 years,” he said.
Currently, there are no text ads in Kickvox but the company expects to roll them out soon. The app is available for iOS and Android devices.
Apps face some challenges in search because tracking from an app environment to a mobile Web site is difficult, meaning brands cannot optimize this spend or these conversions.
Google also offers a search app.
“Apps in general face huge challenges with discoverability, so their viability as a major competitor to Google is hampered by a very crowded app space,” said Kerri Smith, director of mobility at iProspect.
One of the opportunities for anyone entering the mobile search space could be in indexing and ranking mobile sites. Google uses desktop versions of Web sites, not mobile sites, for ranking purposes, per iProspect.
Google search results also include both mobile and desktop Web sites, which means users are sometimes left to navigate a desktop format on a mobile device, resulting in a poor user experience.
“There is still no hybrid search engine that will rank both Web sites and apps, which might be an interesting opportunity for a company entering the space,” iProspect’s Ms. Potter said.