Universal Mobile Interface

Why search will not be as powerful when accessing Internet through the mobile

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on April 27, 2009

The new digital era has made the vast range of content available and just a few clicks away. This has resulted in that the end user has so much to chose from that it becomes hard to find what you really look for and that it’s very difficult for a publisher to become visible. This issue is addressed by search engines, such as Google, but as we all experience it is still a challenge to find what you look for and for those publishing it’s not really obvious why competing sites are ranked high by the search algorithms. There’s today a growing business in advising companies in how to optimise the sites to get a better score.

new-picture-9For many of us we start a session at the PC with search, and most of us use search every day and for sites that we visit regularly we don’t even save bookmarks as it is so easy to just type in a few search words or many times the URL directly. Many have predicted a similar behaviour on the mobile but this has not been the case and will most probably not be the case. The mobile is different; it is used in another context and has obvious limitations when it comes to screen size and keyboard.

When using the computer you usually click through for instance a news site from the start main page, then to for instance sports and from there to the specific results you’re interested in. Many take this path to what they are interested in even though they could have saved a bookmark for the specific pages of interest to gain direct access. On the mobile it is much more probable that you save bookmarks to the relevant information, as clicking through less relevant pages is painful.
new-picture-8The mobile is neither well suited to run an ordinary search as it is not easy to type in words and as the long lists of results are hard to digest and select from. In addition, the mobile is used in situations where you need specific information fast and you are not expected to have long sessions surfing around. There’s a need to get more or less direct access to the specific content of your choice based on your needs on the move. There will still be a need for search when using the mobile, but it will most probably be less important compared to other means to explore new content.

So now when companies eventually have learned about the importance of search engine optimisation etc. there is unfortunately some bad news, this will not be sufficient for gaining visibility and presence in the mobile. Should then those publishing on the web bother about this? They should, as been discussed in a previous contribution to this blog, all trends show that the mobile will become an increasingly important media over time. In addition, there are also extreme differences between developed and developing countries when it comes to the ratio between PC and mobile penetration. So how to combine the very personal need for specific individual “long tail” choice of information and that search is not the primary tool to explore new content?

Key to visibility in the mobile is to get a link on pages visited by the user. As the user can’t be expected to use search to a large extent, other means such as recommendations etc. will be used to find new links to save into the individual collection of bookmarks. The following ways to get new links can be expected to grow in importance:

  • Recommendation of sites by trusted parties such as friends
  • Links promoted on specific and trusted niche sites and portals
  • Preinstalled links on new browsers/portals/UMIs
  • Links down loaded directly from web pages used on the PC
  • To some extent non intrusive opt-in high quality recommendations and sponsored links

Ads may also be important and can target quite well defined segments utilising the user profiling available by different mobile platforms. The number of ads will be limited due to the small mobile screen and as general surfing will be less frequent compared to the PC. The possibility to target specific segments and as the number of ads are limited, will make the advertising space quite valuable and expensive, but most probably a good investment when used correctly.

I recommend publishers the following to gain visibility in the mobile:

  • Use existing digital channels to promote and download links to the mobile
  • Don’t waste money on search engine optimisation etc. for mobile search
  • If possible, be visible on link start packages when new browsers/portals/UMIs are downloaded
  • Use advertising and sponsored link investments wisely and very well targeted
  • Make it easy for the mobile users to share your links
  • Incentivise users to share links and support viral distribution of your services
  • Be directly visible in services, such as maps, travel information etc.
  • Be visible on trusted niche sites/portals to reach the correct segment directly

On average a user can be expected to have about 20 bookmarks where maybe half are very personal (micro communities etc.) and all are saved to get direct fast access when on the move. The individual link collection thereby represents a significant value to the user, giving her direct access to really valuable content. And not to lose her own collection of bookmarks when changing phone or operator becomes very important. All these features are key strengths of the UMI concept. The significance of the link collection to the individual results in a collective quality control of all links saved. This will further strengthen the peer to peer exploration of new content but may also create a barrier for new content to find an initial audience.

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