February 14, 2011

3 Tips To Detect & Fix Mobile Search Leaks, Improve Your CTR

(Read in entirety at Search Engine Land. Published 2011)

Mobile marketers love the data Google announced recently at the “Think Mobile” event. First, they shared that one in seven queries (15%) now happen on smartphones — up from 10% six months ago. Second (and not quite so lovely), 80% of brands they surveyed admit to being unprepared to do mobile business (not a surprise, but it still spells o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y).

In interviews leading up to the event, Google also dropped this gem: Content and ads optimized for mobile see 11.5% higher click-through (CTR). This datapoint helps Google sell mobile search ads, but it also acts as an objective benchmark marketers can use to complete their mobile ROI equations and figure how much they are missing.

First, Audit Your Mobile Clickstream

The fact is, even the 80% of brands who aren’t optimizing for mobile still receive a growing volume of mobile search traffic as a dividend from their desktop SEO investments. Mobile organic listings are basically “ads”.

What’s the value of optimizing content for mobile? Just multiply current mobile organic volume by 1.115 and get in the game. (As I covered in January, calculate your share of click-through in keyword markets by extracting mobile query demand data from Google’s new Mobile Keyword Tool.)

If you’ve already invested in mobile optimized content, audit your mobile ads and landing pages (paid and organic search) to ensure they point to the proper mobile content. Seems obvious, but this is one of the most common and undetected mobile marketing mistakes brands make. I’ve covered examples recently from brands like Target, Amazon, Home Depot, JC Penney’s and others.

In each of these cases, mobile content has been prepared, and is generally available, yet can only be accessed by hitting the mobile home page first. This is a huge problem for all non-brand search queries, because it breaks the searcher clickstream, forcing the user to retype a query or renavigate the site at the worst possible time (when they have to be mobile!), increasing bounce rates and ad costs, and decreasing conversion and ad relevance. And it isn’t just limited to mobile search, it also affects mobile clickstreams on social campaigns and mentions on Twitter and Facebook.

The culprit is nearly always the mobile “sniffing” technology used to detect smartphone users and redirect them to a more mobile-friendly page. In some cases, the brand may not offer a mobile friendly page for the particular requested product or category page.

In other cases, brands that use increasingly popular mobile content platforms (like Digby and Usablenet), fail to redirect the native URL requests to the mobile platform URL. As a result, the sniffer logic either breaks or produces a bad mobile experience.

With Google’s 11.5% CTR benchmark, brands have an incentive to analyze their mobile ads and calculate a missed opportunity cost to the problem. (See prior articles on mobile ROI budgeting to avoid selling mobile search initiatives short. I also recommend valuing your mobile search visitors more closely to that of an abandoned shopping session than a desktop researcher.)

How To Detect Mobile Leakage

Whether you have mobile content or are planning, technology needs to put in place to successfully detect and direct smartphone visitors to the right content.

Here are a few ways you can detect, quantify, and begin to correct this problem, or at least limit its impact:

1.  Set up a status code report that lists all mobile page requests resulting in a 301, 302, or 404 code. This can be overwhelming on a large site. Setup alerts to notify you if volume exceeds a certain threshold and deserves attention.

2.  Log and parse referring URLs by keyword markets and referrer type to determine where mobile sniffer leaks are impacting the most, and to prioritize remedies and actions – whether that means shoring up logic holes, or hard coding new rules for critical campaigns.

3.  Add proactive page intelligence. In a prior article, I discussed a mobile issue encountered at Zappos. Imagine in this example, Zappos provided a smarter mobile 404 page, programmed to parse the referral URL, extract the search query, and provide the mobile user with pre-loaded clickable query link (eg “continue shopping Zappos for men’s wool socks here”) which executes an internal search query when clicked. This mobile page would have been more helpful and actionable, and might have given Zappos a second chance to earn the business.

Whether you’re just getting into mobile, or have already made initial investments, respecting mobile customers’ time is just good business.

Armed with the latest data and technology, brands have every reason to invest in mobile content, ads, and optimization. According to Google, it’s worth at least 11% more business in the short run. Oh, and mobile customers will love you for it.

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