Data: Only 5 Percent Of Search Advertisers Follow Mobile Best Practices

smartphonesGoogle has been pumping out research and speaking at industry trade shows trying to educate advertisers and agencies about the growing importance of mobile in the consumer path to purchase. One of the “best practices” advocated by Google, as well as those experienced with mobile paid search, is to separate PC and mobile campaigns.

However new data from Wordstream indicate this is only happening in about 5 percent of cases.

Wordstream founder and CTO Larry Kim looked at the company’s huge trove of data and determined that 55 percent of paid-search campaigns target mobile devices. Given that inclusion in mobile paid search results is Google’s default setting, Kim told me this means “Just under half of advertisers opt out of mobile search in their campaign settings.”

Call Extensions Not Used But Mobile Consumers Want to Call

Kim also said that “less than 5 percent” of advertisers use phone extensions in mobile search campaigns. He was unable to give me a specific figure for location extensions, however.

Consider that recently published Google-sponsored research found that one of the top two things that people want to be able to do after a mobile-commercial search or lookup is call a business. Thus the failure to utilize phone extensions is a missed opportunity.

Bad Mobile Experiences Harm Brands

According to that same study, negative mobile experiences with websites (and presumably paid-search landing pages) can not only result in lost sales but actively harm the perception of a brand and its reputation:

  • 96 percent of users have visited a site that wasn’t mobile-friendly
  • 74 percent say they’re more likely to revisit mobile-friendly sites
  • 55 percent say a frustrating mobile experience hurts opinion of the brand

Speaking recently with Dave Schwartz of DataPop, he told me that “Mobile search campaigns need to be managed in a much different way than PC campaigns and even than tablets.” He said that keywords and ad creative must be treated differently — precisely the opposite of what’s happening now according to the Wordstream findings.

Marketers Not Valuing Mobile Clicks Properly

Part of the reason that CPCs were lower in Q3 for Google was some shifting of search volumes from PC to mobile. Here’s what Google said in its 10Q filing:

Mobile search queries and mobile commerce are growing dramatically around the world, and consumers are using multiple devices to access information. Over time these trends have resulted in changes in our product mix, including a significant increase in mobile search queries and a deceleration in the growth of desktop queries …

Also, the margins on advertising revenues from mobile devices and other newer advertising formats are generally lower than those from desktop computers and tablets. We expect this trend to continue in the near future and that it will continue to pressure our margins, particularly if we fail to realize the opportunities we anticipate with the transition to a dynamic multi-screen environment.

According to DataPop’s Schwartz, mobile CPCs are lower than on the PC because marketers are tracking the wrong things and operating under “a set of wrong assumptions about mobile behavior.”

Schwartz explains that “Fewer marketers can connect a transaction to a mobile click, so their [perceived] conversion rates are lower and they’re not willing to pay as much for mobile clicks.” Because most marketers are using the “same automated bid engine and economic evaluation,” according to Schwartz, “these [mobile] clicks appear to be worth less.”

Marketers Can’t Track Most Mobile Conversions

Take a look at the following data from Marin Software on mobile CTRs and conversions: clicks are higher but conversions (on smartphones) are quite a bit lower than on the PC. This is largely a function of the fact that a majority of smartphone owners don’t engage in e-commerce on their mobile devices. Instead they convert offline or later on a PC, which are generally not tracked.

The upshot of all this is that consumers increasingly rely on smartphones for shopping and product research before purchasing. However marketers are not correctly or adequately responding to that consumer behavior. Indeed, most of them are probably not even aware of the extent to which they’re missing the boat.

Right now, mobile paid search is very much like desktop search in the early days. There’s less competition and cost than on the PC. However marketers must expand their definitions of “ROI” and track a much broader range of activities to get true visibility on the efficacy of mobile paid search.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Google: Mobile | Google: Web Search | Stats: General | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Jerry Nordstrom

    Take an average sized finger or larger thumb and apply it to a small mobile screen while travelling in a car, walking down a street or even sitting on the bus, results are a great deal of inadvertent clicks on PPC mobile ads.

  • Andrew Finkenbinder

    Also, often people will scout products or services on-the-go but not want to deal with filling out forms, checkouts, and other processes on their phones. That explains some of the higher CTR relative to conversions.

  • Juhani Polkko

    Hi! I’m wondering about the 5% figure. Google has earlier stated that they have 500,000 advertisers “using click-to-call”. This would mean that Google had 10M advertisers, but the figure I’ve heard is between 3-4 million.

    Maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges, or why this doesn’t add up?

  • Ajay Jhunjhunwala

    Ya, small devices are becoming more popular. People are using these devices for internet surfing. In those small devices advertising appears in a different way or place on the screen. Unfortunately these ads don’t appear as it appears in Desktop or Laptops. So advertiser should test the advertisement in small devices carefully.

  • George Michie

    The observed conversion rates on phones are poor but we’re told that “Instead they convert offline or later on a PC, which are generally not tracked.” And we know that that’s happening because….Google tells us so? What if the advertiser only has an online presence? There may be spillover effects, and placing value on click to call and “get directions” for mobile search is important. However, “trust us the clicks on ads are more valuable than you can see” isn’t a terribly compelling sales pitch to me, considering the source.

  • Greg Sterling

    The later conversions are on PC or offline is based on multiple studies and data points, some of which come from Google but most of which do not. As a general matter e-commerce is 5.1% of retail (forget what Forrester says) per the US Commerce Dept. Yet 80% to 90% of internet users do research before buying in stores. That pattern extends to mobile devices, with 80% of smartphone owners (or more) saying they use their devices while shopping and in-stores, yet m-commerce penetration is roughly 20% of smartphones (give or take) in the US. Amazon and eBay are two exceptions to the general rule that people don’t do e-commerce on their phones

  • Greg Sterling

    This is a valid question and I’ll follow up.

  • George Michie

    Yes, but none of those studies make the all important distinction between people who navigate to a brick and mortar store using brand search or bookmarks or direct load, and those who got to the website via a competitive non-brand search. That’s where all the money is spent, but nobody has tied that expense to material offline revenue. I’m hoping we can tie that knot, but honest research hasn’t produced compelling evidence.

  • GTM360

    Agreed! In addition, we’ve noticed that, due to the different color schemes used on SERPs, paid search results don’t appear as different on mobile than on desktop, thus driving some more inadvertent clicks on mobile PPC ads.

  • GTM360

    The 500K figure probably refers to advertisers who use “click-to-call” on desktop search – as many do – and not just mobile. For those wondering how “click-to-call” makes sense on desktop, just think of Skype installed on the desktop.

  • Jerry Nordstrom

    That’s a very good point GTM. We have seen very high CTR with very low conversion rates, compared to any other form of paid advertising…. and we’re not newbies. My feeling is that the general rule is the smaller the device the less visitors intent is to search, filter and find a new service as it is simply to connect with a service they are already connected with. In this sense the PPC mobile ad becomes a charge paid by the company for mobile users to call 411.

  • GraphicMail

    I fully agree with this sentiment – we can tell from experience that our differentiated strategies for mobile phones and tablets – for search and lead generation – are paying out. Unique landing pages per medium – desktop, tablet, mobile – and per source – email, social, organic, referral, paid – help us convert leads much better. Having built our mobile search and lead campaigns since the first Google talk we attended in 2010, we now see more paid search conversions to trials coming from our high end search and display ads than from our desktop ads. Traffic to our full site has also increased. And we are constantly learning! Barbara Ulmi, marketing director.

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