How Mobile Searchers Are Changing Keyword Research

Many analysts are making the case for separate device targeting in mobile paid search these days, but due largely to the subtlety of the differences in natural search results, too many SEOs are under the mistaken impression that desktop and mobile SEO are one in the same. Because this ignorance affects all of us by not giving us the tools we need to target mobile users effectively, I’m using a few columns to make the differences crystal clear.

In my last column, I started to make the case for how SEO changes when targeting mobile searchers, starting with the 14 differences between desktop and smartphone search results in Google that I was able to spot easily.

Today, I’m going to focus on keyword targeting, and how mobile searches could be affecting your bottom line today.

Searches Without Keywords

First, a scenario to consider: a business traveler is having a beer in the hotel bar after the first day of a conference.

She likes to try local beers when she’s in a new city, and this summer evening in Chicago calls for something light. She asks the bartender for a local summer beer and he gives her Goose Island Summertime.

She likes the beer, and wants to know more about it, but at this point the bartender is at the other end of the bar and she’s about ready to leave, so she takes out her Android phone and scans the label with Google Goggles.

There is no direct match for the type of beer, but Google does find a logo for the company that makes it, and gives general web results for the keyword [goose island]:



Our business traveler is able to click on the Goose Island website, and find out more about the beer, but with the current result set and the desktop website in the first position, it might take her two or three times longer than it should to find out more about the beer, and it’s impossible for her to recommend it to her friends on Facebook, or have a case of it shipped to her back home.

Given that she’s about ready to leave anyway, it’s unlikely that she’ll have the patience to complete her search session satisfactorily and even less likely that she’ll be able to remember the beer tomorrow morning.


I bring this up because this is not some futuristic scenario that will be possible in a couple of years. This is mobile search today. It’s also something that can be optimized for by the brand owner.

Furthermore — and this is the crucial difference for how marketers need to think about keyword research with respect to mobile— no keyword was ever considered or directly entered by the searcher.

Does this mean that we won’t need keyword research in a mobile visual search world?

Absolutely not. If you look at what the search engine is doing, you can see that it is scouring its image collection for related images and suggesting keywords that are related to the image, based entirely on what keywords the image is optimized for. Keyword research is still necessary, but there’s a different use case, and a different results set to optimize for.

Luckily for the Goose Island brewery, someone had optimized their logo for the phrase [Goose Island Logo], so Google was able to match the image to the keyword and provide somewhat relevant results.

However, if marketers from Goose Island had considered this use case when optimizing the website, they could have made sure that all of their logos for all of their beers were clearly displayed and optimized for logo queries in Google Image Search, and that each of these logos was attached to a mobile site that allowed the viewer to recommend their brand on Facebook and have a case shipped to their house in as few steps as possible.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and this excellent craft brewery in Chicago missed a chance to grow a little more.

Are you considering mobile visual search when you’re doing keyword research and optimizing for logo queries? I would guess most people aren’t, since the use case is currently rare; but it’s only one mobile scenario of many that could affect brands that most aren’t even thinking about today.

Context Changes Meaning Of Queries

Google released a study in late April 2011 that details the shopping habits of smartphone users, and what they found should be changing how you perform keyword research.

I remember when I first learned to keyword research back in the early 2000s, I was asked what keywords I would type into Google if I were searching for a specific topic. The point was to demonstrate how some searchers use different queries than the ones you use, and you have to think about all variants in order to find the most qualified keywords that will bring searchers to relevant content on a brand’s website. In the early 2000′s, everyone was searching in a browser on a desktop computer, so there was no need to give context in order to understand user intent.

Today, you wouldn’t be able to answer that question of user intent without first understanding the user’s context. For example, according to Google’s research, 59% of smartphone users report using the mobile Internet while waiting in line, 48% report using it while eating, and 44% report using it while shopping.

If we were trying to research certain concepts prior to the surge of the mobile Internet, like how these users searched for coupons related to a brand, we would focus on optimizing a web page for variants of coupon and sale terms until we optimized a page intended for desktop browsers with printable coupons and coupon codes on it.

However, if we were to optimize that same page today, given that most mobile users don’t have the ability to print coupons, and some have the ability to scan them on their phone, understanding the mobile context both provides additional keywords, and negates keywords that we may have used for a desktop Internet-only page.

As a result, if a marketer really wants to optimize a page for coupon keywords in this age of mobile searches, they should either optimize a desktop landing page for all keywords and include both desktop and mobile keywords in a desktop user experience (good), or include mobile keywords and a mobile coupon in a mobile user experience and desktop keywords and printable coupons in a desktop user experience (better).

To ignore mobile searches entirely in a world in which 1 in 7 searches on Google are performed on a mobile device, and as many as 30% in the restaurant category, is a sure way to frustrate users and lose business.

Fortunately at this point, Google’s keyword tool provides mobile keywords and volume for feature phones, as well as smartphones and tablets, in addition to the desktop volume that they’ve always provided, so savvy marketers who want to understand how context changes keywords for their business finally can get data to help them do that. Hopefully this article, along with Google’s research on smartphone users, is enough to demonstrate that keyword research is changing, and those of us who do it regularly need to catch up before it’s too late.

Having explored the ways in which mobile searchers are changing the keyword research game and the ways in which mobile search results differ from desktop results, I’ll spend my next column detailing mobile’s effect on links and linkbuilding.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Mobile Search | Search Marketing: Mobile | Search Marketing: Search Term Research | SEO: Mobile Search


About The Author: is the Director of SEO Strategy at Resolution Media, and a primary architect of Resolution Media’s SEO product and Clear Target Digital Behavior Analysis. You can follow him on Twitter @BrysonMeunier

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