Study Suggests Search Engines Not As Popular On Mobile Devices

Google is seeing huge mobile search growth and search engines are widely used by mobile device owners. However a new study confirms that search is not the center of the mobile universe, as it is online. I discuss many of the top-line findings of the study, conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by Telmetrics and xAd, in my post at Marketing Land: Study: 50 Percent Of Mobile Queries In Travel, Restaurants, Autos Result In A Purchase.

In a finding I didn’t talk about in that post, the data reflect that tablet and smartphone users (in Travel, Autos and Restaurants) tend to go directly to websites and apps more than they use search engines to find information.

While the data vary by vertical and device category search engine usage was secondary to direct navigation across the board. For example, in the Travel category, tablet users went directly to familiar sites/apps (46 percent) or apps/sites they had previously used (49 percent) more often than they used search engines (15 percent) to find information.

Smartphone users also went directly to websites/apps in all three verticals more often than they used search engines for information:


  • Direct navigation — 43 percent
  • Search engine –24 percent


  • Direct navigation — 46 percent
  • Search engine –37 percent


  • Direct navigation — 44 percent
  • Search engine — 33 percent

In an unrelated study Nielsen found that US mobile device owners were spending 81 percent of their time in apps vs. on the mobile web.

Source: Nielsen July 2012

On the PC search is the near-universal starting point for people even when they have a site or brand in mind. However, the data above show that 1) mobile users spend more time with apps than the mobile web and 2) they often go directly to particular apps (or sites) without using a search engine.

This is in no way to suggest that mobile search or Google in particular is “in danger.” But it does argue persuasively that mobile user behavior is different than on the PC and that the search experience must continue to evolve and adapt in mobile. Google is trying to do that in Jelly Bean with its voice-based “assistant” and Google Now.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Google: Mobile | Search Engines: Mobile Search Engines | Stats: NetRatings | Stats: Search Behavior


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.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Dmitry Pakhomkin

    As an example around 20% of our organic search traffic is coming from “mobile Google”. ~80% from desktops and laptops.

  • Jack N Fran Farrell

    On the street or in mobile transportation using a handheld computer and voice commands to locate something you want and estimate when you’ll get it is no task for couch potatoes. I doubt that Nielsen has sufficiently updated from polling TV couch potatoes to give reliable mobile statistical inferences.

  • Jody Olaes

    Searching on a mobile device is never fun – thumbing in search queries.. the horror!

  • Durant Imboden

    I wish people–and Google Analytics–wouldn’t bundle large tablets like the iPad in with “mobile devices.” (I remember seeing one study that said most iPad usage is in the home, and that’s probably true.)

  • CopyClique

    Extremely interesting, and telling.The trend suggests that SEO will matter significantly less in a couple of years. Every business will have to become a savvy app marketer. And maybe Google will find the shoe on the other foot: they’ll have to buy in-app ads to give more people reasons to use the search engine. Anything’s possible…

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide