How Mobile Devices Are Changing Our Search Habits

Here’s something you already know: Google users rarely go past the first page of search results before choosing a site. If you’re not on the first page, you don’t exist (to search engine users). What’s more interesting is that a new study (The BrightEdge Mobile Share Report) shows an even more dramatic drop-off in click-throughs from Page One to Page Two when looking specifically at searches performed on mobile devices. The difference is significant. The chart below shows the change in CTR based on ranking position for desktop, smartphone, and tablet devices:

There are two big takeaways from this data: (1) People searching on mobile devices are considerably less likely to go past the first page, while at the same time, (2) more likely to choose one of the first three results.

This one-two punch means businesses hoping to capture meaningful mobile search traffic need to show up even higher in search results than previously believed. This is not all that surprising, though, because anyone who’s used a smartphone knows that a smaller screen means fewer visible results. Here’s what you see when you search “auto repair” on the iPhone:

Two ads, a map, and one local business listing (ZERO traditional search results). You actually have to scroll down the equivalent of several iPhone screens before you see the first non-map result (and that’s for Yelp, mind you). This one example captures many of the challenges facing SEOs today.

Personalized Search Results – For years, Google has been working to personalize search results based on location, past search habits, and more recently, the search habits of people in your online circles. Google+, Google Now, and a slew of other Google services are designed to give users information meaningful to them under the assumption that information varies in importance from user to user. Just because two people search the same keyword, they shouldn’t necessarily see the same results.

Hummingbird – The next major step in Google’s transition to a more personal or “live” search experience is the release of a major algorithm change called “Hummingbird.” This is a complete revamp of the way Google decides what information it displays to whom. It’ll be some time before we know the full ramifications of this change, but for now we know their stated goal is “pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”

“Not Provided” Keywords – Last week Google announced it would be moving to encrypt keyword data for all users, meaning a higher number keyword visits will soon be labeled “not provided.” This caused a few SEOs to panic, fearing they would no longer be able to show clients substantial proof as to the effectiveness of their SEO efforts. But this irrational fear is closely tied to a misconception held by most SEO companies and their clients: that individual keyword rankings matter. They don’t. Search engine traffic is what ultimately matters.

How do we increase mobile search traffic?

Remember, mobile devices are always aware of two things: where you are and who you are. Your Google+ business page is your best friend when it comes to telling Google what types of search queries your business should show up for and what markets you do business in. Optimizing your G+ page includes filling out product categories, adding locations & hours, getting reviews and +1s, being in circles, and having a Google+ author profile associated to your website.

One of the main ways Google pesonalizes search results is by showing results based on friend activity. The more mobile users you get to Circle or +1 your G+ business page and interact with it, the more visible you are to more people—which results in more +1s and more interaction and more visibility. It’s a compounding effect.

Lastly, if you take another look at the iPhone screenshot, you’ll notice just how prominently Google Ads are featured atop the results. Combine that with the visual appeal of a clickable Call Button and you have a strong case for most businesses to use Adwords to generate mobile traffic.

A final word of caution: The results of the BrightEdge study should not encourage businesses and SEOs to put more emphasis on number #1 rankings for a narrow list of keywords. Instead, it should motivate you to diversify your SEO strategy and monitor how each change you make is impacting website traffic, not just rankings.