Different platforms, different ads

There’s little argument that mobile’s time has come. According to Google, mobile searches make up anywhere from 5 to 12% of the total query volume for many popular keywords. And for many categories (i.e. searches for local businesses) the percentage is much higher. That officially qualifies as “something to consider” in most marketing strategies. But for many marketers, the addition of mobile is a simple check box addition in planning your search campaign. In Google’s quest to make life simple for marketers, we’re missing some fundamental aspects of marketing to mobile prospects. Okay, we’re missing one fundamental aspect – it’s different. Really different.

Last week, I talked about how my behaviors vary across multiple devices. But it’s not just me. It’s everyone. And those differences in behavior will continue to diverge as those experiences become more customized. The mobile use case will look significantly different than the tablet use case. Desktops and smart entertainment devices will be completely different beasts. We’ll use them in different ways, with different intents, and in different contexts. We’d better make sure our marketing messages are different too.

Let’s go back to Jacquelyn Krones research from Microsoft, which I talked about in the last column. If we divide search activity into three buckets: missions, excavations and explorations, we can also see that three different approaches to search ads should go along with those divergent intents.

Excavation search sessions, which still live primarily on the desktop, are all about information gathering. Success ads for these types of searches should offer rich access to relevant content. Learn to recognize the keywords in your campaigns that indicate excavation queries. They are typically more general in nature, and are often aligned with events that require extensive research: major purchases, planning vacations, researching life altering events like health concerns, moving to a new community, starting college or planning a wedding. In our quest to squeeze conversions off a landing page, we often not only pare down content, but also on page navigation pointing to more content. For an excavation type search, this is exactly the wrong approach. Here, the John Caples approach to copy writing might be just the ticket- long, information rich content that allows the user to “create knowledge.”

Missions, especially on mobile devices, are just that. You get in and you get out, hopefully with something useful – something that lets you do something else. Successful ads in this environment should do the same thing – they should take you one (or several) steps closer to a successful completion of the mission. Ad messaging should offer the promise of successful mission completion, and the post-click destination should deliver on that promise. Clean, hassle free and exquisitely simple to use are the marching orders of mobile advertising.

Perhaps the most interesting search use case is that on a tablet device. I’ve chatted with Yahoo’s relatively new VP of Search, Shashi Seth about this. He believes tablets might open the door for the visually rich, interactive ads that brand marketers love. And Krones research seems to indicate that this might indeed be the case. Tablets are ideal for exploration searches – which tend to be meandering voyages through the online landscape with less specific agendas. The delight of serendipity is one big component in an expedition search. And it’s this that marks a significant departure for most search marketers.

Every search marketer learns the hard way that it’s incredibly difficult to lure a search user away from the task they have in mind. When we do our keyword analysis, we’re usually disappointed to find that the list of highly relevant words is much smaller than we thought. So, we extend our campaign into keywords that, while not directly relevant, are at least adjacent to the user’s anticipated intent. If they’re looking for a jigsaw, we might try running an ad for free children’s furniture plans. Or, if they’re looking for a new car, we might try running an ad that reminds them that they can save 15% on their car insurance just by clicking on our ad.

We’ve all been here. In the mind of the marketer, it makes sense to buy these keywords. After all, the two worlds are not so far apart. A new owner of a jig saw might indeed be interested in building a set of bunk beds. And the new car owner will need car insurance. The problem is, neither of those things are relevant “in the moment,” and “in the moment” rules in most search interactions. It’s incredibly difficult to get a search user to switch from the task that they’re focused on. So, after a few months of trying, we reluctantly remove these keywords from our campaign, or drop the bid price so low they’re buried 3 pages of results deep.

But perhaps tablet users are different. I’m certain the search experience on a tablet will soon look significantly different than it does on a PC. I would expect it to be more tactile and interactive – less rigidly ordered. And, in that environment, given the looser constraints of an expedition type search, we might be more willing to explore a visually rich distraction. Shashi Seth thinks so. Krones’ research seems to also point in this direction. For this search marketer, that’s reason enough to test the hypothesis. Or, I will test it, as soon as Google, Yahoo and Bing make that possible.

Orig­i­nally pub­lished in Mediapost’s Search Insider June 9, 2011