Digital Insights

Mobile Devices Rocket Past Desktop as the Consumer’s Search Option of Choice

Published: May 21, 2015

It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s official. According to Google, the majority of search engine queries are now being conducted on a mobile device – specifically a smartphone – rather than on a desktop computer in 10 countries including the United States and Japan. Mobile search queries include browser-based searches as well as searches originating from Google’s mobile search apps.

The timing of the much anticipated tipping point is difficult to establish with any certainty, but may have actually occurred much earlier depending on how you define a mobile device. Because Google does not consider the tablet to be a mobile device, only smartphones have been included in the updated market penetration findings.

Google declined to furnish hard numbers on mobile search volume or a full list of the countries affected. The announcement appears to be at odds with the most recent finding released by Comscore, which reported that combined mobile search queries (smartphone and tablet) accounted for approximately 29 percent of all search queries in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Assuming that both sets of data are accurate, mobile has absolutely flown past desktop in the space of a few short months. In its typical close-mouthed fashion, Google has not commented on the data furnished by Comscore, or offered an opinion on the apparent anomaly.

Coupled with Google’s recent mobile-friendly “Mobilegeddon” algorithm update, the announcement brings mobile search to the center stage of digital marketing. We have clearly entered the Mobile Age, and mobile is not just the “next big thing” – it’s the “now big thing.”

How Mobile Search Affects Local Marketing

The mobile search user has a different experience than the desktop user. Users don’t always use keywords the way a desktop searcher might, frequently opting for gesture search or voice search. When keywords are used, they may be used in different contexts and in different settings. Instead of relying on traditional keyword research, marketers need to focus on mobile keyword research.

Scrolling across a website or navigating between multiple open tabs is more cumbersome for the mobile user, and presents a “user friendly” challenge for marketers still rooted in the more familiar desktop mentality.

Google’s New Algorithm Update is Forcing the Hand of Digital Marketers

The “Mice” or “Mobilegeddon” update rolled out on April 21, 2014, and has effectively changed the face of digital marketing forever. Any website that fails to meet Google’s standards for providing a “user friendly” experience will not be displayed in Google’s mobile search results. When you consider that more than 50 percent of all searches are made on a mobile device, this could result in the loss of a great deal of search engine traffic for the typical non-compliant business.

Determining the Mobilegeddon Impact

To determine what type of impact this algorithm update had on your business, log into Google Analytics and filter your visitor data to organic mobile searches and you can view how much your mobile traffic has declined since April 21st. If you had a responsive or mobile version of your site prior to the Mobilegeddon update than you can view the same data and see how much your mobile organic traffic has increased if any since April 21st.

Specifically, Google is requiring websites to:

  • Display text that can easily be read without the user having to zoom in on it.
  • Feature web pages that adapt to various screen sizes so that users won’t have to scroll or zoom in order to read the content.
  • Discontinue using software such as Flash that is not common to mobile devices.
  • Present links with sufficient spacing that permits users to easily tap the correct link.


Mobile-friendly Website Options

You have essentially two options for complying with Google’s call for displaying a mobile-friendly website.

  1. The Google-preferred choice is the responsive website. A mobile version of your main business website is created within your site’s directory files. Whenever a visitor to your site is identified as a mobile device user, a properly formatted mobile version is delivered instead of your traditional desktop version.The Awwwards conference recognizes top web designers and developers from around the world, spotlighting some of the best examples of responsive web design such as the Food Sense, Sasquatch Festival, and Sleep Street websites.
  2. Creating a completely separate mobile website is another possibility. The downside is that you now have two websites to host and maintain, create unique content for, and develop separate SEO campaigns around.

If your existing small business website was built on the WordPress platform and you are not willing to allocate the proper budget to create an optimized mobile experience, you’re in luck. The WPtouch plugin is an easy install, and will detect and redirect mobile visitors to a mobile-optimized version of your site automatically.