What Does Mobile Query Growth Mean for Local Search?

PinLast week at the SMX West conference Google’s master spam cop Matt Cutts told the audience that mobile search query volumes might exceed desktop queries by the end of this year. Before that, a few weeks ago, Moz’s David Mihm tweeted a similar remark by another Google employee, speaking at the International Franchising Association conference in New Orleans.

These predictions are based on search volumes that Google is seeing internally. And if it’s being said separately by two different Google employees . . . it must be true.

It’s important to note that this is not North America or the US but a global estimate. Currently web traffic in the US is about 70-30 still in favor of the desktop.

With mobile devices outnumbering PCs by more than 2:1 globally this actually comes as little surprise. It was even inevitable. The only question was timing.

US mobile internet traffic

Source: StatCounter US internet traffic (2/14)

A few years ago Google estimated that about 20% of PC search queries carry a “local intent.” Google (and Bing) also later said that number goes up to between 40% and 50% in mobile.

As consumer search volumes partly shift to mobile devices are we seeing local query growth or is it just that we’re seeing what’s been going on all the time more clearly? I would argue it’s a bit of both: people on mobile devices may be prompted to search locally more often but they’ve always been searching for things offline. It’s just that most publishers and marketers didn’t see it as clearly when it was coming through the PC exclusively. Location precision wasn’t there either for ad targeting purposes.

Location is the “context” of much of mobile device usage. It defines and shapes the experience of searching on a handset much more than it does the PC search experience. An MMA-sponsored webinar today featuring xAd, YP and Verve Mobile recited a range of stats that argued location (and data drawn from location) boost relevance and response rates — sometimes quite considerably.

I exchanged emails with Wordstream’s Larry Kim. He told me that only 15% of Google AdWords marketers are using location extensions today. However he said the number has roughly doubled since last year.

While some marketers are still geotargeting AdWords manually without extensions, this 15% figure seems quite low given what’s happening in the broader search market. If more than 50% of search queries are soon to be happening on mobile and nearly half of those are likely to carry a local or offline intent, you’d expect location extensions to really be picking up steam.

Any way you slice it there are many billions of location-intent or offline-intent searches going on through PCs and mobile devices. However there’s a major lag or gap between consumer behavior and marketers’ response in terms of location targeting.

It’s not clear why search marketers have held back or failed to match consumer behavior in the market even as Google has created tools to make it easier to manage location in AdWords campaigns.

What do you think? Do you believe that there’s more local search momentum as more search volumes happen on mobile devices or do you think mobile is simply exposing pre-existing behavior? And what do you think holds marketers back when it comes to location?

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