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Mobile Searches Now The Lion's Share: 5 Tips Not To Miss The Boat


How is it that mobile searches now exceed those from desktop, yet so many advertisers still spend so little on mobile?

This discrepancy is probably because some advertisers are still in the process of adjusting their websites and marketing campaigns for mobile. But perhaps more importantly, it is because they are still in the process of finding ways to better measure what mobile devices truly bring to the table.

Here are some steps you might want to take for a more successful mobile search engine marketing (SEM) effort.

1. Test Your Site For Mobile Friendliness

Mobile devices with full browsers have been around long enough for advertisers to pay attention to the mobile experience. If users don’t convert on mobile devices as much as you’d expect, it might be because of a poor user experience — common issues include confusing page layouts, lengthy loading times, discouraging “sign up” or “log in” pop-up windows, etc.

How can we make best use of a smaller screen without disrupting the user experience? Google recently created the Mobile-Friendly Test tool to help webmasters with this challenge — simply plug in a URL, and the tool will analyze it for mobile-friendliness and provide suggestions on where to improve.

Mobile-friendly test

Note that the tool does not analyze the entire domain but rather the specific web page URL you enter; thus, you might want to start with those landing pages which are used the most for your SEM program.

If your pages are not mobile-friendly per Google’s criteria, then you definitely need to address this first. Proper mobile website optimization is pretty much a prerequisite to creating a high-performing mobile SEM campaign. If you pass the test, you can move on to the items below.

2. Align Your Mobile Goals With Meaningful Mobile Actions

Easy to say, not necessarily easy to do. Essentially, you want to uncover what mobile searchers are truly trying to achieve and focus on delivering that, as opposed to focusing on mobile conversions only. That’s going to mean moving away from a last touch approach, as many mobile visits are only one piece of the puzzle, and often not a closing stage in the consumer journey.

In a nutshell, you want to able to quantify mobile actions — such as calls, store locators, product views, app downloads, etc. — and use those as a proxy for future online or offline revenue. This really is the key to understanding what mobile users do after they’ve used their mobile device (once they’re back home, or at work, or in your store). In practice, instead of making decisions based on mobile conversions, you’d want to give some credit to all sorts of relevant proxy metrics so your mobile goals reflect the true value of those mobile actions.

Mobile action examples

3. Leverage AdWords’ Estimated Conversion Data

In the same vein as using mobile-appropriate metrics, you can use AdWords’ estimated conversions in order to get a feel for indirect conversions — and that’s likely to benefit mobile devices the most. While you should keep in mind that those numbers are estimates only, they can be very useful, at least directionally. Consider the following metrics:

  • Conversions. Direct conversions occurring on mobile devices.
  • Conversions across devices. Cross-device conversions occur when a searcher clicks an ad on one device (e.g., smartphone) and later converts on a different device (e.g., laptop). This can be a very strong indicator as to what mobile actually does, as many advertisers realize that they’re getting few direct mobile conversions but tons of cross-device mobile conversions.
  • Calls. If using call extensions with Google forwarding numbers, you’ll get this additional metric. You can do the math to attribute some credit to those calls, such as x% of all calls lead to a sale.
  • Store visits. For eligible advertisers, Google helps track in-store visits, and a proxy for calculating those is [Est. total conversions]-[Est. cross-device conversions]-[Converted clicks]. Getting the estimated number of in-store visits is definitely a useful metric to optimize against, and looking at this number by device is likely to indicate that mobile traffic brings a greater proportion of in-store visits, such as in the example below, where 44% of the mobile revenue occurs in-store vs. 16% for desktop/tablet revenue. Those are actual numbers for a large U.S. retailer, and they have led us to adjust our mobile goals accordingly based on cross-device and in-store sales.

Revenue Breakdown Pies

4. Use Mobile-Specific Ads & Sitelinks

AdWords’ mobile-preferred ads and sitelinks were introduced together with AdWords’ enhanced campaigns. They definitely require some time to implement; however, they can really boost your CTR (click-through rate), as well as your conversion rate. A side benefit of having mobile-specific ads in place is that you can better analyze ad performance by device, as opposed to looking at combined performance across devices.

In my experience, there is no direct benefit to just duplicating your desktop ads and making them mobile-preferred. You need to tailor those ads for mobile users and make sure your ads are consistent with the on-the-go nature of mobile users. You can also use mobile-friendly display URLs such as “m.domain.com” to help boost your CTR or conversion rate on mobile devices specifically.

Note: On the Google Display Network (GDN), note that there are specific image ad sizes for mobile devices: 300 x 250, 320 x 480, and 480 x 320. More details here for all types of mobile ads, including other relevant mobile ads such as call-only ads.

With regard to mobile sitelinks specifically, these can be useful if you want to direct mobile users to specific pages (which should, of course, be mobile-friendly). A relevant use of mobile-preferred sitelinks would be a store locator type of page or an in-store coupon page.

5. Mobile Bid Adjustments & Trade-Offs Across Devices

This is one of my favorite parts because the technology I currently use does this extremely well. A couple of years ago, I would have been looking at the average performance on mobile vs. desktop/tablet and calculated bid adjustments accordingly, such as: mobile bid adjustment=(mobile ROAS)/(desktop/tablet ROAS)-1.

While this approach makes sense and will help your mobile ROAS converge towards your desktop/tablet ROAS, it is suboptimal, as it does not take into account the revenue trade-offs across devices. And at a time when mobile is accounting for the lion’s share of search queries, “suboptimal” is no longer good enough.

Essentially, you will get more revenue overall if tolerating different ROAS levels across devices, and you will bid more aggressively wherever the next marketing dollar brings the most revenue.

Here is an example for a given ad group. In this case, we could decrease the desktop/tablet base bid down to $2.10 and increase the mobile bid adjustment to in order to account for the fact that desktop/tablet marginal returns are lower than those from mobile. This would translate in more revenue overall.

Device revenue tradeoffs

Also, if you have physical stores and have noticed that mobile is bringing lots of in-store visits, then it might be worth setting more aggressive mobile bid adjustments around specific stores. In this case, you’d want to duplicate some of your top campaigns, target your physical stores, and set above-average mobile bid adjustments there.


Mobile SEM is not getting as much credit as it should. What is being tracked currently is mostly the tip of the iceberg, so it’ll take lots of intuition and workarounds to see the full picture.

Ultimately, as an analyst, I value intuition the most and do enjoy all those workarounds to some extent — but I need hard numbers to convince people around me, so why not run a proper A/B test to measure what mobile actually does? Turning off your mobile efforts in SEM for a couple of weeks is likely to be very insightful and perhaps the price to pay to collect new data points and additional knowledge, which will allow you to take your mobile program to the next level.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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