Last week saw the great and the good of the Search Marketing world (and a number of interested generalists) come together for the second in our spin off series of SearchFirestarters events, this one on the subject of mobile. As I said in the run up mobile is such a rich subject right now so we chose to focus on not only what marketers need to think about today, but on what the future could look like, and we had a great line-up of speakers from client, agency and media owner side to help us.

The context for this is that whilst smartphone penetration has risen rapidly (now at 51% in the UK), it is of-course what people are doing on their phones which is making all the difference (one study indicating that 60% of time spent on smartphones is new activity). Some notable milestones have been reached over the past few weeks including the fact that 60% of access to LOCOG’s digital assets was from mobile devices and up to half of U.S. and UK Olympics video streams served by NBC and the BBC were to smartphones and tablets. Search activity on mobiles is up 400% since 2010, and yet according to Econsultancy only 25% of companies are using mobile search advertising. In her latest Internet Trends deck, Mary Meeker highlighted the gap between consumer time devoted to mobile and the proportion of budgets being allocated to it, and how much lower eCPMs are on mobile in comparison to desktop internet (the FT speculated a couple of weeks ago that the emergence of the mobile internet could be a replay of the Dotcom era where a similar thing happened). Meeker also emphasized not only the breadth of potential disruption across many different areas (the "re-imagination of almost everything"), but also the speed of disruption, noting that "this cycle of tech disruption is materially faster and broader than prior cycles".

Gareth Jones, who runs Digital marketing for Carphone Warehouse spoke on the journey they had undergone from a situation where in many ways they were playing catch up to consumers to a position where they now think of mobile not longitudinally but as a behaviour. What he means by that is that mobile can and often does bind a lot of their retail activity together. The journey has transitioned their mobile presence from a mobile version of the desktop internet site, to one that was optimised for mobile, high on functionality and utility, and promoted through mobile optimised search marketing. This has led to a pretty huge differential in performance between desktop and mobile (+11%/+225% year-on-year). Interestingly, they are seeing a high elasticity between spend on mobile search and traffic - unto 60% of traffic to the mobile optimised site comes from paid mobile search, but the conversion rate is notably lower than desktop. This suggests that people are using mobile for both research and purchase, but it also suggests poor quality conversion. Counter-intuitively, the reverse is true. Conversion to higher ticket items is better on mobile (perhaps driven by early m-commerce adopters) meaning that it has significant value to them - mobile is now bigger than a flagship store.

Gareth Davies of Vodafone also talked about how, for them, mobile is the 'glue' between channels. They are seeing an exponential increase in data consumption on the network. During the Olympics, average data traffic was up 10% (25% on busy days), on the day of Bradley Wiggin's gold medal win it eclipsed both the royal wedding and New Years Eve, and on 'Super-Saturday' the network served up enough data to stream video to one screen for 40 years. Indicative of the pace of change required in this environment they've been through four iterations of their mobile site in just over a year focusing on creating a mobile optimised look, feel and functionality (like mobile checkout) and smart ways of joining up the back end with the desktop site. They've also been thinking smarter about marketing (mobile search is 16% of total search spend, and since 30% of email is opened on a mobile device optimising e-mail marketing for mobile) and about how they can join up with offline activity as it's increasingly common for them to see customers turn to their mobiles when prompted by offline. Data will play an ever bigger part for them in the future - in more sophisticated targeting for their mobile advertising, to join up critical areas like telesales, online and retail, and in attribution to better understand the value of individual touchpoints and pieces of activity.

Mobile specialist and veteran Simon Andrews, founder of Addictive, focused initially on how many clients are (still) spending (or rather wasting) money on search marketing that is directing traffic through to non-mobile optimised content. Search engines are increasingly delineating between optimised and non-optimised content, both visually in their mobile results and in the ranking. Simon talked a bit about perceptual filtering - the idea that our brains are pretty good at filtering out stuff which is less interesting and useful to us and how this is a pretty good model for the future of search. Using the kind of data that mobile is uniquely good at, more information will increasingly be available on the results pages themselves to help users in their search (e.g. results that use your location to show you stock levels and prices for the product you're after in nearby shops), giving much better contexts to search results. Because of this, permission will become more important, and attribution starts to become interesting since more parts of the journey are conducted using one device.

Husayin Savas, a product manager for mobile ads at Google, then talked about a vision for the future of mobile search. Picking up where Simon left off (and referencing some aspects which can be seen emerging in Google Now) he talked about the importance of improved contexts and 'answering with knowledge', search beyond type, and search that works seamlessly across all screens. For the former, he talked about the recent launch and future integration of the knowledge graph and how search can use data and different contexts relevant to us to give us more helpful results (e.g. searching for a flight will show if the flight is delayed, search history shared seamlessly across different platforms). There were some quite amazing demonstrations of voice and visual search, and using Google Drive to easily share stuff from mobile to the cloud (e.g. taking a photo of a recipe on a mobile, have the Google engine translate it into text in a Google doc and enable a friend to contribute/edit it).

Across the four provocations, we moved from present day challenges and opportunities to those that will become increasingly important in the future, and the questions from the audience at the end reflected this mix as well. The next SearchFirestarters event will be in a few months time. We have some thoughts on what would make a great theme but as always are keen to encourage suggestions from the industry so if you'd like to put something forward for debate, please let me know. In the meantime, you can see the talks illustrated in all their glory by Scriberia here, and view a Storify of the event here. Thanks to the speakers, and to all those who came and made it such a fascinating event.

Original Post: http://neilperkin.typepad.com/only_dead_fish/2012/08/google-searchfirestarters-2-the-mobile-future.html