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Mobile search is growing rapidly, increasing by 250% for Q1 year-on-year as traffic on mobile devices increased four-fold. It's also a trend that looks set to continue. 

Mobile now accounts for 11% of all UK search spend compared to 8% in the US, yet many companies have been slow to wake up to the opportunities that it presents for increasing brand awareness and customer acquisition.

One such case in point is paid search. Brands are spending big bucks on some keywords, but are neglecting the mobile searcher. This not only reduces the opportunities for acquisition, but could also negatively impact Quality Score. 

With this in mind, I looked at which brands are most visible for each of the three most valuable keywords (mortgages, insurance and loans), and whether they make the most of their prominence by linking users to a mobile site.

Benefits of optimising sites for mobile search

Increased conversions / leads

As we previously pointed out, mobile search tends to be highly local as people are seeking things around them, and is also more focused and timely. Mobile searches typically have twice the number of keywords as desktop searches as users know exactly what they are looking for.

Microsoft says that 70% of PC search tasks are completed in one week, while 70% of mobile search tasks are done in one hour.

This means that mobile search needs to be considered separately from desktop to account for differences in search behaviour. 

While mobile conversions are still low compared to desktop, it’s vital for brands to offer consumers a user-friendly mobile experience. If they don't, a competitor will. 

In a recent survey by Tradedoubler, a quarter (26%) of smartphone owners said they would buy more frequently if websites were optimised, and 50% of UK respondents said they had become frustrated with the mobile shopping experience.

Quality score

But beyond the obvious benefits for improving conversions and acquiring new customers, mobile optimised sites have a positive impact on visibility in mobile search.

The quality and ease-of-use of a landing page impacts the overall Quality Score assigned to each site by Google. This Quality Score, which will soon take into account mobile sites, then affects how each site shows up in search rankings and how much search ads cost.

Google uses a number of signals for its Quality Score, and has indicated that mobile optimised sites will become more important as it assesses landing page quality. 

In a nutshell, higher Quality Scores typically lead to lower costs and better ad positions. Therefore, brands could be penalised for not having a mobile optimised site.

Most visible sites for ‘mortgages’

A mobile Google search for ‘mortgage’ brings up Know Your Money (KYM) and Fair Investment as the two most prominent ads.

Neither are brands that I have previously heard of, so the benefits of appearing at the top of the Google search are obvious. KYM has clearly thought through its mobile strategy and links users to a mobile optimised site.

                

Each drop down menu gives details of two or three mortgage products within that category, which isn’t a huge amount but then it’s unlikely that consumers are going to be carrying out a comprehensive financial search using a smartphone.

As such, giving a top line view of some of the site’s best deals is a good idea.

In comparison, Fair Investment links users to a large desktop site that requires a huge amount of scrolling before users can find the product details they require.

While it has more product details immediately available, it’s unlikely that many people will bother to actually read them all since its such hard work on a mobile: 

The three links at the bottom of the search rankings were all for mortgage insurance, and all linked to desktop sites.

Sure, people may not apply for a mortgage on mobile, but they will look for details, and a mobile optimised site stands a better chance of gaing valuable leads. 

Most visible sites for 'insurance'

The two top names here are rather more familiar: Gocompare.com and comparethemarket.com.

Gocompare starts well by linking to a mobile site, which even has a fairly prominent link to its new cookie policy. However all the links on the initial landing page direct you back to the desktop site.

                

This may be a sneaky way of maintaining a high Quality Score as the landing page is optimised, but it still delivers a poor user experience. 

Comparethemarket doesn’t even bother with a mobile landing page and links the user directly to the desktop site.

Of the three links at the bottom of the rankings, only Bupa links to a mobile site while Sheila’s Wheels and Best Life Cover direct you to desktop sites.

                 

However, Bupa’s site is specifically for its business heath insurance and requires users to call a number to get a quote. Offering mobile users a number to call fits with best practice, but it would also be useful to have an online tool.

Most visible sites for 'loans'

While I am not overly familiar with loan providers, the companies at the top of the paid search listings are not well-known brand names.

The Unsecured Loan Company actually has a very good mobile site. You only need to enter eight pieces of information before they will give you a quote.

                 

Furthermore, large icons at the bottom of the page allow the user to apply for a quote by phone or text in one tap. The loans industry in general doesn’t have the best image, but this is actually a good example of a well-designed mobile site, whatever the APR on offer. 

The Debt Advisory Line’s mobile site is equally good, if not better, requiring just six pieces of personal information to provide a quote. It also provides phone numbers to call at the bottom of the page.

The three links at the bottom of the search rankings don’t perform as well, only one of them links to a mobile optimised site.

Conclusion

Overall, only six out of the 15 paid search results linked to mobile sites and for one of those, Gocompare, only the landing page was optimised.

This is a huge missed opportunity for these brands, and means some of the money they have spent on securing prominent positions in paid search is potentially going to waste as they have failed to account for the mobile searcher. 

Mobile users have little patience, particularly when presented with the sort of form-filling required for mortgage and insurance applications. They are therefore likely to abandon the desktop sites and shop elsewhere.

To prevent this from happening, the websites would be better off providing a scaled down version of the site with prominently positioned contact numbers.

Of the three search terms, loan providers actually offered the best user experience. Three out of five linked to mobile sites, offering scaled down and easy-to-use application forms.

The three keywords I've looked at here are so expensive because these are lucrative markets for the companies involved. For a relatively small investment in a mobile-optimised site, these brands could gain a real edge in a highly competitive sector. 

David Moth

Published 26 June, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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