The State of Mobile Search

As promised in my previous post, and after spending a month discovering Mobile Search Engines and Mobile SEO, I will try to give you an insight on mobile search.

You’ve probably came across a lot of blog posts lately, or news articles, saying that Mobile Search was hot. In fact, people have been saying that mobile search was hot for years, but I really think it was just hype.

But I don’t think it’s the case as of today. Mobile network operators are starting to realize that Search is important for their clients, be it to search for mobile content, to get driving directions, to search a chinese restaurant nearby, or to get answers.

It’s not just about providing a search engine to their users, network operators need to provide a search engine that truly creates a good user experience.

Traditional search engines are also seeing an immense opportunity to get more users and to drive more advertising revenues, Eric Schmidt recently said that it’s in 2007 that we will start seeing big moves from Google in the mobile search space:

It is clear that 2007 will be the year that mobile search query traffic grows substantially. Our current model is to use targeted text ads and we have evidence that the monetization of those ads is higher than in non-mobile uses. So it looks like the advertising revenue on a per-search query is likely to be significantly higher on mobile than on non-mobile.

So, who are mobile search engines? How do people use search engines on their mobiles and what do they search for? Do traditional search engines such as Yahoo, Google or MSN have a chance to reproduce their desktop success on mobile phones?

  1. Mobile Search Engines

In the mobile search world, there are two kinds of search engines. You have what we call on-portal (or on-deck) search engines. These are search engines that network operators use on their WAP portal to help users find and discover content available on the operator’s portal.

And then you have off-portal mobile search engines, that is, traditional search engines that crawl the web and index web and WAP (or mobile friendly) pages.

  • On-Portal Search Engines

On-Portal Search Engines are used by mobile operators to index all the content available on their portals. Operators’s portal haven’t had a search box since the beginning, but they started to implement that function when they realized how hard it was for people to locate content when there were so many links and categories.

On-Portal search engines are either developed in-house by the mobile operators, or they are using a white label solution.

The most popular white label on-portal search engines are:

MotionBridge: a french company that Microsoft acquired in March 2006. Many are saying that they are the leaders in the on-deck search industry, but I couldn’t get any figures to prove that.

Fast: The leader in enterprise search provides a mobile search engine called mSearch. I know that they are powering Vodafone’s portals, but don’t know who are their other clients.
JumpTap: This company was created in 2004, but it has been growing fast. They recently closed a deal with T-Mobile USA, and also have Alltel as one of their clients.

MedioSystems: Bryan Lent, a Stanford’s graduate is the CEO. Their search engine offers a unique recommendation feature to help users discover new content and information when they are performing a search.

Basically, on-deck search engines allow network operators to index their partner’s content properly to provide the right results to their users, but some of them also provide off-deck results (JumpTap will show on-deck content first, and also off-deck content indexed with their crawler).

  • Off-Portal Search Engines:

Basically, off-portal search engines are engines that are independent from networks. When you use Google or Yahoo! in your mobile directly from your browser, it will deliver results from their Web and/or Mobile Web index.

And that’s why mobile network operators are afraid of these guys, they do want their users to buy mobile content elsewhere, while they could buy it directly from their portals… So, they’re trying to do whatever they can to get their slice of the mobile search market. See this article released today about Europe’s biggest telecom companies willing to build a mobile search engine that could rivals with traditional search engines.
Obviously, the most popular off-portal engine is Google. Then come Yahoo!, MSN, Ask and AOL.

These guys are using different ways to promote their mobile search engines. They either sign agreements with mobile constructors to embed a search application direclty into phones, for example Google with Samsung or Yahoo and Motorola or Nokia (with Yahoo! Go).
Or they are signing deals directly with network operators, for example Google signed an important deal with China Mobile, the leading network in China.

MSN is playing the catch-up but is clearly willing to get things done right in the mobile search space with Live!.

So who’s leading the mobile search space? Traditional Search Engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) or On-Portal Engines (Branded, White Label, etc)? It’s really hard to tell, it’s almost impossible to find the number of users of each mobile search engine.

Personnaly, I would say that on-portal search engines are the leaders right now, but the Big 3 will get more market shares in the following months and years. To me, it makes no doubt that Google will be the leader, not because they are the leader of desktop search, but because they have lots of cash. They could either offer a huge amount of money to every leading network operators to get their search engine on their portals, or even provide their own mobile network, or a Google Phone…
2. Mobile Search Behavior:

The most popular paper released about mobile search behavior comes from Google. From that study, we can see that the most popular keywords are related to Adult, Entertainment, Internet and Telecom, Local Services, Games etc.

Due to limited screen real estate, search queries are obviously smaller. As for search results pages, people will mainly click on the first and second result. Below that position, you’ll be invisible on a mobile… Because of screen real estate, sites that have short title tags, links, and phrases will get high CTR.
People also spend less time on a website due to high browsing costs, so you need to deliver your message quickly and make it easy for your visitors to buy your products or submit their contact information.

I will provide a few tips in the next few days for those interested in mobile search engine optimization, I thing I’ve written enough for now 🙂

7 thoughts on “The State of Mobile Search

  1. Bill

    Thanks, Nadir.

    I’m looking forward to your followup posts on this topic. The telegraph article was pretty interesting – I wonder how well these companies will be able to work together.

  2. Joe Dolson

    Well, that’s a great introduction, Nadir. It’s pretty obvious you’ve been soaking up information since you started your new job!

    I’m looking forward to your ideas about mobile SEO, definitely. You’ve already suggested a few little nuggets – short title elements, link texts, top of results value, etc. Looking forward to more!

  3. Pingback: Reading about the State of Mobile Search | inter:digital strategies

  4. Nadir

    You’re welcome guys. Bill, about the telegraph article, many people in the mobile industry are saying that it will be hard for them to come up to an agreement, since network operators aren’t known for tying good relationships between them…

    Joe, more tips will be coming 😉

  5. Pingback: The State of Mobile Search @ SEO Principle | Nadir Garouche’s Blog on SEO - Google Adsense, Google Adwords

  6. Liz Cohen


    I came across SEO Principle and thought I’d fill you in on Mobile Answers, a phone-friendly version of for your Treo, Blackberry or any other smartphone.

    Clarify unfamiliar terms you come across in emails from your phone. Settle trivia bets while you’re sitting at the bar. Get familiar with your surroundings on business trips. Mobile Answers is located at and makes available the massive, virtual library at 4 million topics, in your pocket, without any downloading.

    Try it out, and if you like it, we’d love to see you blog about it. Feel free to pass this to fellow bloggers or submit your blog to the Blog Directory.

    Liz Cohen
    Chief BlogWatcher”
    Submit your blog to the Blog Directory.

  7. Nadir Post author

    Hi Liz,
    Yeah, I heard the news, it’s really a good idea and indeed, it’s going to be very useful to folks on the go. I’ll test it with a mobile and post about it on this blog pretty soon.
    Good luck,

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