The Battle for Mobile Search Superiority

It should come as no surprise that everything that once was on the desktop is now in a highly portable form. Smartphone and tablet users have literally mobile-ized and are leading the next wave of Internet connectivity.

The rapid move to mobile brings with it a new emphasis on mobile search. Jason Wells recently wrote about mobile search, indicating that it is likely to surpass desktop search by the end of 2013. He also offered some helpful tips about mobile search for marketers.

Behind the scenes, a battle is already brewing for mobile search superiority. As the dominant leader in search, Google also leads in mobile search, of course. There’s another reason Google has a commanding lead: its Android operating system which powers a host of hardware vendors’ smartphones that, at the moment, form the only real competition to Apple’s iPhone.

Google’s Other Advantage

Google has another advantage, as Quentin Hardy explains in the New York Times’ Bits blog:

…it’s not just that Google dominates search. It’s what Google gets from those searches – streams of information about location and behavior that is valuable to advertisers and improves the quality of future searches. Bing, the search engine owned by Microsoft, is not getting that information.

Consider that Google has been learning and applying its knowledge about search since 1997, while Bing is only three years old. Microsoft’s answer to Android, the Windows phone, hasn’t been around long enough, either – but the company “is counting partly on getting more data from this fall’s Windows 8 phone.” Still, “it could be years before Microsoft has anything like Google’s data on user behavior,” Hardy writes.

Can Microsoft and Yahoo Compete?

Both Microsoft and Yahoo have limited experience in mobile search. At the present time, their search fates are even tied together; Yahoo has a relationship with Microsoft that basically allows Bing to function as Yahoo’s search engine (although it’s a bit more complicated than that, as evidenced by this explanation of their “search alliance”). Even when Bing and Yahoo are combined, however, their share of the search market struggles to reach 30 percent.

There have been industry rumblings that the Microsoft-Yahoo relationship is on shaky ground. In fact, it has even been rumored that Yahoo could jettison Microsoft in favor of working with Google. What a tantalizing possibility, given that former Google employee Marissa Mayer was recently appointed the new Yahoo CEO.

Mobile Search Shenanigans

Google is already trying to pre-empt Microsoft’s Windows 8 phone in at least one search-related area. Google just introduced “Handwrite,” which gives smartphone users the ability to literally handwrite a search term in Google’s search box. (Smartphones must have iOS 5+ or Android 2.3+. Handwrite is also available on Android 4.0+ tablets.) Handwrite is thought to be superior to the accuracy of voice search and easier to use than a keyboard. Google cautions, however, that Handwrite is still in its “experimental” stage. Nevertheless, the company released it now in a likely effort to blunt similar functionality that will be available in the forthcoming Windows 8 phone.

Meanwhile, Google is facing some challenges of its own. An antitrust case claiming Google blocked its advertisers from using other platforms is currently before the European Commission. A potential settlement deal may have to include mobile services, according to ZDNet. That could set an unwelcome precedent conflicting with regulations established in the US by the FCC, which suggest mobile networks are not subject to the same limitations as “fixed networks.”

A Market All Its Own

Whatever happens in the European case, you can be sure of one thing: Google, Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo will continue to push aggressively forward in the mobile search market.

Mobile search is, in reality, a market all its own. A study conducted in April 2011 indicated that search engines are visited more than any other sites on mobile devices by 77 percent of smartphone users, and 90 percent of smartphone searches result in an action, such as a purchase or a visit to a local business. Recent data suggests that the average response time for desktop search is one week, while the average response time for mobile search is one hour.

Mobile search is a powerful force in consumer hands. No wonder the big guys are battling over it.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

One Response to The Battle for Mobile Search Superiority

  1. Google is the number one search engine, which will carry over to smartphone search engine usage.  The Android operating system has proven to be tough competition for the iPhone.  For now I don’t see the Microsoft phone making big advances.  They are already too late to the game.