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Google's View of the Mobile Web's Future
Mobile Marketing Forum '10: An executive of the search-engine giant explains how his company plans to capitalize on mobile devices, and the notion of "immobile browsing."
Posted Jun 29, 2010
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NEW YORK — Before a packed conference room here at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Mike Steib, director of emerging platforms at Google, explained his company's approach to mobile media and predicted how and why the landscape will broaden in the near future. The keynote followed an address by CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, which kicked off Day One of the Mobile Marketing Association's recent Mobile Marketing Forum.

To open his address, Steib referenced a story O'Brien had told about churchgoers using mobile devices to read the Bible while following a sermon. "If you're anything like me," Steib began, "when you hear about people using mobile devices in church, the first thing you ask yourself is: 'How can I put ads in front of them?' " The joke roused the early-morning audience crowded arm-to-arm in the seats as well as those forced to stand along the side wall due to lack of seating.

Steib transitioned to the serious portion of his address by dispelling theories about mobile devices and advertisements. He argued that there will never be a single mobile device able to please all users. Instead, he contended, there will be many different types of devices serving many different functions, and marketers will need to be able to "hit all the devices and hit all the users where they are."

Since 2008, Steib told the crowd, Google has seen the number of queries via mobile devices explode by 500 percent. In the last quarter alone, the company has seen 67 percent growth in queries from smartphone users. "People are using them a lot more like their computers," he noted.  

A lot more, perhaps, but often in different pursuits. Steib also explained that the queries submitted by frequent mobile searchers were more diverse those performed by frequent searchers on desktops. Mobile-device users, he said, search for things in real time that they may not remember to search for when they get back to their desktops.

Steib then introduced a phrase to the mobile marketing conversation — something Google researchers call "immobile browsing."

"There were huge spikes in mobile queries around commercials at the end of the [Super Bowl]," Steib said. "These are people who are on the couch [and] in the room with the computer right there. For a marketer you're psyched about this. These are people who are interacting with this device who are watching your ads on television."

He also took time to detail Google's success in this arena, referencing the 2008 launch of its Android mobile operating system. The launch featured just one partner (T-Mobile), in one country, and on one device. There are now 60 Android-compatible devices, Steib said, and Google has expanded to work with 21 manufacturers and 59 carriers across 48 countries.

"We now have 100,000 new activations of Android devices every day," he boasted. We're second in smartphone sales, [and] first in total [United States] Web usage amongst all smartphones."

In particular, Steib told the audience, Google plans to continue to grow its applications network, as evidenced by the company's recent acquisition of AdMob. And with good reason: "The average Android user downloads 40 apps," he said. "Twenty-five percent of iPhone and Android users spend 24 hours a day in apps."

Steib urged marketers to find a way to bridge the gap between the marketing world and the physical world. Because one in three queries from users on mobile devices are local, he warned marketers to invest in innovation that will provide users with the best results — a gauge of quality that will come to mean not only the most up-to-date results, but the most location-specific ones.

"When [users] share with us their location, we have a good sense of the intent of that query," Steib said. "Whenever possible, we tie in a phone number to ads. A lot of marketers find that the conversion [rates] are significantly higher when a person gets to talk to a person and not with a Web site."

Online coupons and updated online inventory are also important ways for marketers to utilize location-based searches. Retailers should reveal what products are available locally, Steib said, so that a user knows where she can find a product she's searched for.

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