April 5, 2012, 2:54 PM

Mobile search ads: What makes them click?

Not the same things as traditional paid search ads

Imagine, if you will, a TV spot for Metamucil set in a hip urban nightclub chock full of statuesque supermodels. Or an online banner ad for a Ferrari featuring a suburban family and copy that is heavy on words like “dependability” and “value”. Chances are, you’d wonder how the marketing director in charge of those campaigns still has a job.

Any marketing staffer—from associate coffeemaker to senior marketing director—likely knows the cardinal rule of marketing: Know Your Target Audience. Learn as much as you can about them. Then, speak to them, on their turf, and show them what they want to see.

That old chestnut really hit home over the past few weeks as I’ve delved into research for my upcoming magazine story on the wild, wild west of online marketing territory: mobile paid search.

Retailers that bid on ads that appear on search results pages on mobile phones should realize it’s a whole different ballgame than desktop paid search. A smartphone is smaller than a desktop or laptop computer. Consumers use smartphones in different places than they do PC’s. For different reasons. And, with a greater sense of urgency. So transferring desktop paid search best practices to mobile paid search, in my opinion, makes about as much sense as using the same ad campaign for a superhero-obsessed 5-year-old as a cookie-baking grandma. The audience is different.  

So far, I (and I, like everyone else, am still learning) have corralled these few tips for online retailers exploring the realm of mobile paid search:

1. Build trust: From the experts I’ve spoken to, one of the easiest ways to lose the loyalty of a mobile shopper is to send them from a mobile ad to a traditional e-commerce site that takes five minutes to load or simply times out. So, assure mobile consumers you would never dream of doing that by sneaking the word “mobile” into your copy: i.e. “Garden hoses, $39.99! Shop from your mobile device now!”

2. Tackle the basics first: In that same vein, if you don’t have a mobile site, build one. Then start a mobile ad campaign.

3. Cheaper is better: Consumers are likely going to research larger-ticket items on their PCs, industry analysts and retailers have told me. A 40-year old male is going to spend a lot of time searching on his desktop or laptop for the perfect 50-inch plasma (and showing all the features of it to his reluctant wife over a glass of wine). And, well, wine drinking and buttering up isn’t really conducive to a smartphone.  So, focus your mobile campaigns on smaller-ticket items, at least at first.

4. Details, details: Be specific. I’ve expressed my thought that mobile web searchers are less inclined to be in “research mode.” If that theory holds true, they are more inclined to be in “buying mode.” So use that mobile ad’s precious real estate to focus on specific specs like model number and price. If a consumer already knows what she wants, there’s a good chance those final details are all she will need to click Buy.

5. The local advantage: There is a beautiful thing mobile ads offer that the desktop doesn’t: the ability to tailor ads to a shopper based on where he is right now through geolocation. Knowing the consumer’s location can tell you a heck of lot about a customer and what he might be interested in at any given moment. Use that to your advantage. One retailer I spoke with created ads specifically for Colorado residents after a major snowstorm storm that said: “Stay warm Colorado! Snow blowers from $129.” The retailer’s click-through rate for that mobile ad was three to four times higher than average.

6. Give it a “real” go: I’ve been told by experts that in AdWords, Google allows marketers to click a little box in their traditional paid search account to have ads delivered to mobile devices as well. Clicking that little mobile box is not, in my humble opinion, giving mobile paid search a fair shake. Mobile is a different animal and needs to be treated as such. In fact, analysts have told me Google gives the same advice on their site about engaging mobile customers—that marketers trying mobile ads will be more successful with a mobile-specific campaign. 

So if you’re going to try mobile paid search, put some effort into it. Create a separate campaign. Think about the best items to market and keywords to buy, and what to bid on those keywords. Then, track your mobile campaign, adjust it, and track it again.

It’s simply what any good marketer would do. 


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