Searching for personalization

19 Sep 2006

As mobile phones become data devices, search engines are going mobile. The big deal: mobile has the ability to take search engine capabilities - particularly advertising - to increasingly personalized levels that PC-based search can't realize. The only limits are ease of use, network readiness and very serious privacy issues

With cellphones becoming increasingly outfitted for Internet access and mobile services becoming increasingly content-driven, it was inevitable that search engine technology would go mobile. Many mobile operators have employed localized engines to help users find content on their content decks, while major search engine players like Google, Yahoo! and MSN have been on the mobile case for at least the last couple of years, with mobile versions of their search engines already up and running.

However, it's only been in the last year or so that mobile operators and handset vendors have been hooking up with Internet search engines. For example, cellcos like T-Mobile, Vodafone, China Mobile and KDDI have partnered with Google to include its Internet search engine in their wireless portals. In July, NTT DoCoMo added a keyword search to its i-mode portal that includes links to nine Internet search engines, including MSN and Infoseek, for non-official i-mode sites and the Internet.

Meanwhile, major handset players like Nokia and Motorola have started to include Google and Yahoo icons in their phones. Earlier this year, Nokia began collaborating with Chinese search engine to make mobile search easier and more convenient in Chinese-language markets, including mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. By perhaps no coincidence, CCID Consulting (a think-tank affiliated with China's Ministry of Information Industry) says that China's mobile search user numbers will grow an eye-catching 202% from 9.9 million last year to almost 30 million this year.

ARPU gains

There are more encouraging numbers to be had. A recent survey from JumpTap, for example, says that mobile search contributed an 8% revenue increase for cellcos in April 2006, boosted average revenue per search, generated a 4% increase in unique users and registered a 36% click-through rate. (The top search categories‾ Ringtones and adult content.)

If those numbers seem a bit on the low side, it's partly due to the fact that mobile search is still very much a fledgling app - so much so that industry analysts are a bit divided on mobile search's prospects. Peggy Anne Salz, who authored a recent report on mobile search for Informa Telecoms & Media, says that mobile search is 'indisputably' a potent way to generate value.

'Consumers find what they want, and marketers gain traffic by providing relevant offers and advertising, and mobile operators and service providers capture more revenue from increased mobile content purchases,' she says.

Gartner analyst Sandy Shen, who co-authored a separate study with Martin Gutberlet, is less enthusiastic, saying the recent flurry of partnerships between big-name search engines, cellcos and handset makers are more about marketing and brand association than serious revenue generation.
'Internet search engines have yet to prove themselves on mobiles, and the industry is still far from making mobile search into a potential money-spinner,' Shen says in the report.

Forced hand
Jawahar Kanjilal, APAC director of multimedia experiences at Nokia, acknowledges that one of the chief drivers of mobile search is the simple fact that users raised on the Internet will naturally expect the same function on their handsets.


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