Google already has the ability to deliver click-through ad placements based on a user's mobile phone. In Japan and the US, a mobile version of Google's AdWords service allows customers to place marketing messages - including clickable links - in its search results. Google is reportedly working to patent a system that recognizes the user's device and then automatically directs the user to a Web site or places a voice call, depending on whatever capabilities the handset supports.
But mobile search aims to connect not with the handset but the user. Mobile operators have the unique ability to take a user's search request and correlate it to the data in their individual profile, which would contain everything from usage patterns and preferences to billing behavior - all of which could be used to direct the most relevant ads to their screen along with their search results. From the advertiser's point of view, that's a potentially richer proposition than PC-based search, where the user typically sits behind an IP address.
'That's why companies like Google want into mobile,' Effting says. 'The mobile phone is the only device left that can target the individual.'
The cellphone can also add another detail to the profile mix: location. Localized search directories like Google Earth can take location into account by the user entering, say, a zip code or some keyword identifying the user's general location. But in a fixed-line setting, the user is typically either at home or work and planning to head to particular location. With mobile, the user could already be within walking distance of an advertiser's shop or restaurant, which would also know more about that particular user than if he were using a PC.
For example, GeoVector is touting what it calls a '3D search' technology for cellphones, which allows users to search for information by selecting objects on a 3D map generated via GPS technology and a built-in compass. Among the other apps it envisions is point-and-click m-commerce.
Keith Liu, APAC head of Internet and games experiences from Nokia's multimedia division, says the handset maker acquired mapping software company Gate5 partly with location-based search in mind. 'We definitely see adding navigation and location-based services to mobile search, where you can search for a pizza restaurant and then add that information to your address book seamlessly,' Liu says. That's clearly a great value proposition for local partners.'
This level of detail has a direct impact advertiser spending, says Effting: the more defined the target audience is, the more that brands are willing to spend. 'Mobile operators have the ability to say, there are 200, 000 users in this specific segment, so if a brand wants to spend money on that specific segment or category, operators can select that group down to the individual. No other industry has this capability.'
That capability also means a richer search experience for users, says Salz of Informa Telecoms & Media. 'Operators and content providers shouldn't short change themselves - or their users - by merely retrofitting Web search solutions for the mobile Internet,' Salz says. 'Search paired with personalization, which involves matching the right content to the right users, and recommendation is a much more powerful combination.'