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The smaller the device, the larger the search: How to future-proof your search strategy

Common sense tells us that online searches initiated on mobile devices would be shorter and more concise than those started on a desktop. We consume more quickly on the move, with time and efficiency being the optimum, so surely searches are shorter…right? In fact, no. Hitwise research found that searches conducted on mobile devices were on average longer than those carried out on desktops.

What’s driving longer searches on mobile?

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly dominant – the average browsing device split is currently 72% for mobile and 28% desktop – and while this trend is likely to continue, there’s been little industry research done exploring the differences in length of searches across devices. There are, however, several data points that shed light on why mobile-initiated searches tend to be longer. For starters, demographics is playing a significant role in driving this pattern.

In the UK, for example, those who perform a travel search exceeding four words in length are 22% more likely to be a digital native (those between the age of 18 and 34). This generation, having come of age with the internet and being mobile-first, is renowned for the ability to discover and find the information they need online in a matter of moments, but how? Part of that may include the tendency to perform longer, more accurate searches. This audience has realised that longer searches result in better findings from a single search.

For example:

Base: UK online population who had conducted at one search that resulted in a visit to a travel site between 10 April and 7 M

Base: UK online population who had conducted at one search that resulted in a visit to a travel site between 10 April and 7 May 2016

Source: Hitwise

Predictive capabilities have also played a role in driving search lengths up on mobile devices. In 2013, researchers at Microsoft and the University of Illinois discovered that searches conducted on Bing were longer when carried out on mobile, compared to desktop. The authors suggest that predictive text played a significant role in shaping this behaviour, and was evidently relied upon to conduct mobile searches due to the difficulty of typing on a mobile device.

The future is longer, more complex searches

Mobile keyboards have improved significantly since 2013; however, any threat to the shortening of mobile searches has been addressed by predictive text capabilities, once again allowing for more detailed search queries with greater confidence. And this won’t stop; the learnt algorithm continues to improve and learn nuances in keywords and expressions shared through conversation meaning the search is becoming longer and more involved.

Voice search, already commonly used by Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana, may define the next generation of search. The technology is likely to lead to an era of device-less search. Amazon Echo and Google Home are providing consumers with ways to perform search queries and get information without the use of a screen. As these virtual assistants become increasingly integrated with our daily lives, and consumers become ever more comfortable interacting with a browser, searches will become even longer and more conversational in tone. Searches will reflect the way we speak rather than type, leading to a more natural process for searching.

So, how should marketers adapt their search strategies to reflect this conversational shift?

People expect to engage technology in more natural ways than ever before, meaning the small set of previously bought keywords needs to become more comprehensive, intuitive and personalised to capture audience attention and serve the right result and the right time.

Marketers should be monitoring this trend closely to ensure they can capitalise on the rapidly changing behaviours of its consumers. By knowing how people are searching, marketers can adapt and evolve their search strategies to ensure full optimisation for the channel; whether that be a smartphone, smart TV or even a virtual assistant.

Marie-Louise Dalton is marketing director at Hitwise

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