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Consumer Search Behavior Study: Mobile versus Desktop

There has been a flood of announcements from Google in the past couple of weeks made at Google I/O Developer conference and the Google Performance Summit. One of the more interesting announcements for the paid search community are the upcoming changes to device-based bid modifiers, giving marketers more control over bids on desktop, mobile and tablet.

On the heels of those upcoming changes, we thought this would be a good opportunity to take a deeper look at the differences in consumer search behavior on mobile and desktop. Our team sifted through billions of rows of our consumer panel data, which includes search query data for over 50 million consumers, taxonomized and classified across thousands of different data points.

We found very few over-arching themes spanning both mobile and desktop devices. Rather, we found that the deeper you dig, the more differences you find between industries, products, countries and search engines. We selected a few consumer search behavior highlights to share below, specifically from search queries on google.com in the U.S during the first quarter of 2016.

Consumers use “assistance” search queries more frequently on mobile

We classify search queries as “assistance” when they contain words that indicate the consumer is learning or inquiring about a topic, or may be seeking assistance in completing a task. This includes search queries that contain words such as what, where, when, how, why etc.

Two categories particularly stand out as containing more assistance-query-focused on mobile: Finance with 15.4% “assistance” queries on mobile versus 13% on desktop (18% increase) and Telecom, with 14.8% on mobile versus just 11.8% on desktop (25% increase).

“Assistance” search queries are used in situations that consumers encounter throughout the day in which they turn to their mobile devices to answer on-the-go inquiries.

"Assistance" Search Queries Q1/2016

Geo-modification more common in Finance and Vehicles categories on mobile

Next, we wanted to understand the use of geo-modified queries on mobile and desktop. We consider geo-modified queries as any queries that include an actual location by specifically referencing at least one of the following in the search query: country, state, city, zip code, landmark or address.

The Vehicles and Parts category really stood out as having significantly more geo-modified search queries on mobile than on desktop, with 32.8% of queries  being geo-modified compared to 25.3% on desktop (30% increase).

Customers on the move are more likely to be using mobile search to find the location of a car dealership or auto body shop, which may help to explain the higher percentage of geo-modified queries on mobile.

Also of note is the Travel category, where two-thirds of the search queries are geo-modified on both desktop and mobile. This makes sense, considering the high volume of search queries in the category focused on finding hotels, flights or vacation packages to specific destinations. It also means that about one-third of the time consumers are doing travel searches that don’t contain a destination in them. Those search queries seem to be primarily brand-modified search queries to navigate to their brand’s website.

Geo-Modified Search Queries Q1/2016

Brand-modified search queries more common in Finance and Telecom categories on mobile

We wanted to get a better understanding of how consumers are using brand-modified queries to find and navigate to a specific brand on mobile and desktop. We consider any search query that includes a brand name, nickname or abbreviation as a brand-modified search query.

In the case of Travel and Vehicles and Parts categories, consumers seem to be more reliant on brand searches in the desktop environment than on mobile. Consumers use brand-modified search queries 50.2% of the time on desktop versus 42.1% on mobile (19% higher) in the Travel category, and 29.2% of the time versus 24.5% of the time in the Vehicles and Parts category (19% higher). This indicates there may be more of an opportunity to influence consumer decision-making on mobile, where individuals searching may be less likely to have a pre-disposed brand preference.

In Finance and Telecom categories, consumers use brand-modified search queries on mobile more frequently. The gap is particularly visible in Finance, where 45.5% of the queries on mobile are branded versus just 36.5% on desktop (24% difference). We believe the reason is that consumers may be doing less research in those categories on mobile devices and are more likely to use mobile to seek assistance from the provider, such as speaking to a bank or calling a cable company’s customer service. At the same time, they seem to be us brand queries to get to an existing service provider’s website or find their customer support phone number.

brand-modified Search Queries Q1/2016

There were many more insights than can be shared in one blog post, but we will plan on releasing more insights and data regularly. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or feedback.

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