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Location-based mobile search: The place to be

Alex Christie

7 December 2010

Location-based mobile search trends are showing that there is a shift from purchasing goods online to using local search to track down goods on the high-street. Shoppers are asking themselves why buy online when I can have the item in-hand today? The revenue forecasts are large – Tech Crunch, estimate that the value of location-based services could be worth a staggering $12.7 Billion (£7.8 billion) by 2014.

The way users search is different when using a mobile than a PC and the results need to reflect that. With mobile search users more than likely wanting to be served local results, which search engines have adapted to; if you are looking for shoes then the shoe shops in your current location would be the logical result.

This means, for retailers, having a mobile presence is crucial; without one they risk not being found on mobile local searches. Many retailers are being cautious wanting to see clearer evidence that location based apps, or websites, can bring customers from their current location to their store. But, with the rise of smart-phone users coupled with consumers increasing use of location-based search there is a lot to miss out on.

So what does this mean for retailers?

Develop a mobile strategy

Mobile users are on the move and require different information than they do sitting at their desktop. Understanding your audience’s needs is very important. By specifying users’ goals and objectives you can define the strategy to take. This research will give your apps and mobile sites more relevance and thus user friendly. For mobile websites or apps to be successful they must get to grips with the context in which a user, on the move, requires information.

Develop a mobile version of your website

Mobile phones have small screens and can be slow to download data – sometimes a one-handed user experience means that finding key information quickly is paramount. Put simply users are not using mobile phone to “browse” but to “find”.

Regular websites display awkwardly on mobile devices, they are graphically rich, content heavy and their layout makes them hard to read. Users find themselves having to zoom in to find information making it difficult to carry out simple tasks. So from a user perspective using a mobile designed website over a regular website is a far easier user-experience. It’s also worth remembering that many mobile phone users pay to download data per KB so a speedy site is very important.

Another plus point with mobile websites is that they are not device dependant so they will work on any mobile device. This makes them a good place to start when developing a mobile strategy.

General mobile website tips:

  • Conduct usability reviews with end-users
  • Make sure you code validates – Alt-tags, for example, are very important
  • Design mobile-friendly page layouts (No frames or tables)
  • Avoid Flash or other scripting languages
  • Create mobile CSS stylesheets
  • Use only relevant content to mobile users
  • Keep graphics to a minimum and size them correctly
  • Keep interactivity to a minimum

Make sure your mobile website is mobile-optimised

Whilst having a mobile version of your website is a good start it is not enough; the site must be optimised for mobile. A mobile-optimised site maximizes your chances of hitting local search engines so your site needs to be WAP/XHTML compliant; content that is mobile-optimised is rewarded by search engines. To aid optimisation techniques can be adopted to make sure mobile search robots that hit your regular website are directed to your mobile site.

Some tips for optimising your website:

  • Remove content that is unimportant, use only relevant content to mobile users
  • Make content relevant and not too complex
  • Make copy short and high-level – Users can always drill-down into your regular site if they need further detail
  • Use the mobile meta-tag: MOBILEOPTIMIZED. This tells mobile browser not to shrink your page

Location-based apps in action

Location-based apps are already at large and proving successful in social networking. Because mobile phones are mobile and can be used whilst at events or locations, rather than stuck in doors on a desktop PC, they are perfect for social networking and gaming. In addition, the fact that Smartphone’s have cameras installed makes them even more attractive to social networkers.

Camera technology is put to good use in the new photo sharing app Instagram which picked up 100K users in one week. For further reading Henry Elliss’ series of blogs focus on the main players in the location-based app business – FourSquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, Yelp and SCVNGR.

To sum up

The interesting thing to watch out for is how much the local high-street will benefit from mobile technology and location-based search. If consumers really do switch from online stores to the immediacy of buying from the high-street then mobile phones will really changed the way we do things. Albeit, one we always used to know before the internet? Maybe the high-street isn’t dying after-all!

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