Local Search

TeleNav Buys Local Ad Platform ThinkNear for $22.5M

TeleNav has been generally in the business of personal navigation devices and smartphone apps. Over the past couple of years the company has also gotten into mobile advertising, taking ads from the YP and xAd networks, in addition to increasingly selling its own ads to brands and franchises. The ads are all location based or geotargeted.

TeleNav decided it wanted to get into local-mobile advertising in earnest and has announced the acquisition of ad network ThinkNear. The price was $22.5 million in cash and stock. The ThinkNear team now joins TeleNav.

ThinkNear offers precise geotargeting and what it calls "situational targeting," which is a mix of context and audience targeting:

ThinkNear helps advertisers reach consumers within 100 meters of any location, which is more precise than the zip code and designated market area (DMA) targeting typically offered by most ad networks. The ThinkNear network reaches tens of millions of customers across more than seven billion impressions per month. The precision and scale of ThinkNear allows advertisers to take advantage of the most distinctive aspects of mobile phones, which more than 85 percent of American adults now own.

ThinkNear's targeting technology also enables Situational Targeting, which takes into account where consumers are, what they are doing, and what is happening around them. For example, a sports memorabilia store can target an NFL fan with an advertisement for a nearby sale on branded jackets, blankets and umbrellas while the fan is tailgating on a cold and rainy day. Hyper-local Situational Targeting provides consumers with ads that are more relevant to their real-time needs and interests as they go about their day.

The company also announced that ThinkNear would become Scout Advertising, which includes search and display inventory. (Scout is TeleNav's smartphone app/consumer navigation brand.) ThinkNear sources some of its inventory from the various mobile "exchanges."

Scout Advertising is essentially a more complete and extensive version of the "hyper-local" ad network Navteq (Nokia) was trying to build. However Navteq appears to no longer be in the business of advertising.

In addition to the usual metrics, Scout Advertising can also tell a marketer whether the consumer actually arrived at his/her destination. Thus business models can be click, impression and arrival-based. TeleNav also says that its CTRs are "well above online and mobile industry averages, and over 40% of customers who click on an ad will ultimately take action to drive to an advertiser's location." 

While most ad networks offer geotargeting, with varying degrees of accuracy (but generally not lat-long), TeleNav/ThinkNear join a short list of ad networks that can deliver much more granular location targeting. Indeed, its current (or perhaps former) partners, YP and xAd, are now its most direct local-mobile competitors.

Geofencing Gets New Push With Urban Airship 'Location Messaging'

In-app messaging provider Urban Airship has just introduced a very interesting new product: Location Messaging. This is the fruit of the company's acquisition of SimpleGeo last year.

Geofencing (Placecast) and ad geotargeting (xAd, YP) have existed for some time. However Urban Airship's new product offers very precise location targeted messaging -- with the ability to mix in other audience segmentation data as well:  

  • Preferences: tags based on user-stated characteristics
  • In-app behavior: tags you’ve defined based on explicit and implicit actions users have taken
  • Location history: where they are now and where they’ve been

As a result publishers/developers are able target specific types of users by location. There's a wide array of possibilities in terms of the way this can be deployed, for loyalty or yield management purposes or to stimulate new sales. There are two qualifications: users must have the publisher's app installed and s/he must have opted in to receive push notifications.

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Urban Airship has created 2.5 million "pre-defined geofences" for publishers. However they can also define (or exclude) their own custom geofences. These can be as wide as a metro area (or larger I suppose) or as precise as a park or city block. 

There's lots of hand-wringing going on about publishers being unable to sufficiently monetize mobile. However, mobile push notifications offer a terrific opportunity for brands and offline businesses to drive increased sales -- if used judiciously. Accordingly the company shared some performance data with me. It was impressive. 

Urban Airship said it beta-tested Location Messaging this summer during the Olympics. The company reported on its blog that "The Official London 2012 app . . . utilized Urban Airship Location Messaging to send more than 10 million location-based push messages to people in . . . Olympic venues." In addition, "Nearly 60% of app users had location-sharing enabled and location-based pushes achieved clickthrough rates of around 60 percent."

Urban Airship CMO Brent Heiggelke pointed out that despite the potential effectiveness of Location Messaging brands and marketers must be extremely careful about the content of messages they send and their frequency or risk having their notifications shut off or apps uninstalled by end users.

Does the New YouTube iOS App Foretell a New Google Maps App?

Google introduced a new YouTube app for the iPhone today, ahead of the release of iOS 6 which removes YouTube from the group of pre-installed apps on the device. There are a number of feature improvements over the current built-in YouTube app.

Depending on your perspective, one of those "improvements" will be pre-roll ads. The current YouTube app didn't feature any advertising, thus depriving Google of a potentially significant mobile ad revenue stream. The new app will have ads and pre-roll.

Here are some screenshots of the new YouTube app: 

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 Below is a side-by-side comparison of the current and new YouTube apps for the iPhone:

Screen Shot 2012-09-11 at 12.06.17 PM

The new app is nice and a bit simpler visually. But what's more interesting is what it suggests about another potential Google app for the iPhone: Maps. The question is whether (or more likely when) Google will introduce a more complete mapping app for iOS.

Just as it does with the pre-installed YouTube app, Apple iOS 6 will remove Google completely from mapping on the iPhone, replacing it with Apple's new mapping application. That could mean a potentially significant loss of local query volume for Google -- unless the company dramatically improves its HTML5 mapping experience and/or releases a new iOS Google Maps app. 

There's a small possibility that if Google were to submit a new Maps app to Cupertino it might get blocked as trying to replace a core feature of the device. However there are numerous third-party mapping apps that already exist for the iPhone so I doubt it. In the event Google did submit a new iOS mapping app it would ironically mean a much better Google Maps experience for the iPhone than has been the case to date. In all probability it would also include Google Navigation, which had been missing or withheld from maps on the iPhone. 

Google's dilemma is that it uses Maps and Navigation for Android as something of a competitive differentiator vs. the iPhone. If Google were to provide the same functionality to Apple it would potentially remove that particular incentive to buy Android devices. 

Nokia and Others Form 'In-Location Alliance' to Promote Indoor Positioning

Nokia is spearheading what's being called "The In-Location Alliance." The purpose of the new quasi-trade group is to "drive innovation and market adoption of high accuracy indoor positioning and related services." The assumption is that more accurate indoor positioning will create new markets and new revenue opportunities.

According to the press release out this morning: "The Alliance will focus on creating solutions offering high accuracy, low power consumption, mobility, implementability and usability. It will create an ecosystem that stimulates innovation, enhances service delivery, and accelerates the adoption of solutions and technologies that optimize the mobile experience."

There are 22 companies listed as founding members: Broadcom, CSR, Dialog Semiconductor, Eptisa, Geomobile, Genasys, Indra, Insiteo, Nokia, Nomadic Solutions, Nordic Semiconductor, Nordic Technology Group, NowOn, Primax Electronics, Qualcomm, RapidBlue Solutions, Samsung Electronics, Seolane Innovation, Sony Mobile Communications, TamperSeal AB, Team Action Zone and Visioglobe.

The release also indicates the alliance will promote open standards and systems to allow for broad participation by non-member vendors and third parties.

There are a number of companies already operating in the indoor positioning segment, including Google, Microsoft, Wifarer, Point Inside, Aisle411 and others. Interestingly none of them are on the list above. No carrier is part of this inagural group either. However, the alliance is inviting any and all interested parties to join. 

Notwithstanding the promise of new business models, that's one of the central questions: how will some of these companies make money? The superficial response is "deals and advertising." Privacy is also another major issue. However I suspect that can be addressed with an opt-in approach, much in the way that Apple does with iPhone apps requesting to use location. 

Apple Expands Siri, Gets Into Local With Maps

With today's keynote announcements coming out of the Apple developer conference the company has expanded Siri's range of capabilities, including into navigation and local search. The latter accompanies the introduction of new Apple Maps, which entirely replace Google's mapping product as the default provider on iOS devices. 

When Apple bought Siri it did a wider range of things than what Apple introduced a year ago with the iPhone 4S. Siri's original plan was to integrate numerous third party APIs and allow Siri to be a front end for task completion across a range of categories. As of today that earlier vision is partially restored.

There now more datasets available to Siri (sports, movies, app search, local search). Users can also, once again, make OpenTable restaurant reservations. In addition users will be able to find/launch apps using Siri.

 

With Apple Maps the company now enters the local search market in a big way. Without having the benefit of having used the product, I can only speak in the abstract. However it appears very competitive. There are a wide range of data providers that Apple appears to be working with across a broad array of international markets, including TomTom, Yelp, Localeze, Acxiom, Urban Mapping and Waze. 

Assuming a relatively good product, Apple would quickly become the number two player in local-mobile search. And having Siri as the front-end to this experience will potentially reinforce Siri usage and introduce people to the broader concept of Siri as a search tool or potential Google substitute in many instances. While Siri already could already offer directions and find nearby businesses it didn't provide a very good local search experience overall. 

To see how widely seen and used Siri was as a search tool, we recently conducted a survey (n=503, 6/12) of iPhone users and asked them:

Which of the following do you use MOST OFTEN to search the web on your phone?

  • I visit Google.com to search --  44.9%
  • I use search in the Safari toobar -- 26.4%
  • I use the Google mobile app -- 19.3%
  • I use Siri to search the web -- 11.1%
  • I use Bing and/or Yahoo -- 6.6%

According to these results more people use Siri to search than use Bing or Yahoo. Siri could inch up that ladder if people begin to understand how the tool can be used beyond the relatively narrow range of functions it has been used for to date -- and if Apple rewards people with good results.

Bing 411 and the Free DA Market That Wasn't

Microsoft is shutting down the Tellme-powered 800-Bing-411 line on July 1, 2012 (it was originally supposed to be June 1). Bing 411 was arguably the best of the several "Free DA" services in the market, which was launched by 1-800-Free-411.

In 2004 when Jingle Networks' 800-Free-411 appeared it made enormous sense. It was an ad-supported DA service that captured users' directional intent (just like search) and could deliver ad impressions against those queries. Some analyst firms assumed it would lead to billions in mobile ad revenue (audio ads). We also thought it would be a much bigger deal than it turned out to be. 

I had called it "mobile search for the rest of us." However, the rapid rise of smartphone adoption after 2007 had a lot to do with the demise of Free DA. At one point there were a growing number or competitors in this this market sub-segment: 

  • Tellme/Call411
  • Goog411
  • 800-THE-Info (Verizon)
  • 800-yellowpages (AT&T)
  • 800-Free-411 (Jingle)
  • ChaCha
  • kgb (which wasn't free)

Most of these are either defunct or languishing. Goog411 turned out to be the voice tuning and training wheels for Android voice search. Accordingly, Google got the utterances it needed and shut the service down a few years ago.

In April 2011, Marchex acquired Jingle Networks for $62 million in cash and stock. The primary reason Marchex acquired Jingle was not for 800-Free-411 but for its carrier and other relationships and its more recently developed ad network. 

Whether because the services weren't sufficiently promoted or didn't quite work as promised -- again Bing's was quite good at one point -- or whether smartphones simply offered more control and capabilities, it's hard to say why the market never really developed. Certainly the consumer logic was there but the revenues and usage never materialized. 

See related: Bing 411’s Three-Year Run Ends June 1

How Will Facebook Monetize Mobile?

This morning Facebook is trading below its $38 offering price. This reflects investor skepticism about the long-term outlook for the company. Indeed, there are many challenges ahead for Facebook -- one of which is mobile monetization.

This weekend the company bought yet another mobile site, Karma. Karma provides a streamlined way to deliver physical gifts to people through their smartphones, using the Facebook infrastructure. While this latest acquisition is undoubtedly about getting access to the team it is also about the business model and new ways to generate revenue from mobile devices. 

I have argued one reason (clearly not the only one) that increasing numbers of people use smartphones to access Facebook is avoiding the clutter of the PC site and ads in particular. While Facebook has started to show Sponsored Stories in mobile users' newsfeeds it cannot simply duplicate the ad environment online in its mobile apps. Too many ads would alienate users. 

So how does Facebook make money off mobile usage in a way that doesn't make users abandon its apps? Here are a few ideas:

  • Local/contextual ads on apps: contextually and locally relevant display ads (if well targeted) could generate meaningful revenue because of the sheer scale of Facebook's mobile usage. But Facebook needs to be judicious in its use of these ads. 
  • Offers: coupons in display ads or in the news feed could be quite successful as well. Mobile offers have been in place for some time but it's a free service. Facebook might create a special area or "wallet" for mobile offers that resides within the app but doesn't interrupt usage
  • Mobile loyalty: This notion is tied to offers as well. For SMBs Facebook could create a subscription based program where loyalty incentives are distributed online and in mobile: "After three visits, XYZ is free." This would represent formalizing tools and capabilities that are now free
  • Facebook credits: Turning Facebook credits into a real (loyalty) currency that can be used for e-commerce online or perhaps in the offline world at stores and restaurants. (More likely it would be earn offline points and use them online.)
  • Facebook Wallet: Facebook could try and become a full-blown payments platform like PayPal or Google Wallet. This is more ambitious but it could be accelerated though purchase of a payments startup
  • Build an ad network: I believe Facebook will buy a mobile ad network -- its own version AdMob --  to enable monetization via third party sites and apps. All users signed in through Facebook Connect could be targeted as on the PC. I think this "FaceSense" will also come to the PC. 
  • E-commerce transaction fees: Karma is an e-commerce app. And there's a great deal of potential for Facebook to get into e-commerce more directly. However, past e-commerce experiments by third parties on Facebook have largely been unsuccessful (except for Zynga). 

Some or many of these ideas could come to pass. Regardless, Facebook will need a range of approaches and revenue streams in place to truly deliver the kind of mobile revenue performance that investors will want and will become imperative as more users access Facebook primarily via mobile devices.

Study: Localization Best Way to Make Mobile Ads Relevant to Users

The IAB has released a fascinating report on mobile shopping and user attitudes. The study wasn't a simply survey. Instead the research involved 260 US adults who agreed to participate in a two-week "mobile diary" project. It thus got an in-depth look at their behavior. Below are some of the findings that I found most interesting and noteworthy.

One finding that illustrates simple assumptions about mobile behavior cannot be made was the fact that most "mobile commerce" activity happened at home:

  • At home: 47%
  • Out and about: 29%
  • At work: 10%

Specifically the study also found that most product searching happened at home and not "out and about." Store location searching did happen mostly on the go. But these findings suggest that behavior many marketers assume is happening on the go is actually taking place at home. 

Screen shot 2012-05-17 at 8.33.03 AM

In a majority of cases "mobile commerce" (shopping) activity was stimulated by the presence of other media. This fact is relatively well known but still needs to be pointed out. Too many marketers think about mobile in a vacuum. Specifically 46% of these users were watching TV or on their computers when they used their smartphones to look up information. 

Screen shot 2012-05-17 at 8.46.52 AM

What stimulated their mobile commerce (shopping) activity? The largest group said that mobile was the "easiest way" to accomplish the particular task. In other words, it was easier for them to do a mobile lookup than it was to go on a PC. Beyond this, mobile advertising was a major "stimulant" of subsequent research or mobile shopping behavior.
Screen shot 2012-05-17 at 8.33.22 AM

One of the most interesting findings, which is an outlier compared to other data in the market, is the overwhelmingly favorable perception of mobile ads, which were viewed by 70% of these study participants as "a personal invitation." That's an incredibly positive finding for mobile advertising. 

Screen shot 2012-05-17 at 8.15.30 AM

Another very interesting finding is that mobile users who click on ads are mostly not immediately interested in buying. They want to learn more about a product or service. Many also want to see related products or services (presumably to see what their options are). 

All this suggests that mobile (display) advertising exists somewhere between pure awareness and direct response. Most people -- at least in this sample -- are not prepared to buy immediately in response to mobile display ads. Search is a different matter because of the directed nature of the consumer behavior vs. display. 

Screen shot 2012-05-17 at 8.15.51 AM

Finally the study indicates that the best way to make mobile ads relevant to users is to localize and personalize them. Personalization is OK, according to the study, with permission (hard to execute for marketers). But localization can more easily be done without capturing personal or behavioral data. 

Screen shot 2012-05-17 at 8.16.17 AM

Survey: 75% Using Smartphones for LBS Information

On Friday the Pew Internet Project released survey data that showed significant usage of "real-time location-based information" by smartphone owners in the US. Earlier consumer surveys have shown that 90% or more of smartphone owners have used their devices to get "local" or location-based information (at one point or another). 

When you consider that Google Maps is either the top app or one of the top two apps on the iPhone and Android the Pew finding is obvious and not a surprise. Indeed, Pew never clearly defines the cluster of sites, apps or services that constitute the location-based information category. That may be because the question is asked in that way, without further definition, to consumers. 

Location based info and geosocial services_smartphone owners

An additional finding from the survey is that 18% of smartphone owners are using "check-in" services like Foursquare:

Smartphone owner geosocial and location based information use

In November 2010 Pew said that only 4% of survey respondents were using "geosocial" or "check-in" services. 

We should see "location-based services" hit 100% usage or penetration among smartphone owners, depending on how the category is defined. That's because every smartphone owner is going to eventually use a map or check the weather or look up a restaurant. 

Facebook Has Bought Gowalla, Instagram and Now Glancee

A couple of days ago local-social startup Glancee announced that it was being acquired by Facebook:

We started Glancee in 2010 with the goal of bringing together the best of your physical and digital worlds. We wanted to make it easy to discover the hidden connections around you, and to meet interesting people. Since then Glancee has connected thousands of people, empowering serendipity and pioneering social discovery. We are therefore very excited to announce that Facebook has acquired Glancee and that we have joined the team in Menlo Park . . . 

Glancee, which is really just a 2.0 version of the original Loopt, adds to Facebook's growing arsenal of mobile assets. The social network has identified mobile as both an area of vulnerability and opportunity. In the Facebook IPO roadshow video COO Sheryl Sandberg calls out mobile as "a key area of growth for Facebook." 

What she's talking about is revenue rather than usage. The company already has more than 500 million active mobile users. And Flurry Analytics recently said that social networking activities now consume as much daily mobile app munitues as games, the former number one category. Much of that activity takes place within Facebook. 

Flurry Mobile App Time by Category

The purchase price of Glancee was not disclosed but we can assume it was an "acquhire," rather than a technology acquisition -- though there may have been a bit of technology that motivated the purchase.

Glancee was part of a group of "passive" or "ambient" location startups that include the over-hyped Highlight and a dozen others. I have argued in the past that ordinary people (as opposed to those in the tech industry) don't want to continuously broadcast their locations even to close friends and colleagues. Accordingly these friend finding and pseudo-dating apps are destined to fail unless the offer some other angle or utilitarian functionality. 

Facebook may choose to use some of Glancee's capabilities as part of a new version of its app. But my guess is that Glancee, like Gowalla, will be completely shuttered and that Facebook won't turn its app into a ambient friend finder. That would complicate the privacy picture for Facebook -- though I expect geofencing and geotargeted advertising to be part of what Facebook eventually develops for mobile marketers.

We're likely to see more acquisitions from Facebook as the company continues to build up its mobile capabilities. What the company hasn't figured out is how to make money in mobile, commensurate with its mobile usage. It now pumps Sponsored Stories through its users' news feeds, having just introduced mobile advertising. However that by itself won't fulfill the mobile ad revenue imperative about to be imposed on Facebook by its IPO.

Without Apps Local-Mobile Search Queries Won't Beat the PC in 3 Years

BIA/Kelsey has just put out a prediction that local-mobile search will surpass local search on the PC in 2015. The following year (2016) BIA "expects mobile local search to exceed desktop local search by more than 27 billion annual queries."

There's a certain logic here -- 40% of mobile search carries a local intent (per Google) and mobile is growing faster than PC search -- but I think the crossover date is farther out than three years from now. (In developing countries it may be much sooner.) The press release doesn't mention apps and I suspect the prediction is largely or entirely about query volumes coming from the search bar on the mobile browser (which is 95% Google).

Source: Performics, 3/11

To achieve the local query volumes projected and surpass PC search equivalents by 2015, however, apps would need to be included in the calculation. Right now nobody really knows how much "search" and local search is happening in the context of apps. Nobody is actively tracking it. However, the recent Local Search Study from 15Miles, comScore and Localeze suggests that a substantial percentage of local-mobile search is happening within apps.

The survey of 4,000 US adults found that 49% of smartphone and tablet owners are using apps to find local information. I speculated that half of "local search" query volume, which might otherwise be on Google or other search engines on the PC, might be going through apps on smartphones. It's a leap but one not without some merit.

According to 2011 US survey data from Performics (chart above), 60% of mobile search users conduct fewer than 20 mobile searches per month, while 40% do 20 or more searches monthly. There are other data and surveys I could cite; this is just one. It illustrates, however, that there's a significant gap currently between PC and mobile search today. On the PC, comScore said last year that US adults conduct an average of 107 search queries per month.

If we use Google's 20% PC local search number, it would mean that in March there were roughly 3.7 billion local searches on the PC in the US. If we use Yahoo's 30% figure it would be more like 5.5 billion. The average of the two is 4.6 billion monthly local queries. (I believe these figures probably under count PC local intent search volumes.) If there are now roughly 125 million smartphone users in the US and roughly 90% of them use search, that means in any given month 112.5 million people are searching for stuff. If we assume they're all doing 20 queries a month (near the top end of the Perfomics range) that comes to 2.25 billion mobile queries monthly in the US. However only a subset of those are local.

If we use Google's 40% (of mobile search is local) figure, then roughly 900 million mobile search queries have a local intent on a monthly basis. (This number is likely higher than what's actually happening in the market given the assumption of 20 searches per month on average.) And again this doesn't account for local search queries happening in apps, which is probably hundreds of millions at least.

Indeed, "search" takes many forms on mobile devices, and much of it isn't running through a traditional search engine like Google. Yet mobile queries on Google are also growing rapidly. While overall mobile search volumes will continue to grow and while they could grow from 900 million to more than 4 or 5 billion monthly queries in three years I just don't see that happening unless we count app-based query volumes as part of the equation.

Will Payments Apps Become Next-Gen Local Directories?

Despite all the activity and hype in the segment, mobile payments and mobile wallets have been adopted by relatively few consumers in North America to date. It's well below 10% of the smartphone population according to data I've seen. Lack of availability, lack of awareness and consumer security fears are among the reasons.

Despite slow consumer adoption of mobile payments, companies such as Square, PayPal and Intuit are making major inroads on the merchant side. For example, Square is processing millions of dollars of payments per day at local businesses.

Its main product relies on a traditional card swipe, so the consumer does nothing new and needs no new apps or equipment. PayPal and Intuit have essentially copied Square's product. In particular PayPal's brand awareness and footprint have helped the company generate significant, immediate demand for the new PayPal Here product. 

These and other mobile payments apps (e.g., Levelup) include directories of merchants using their payments systems. It leads me to think these payments apps could become the next generation of LBS or local directory apps. It's natural for them to try and build out more comprehensive local listings, as well as get more deeply into offers and deals (not to mention analytics and CRM). 

It also makes sense for a company like Foursquare, which already has a large user footprint, to acquire or create a mobile payments capability itself -- as a complement to its positioning as a loyalty tool for SMB marketers.

Google Offers Free Mobile Sites to SMBs in Partnership with DudaMobile

Google announced this morning that it is offering free mobile websites to US small businesses for one year through its howtogomo.com portal. DudaMobile is the vendor providing the site building capability (DIY) and hosting.

After the year is up I would imagine that DudaMobile's pricing and rate card kick in. However its basic hosting is free already. So this must be a premium account that Google is offering. Accordingly it would likely cost business owners $9 per month to maintain their mobile sites on DudaMobile.

The company also offers a do-it-for-me service that costs $500 for the build/set-up fee and then $90 per year for hosting. 

Screen shot 2012-04-05 at 7.11.03 AM

What's interesting here is that Google isn't doing this with its own mobile site builder, which by implication the company is admitting is inferior to the DudaMobile product. 

Mobile Search Engine Do@ Now 'Everything.me'

Last May Tel Aviv-based mobile app/search engine do@ (pronounced “do at”) launched with high expectations. The company raised $7 million against the promise of delivering a search experience to smartphones that was both more efficient and more elegant than Google.

Rather than indexing pages, do@ showed live sites that were optimized for mobile. Sites were initially ranked by default but users had the ability to re-order results. It was a radically different and smart approach to mobile search -- and one that might have been expected to work at some level. However nobody used it, reflecting the power of Google's brand and its prominence on both the iPhone and Android devices.

You can see a video of do@ in action here.

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Now the company has re-imagined do@ as a kind of mobile meta-search engine: Everything.me. You enter a query and can search "vertically" in any of the many different sites displayed on the screen. Logos replace Google's blue links. 

Because Everything.me gives you access to familiar, branded sites (and some that are less familiar) it has a better chance than do@ did. However, many people have smartphone apps for common mobile search categories: restaurants, travel, shopping/price comparisons. Then, of course, there's Google for "everything else." 

Accordingly I think the company is fighting the same battle it was before. And even though this relaunch is a clever adaptation of the company's underlying technology it will face the same challenges of adoption and usage. 

Study Illustrates Problems with Offline Mobile Conversion Tracking

Earlier this week Marin Software released some very interesting aggregated data on mobile search trends. The report sees dramatic growth for mobile paid-search. It projects that smartphones and tablets will combine to generate 25% of all Google’s paid-search clicks and 23% of paid-search spending in the US by the end of this year.

Among the other data the report assembles are click-through (CTR), cost-per-click (CPC) and conversion rates in mobile. It compares them to comparable metrics in desktop paid search. The numbers are averages based on client campaigns.

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Smartphones show higher CTRs and lower CPCs than PC search campaigns. But they also show lower conversion rates and thus higher per-conversion costs than either tablets or PCs. 

The smartphone conversion data appear lower likely because most conversions are happening offline and they're not being accurately tracked. Marin says as much in its recommendations for marketers about offline conversion tracking:

Mobile searches often result in conversions that happen via a call or a physical store. Unfortunately, most marketers lack the ability to glue these clicks together into a unified conversion funnel. Marketers should look to estimate their mobile-influenced revenue through the use of popular mobile ad formats such as click-to-call and store-locator. By combining the typical conversion rate for in-store and phone-based transactions with the average revenue per transaction, marketers can estimate a revenue per click for mobile devices, and adjust their mobile CPCs and budget accordingly.

Whether paid search or display ads, marketers need to track calls and have landing pages where "secondary actions" like store locator or map lookups can be tracked to see whether consumers are acting on the ads. If the tracking isn't set up properly then you're going to see fewer conversions or no conversions and the ROI data will be distorted. 

The conversions are there, they're just not visibile in many cases. 

Tablets Become a Key Local Search Platform

We've known for several years how important and influential smartphones are in finding local business information, especially "on the go." However the latest Local Search User Study from Localeze, 15 Miles and comScore documents, among other things, the increasing role of tablets in the process of finding offline information.

Consistent with other consumer data in the market, the survey of 4,000 US adults found that the top reason for conducting a local business lookup on a mobile device/smartphone is the immediate need for information. Interestingly, the survey discovered that nearly half (49%) of smartphone and tablet owners were using apps for local business searches (e.g., Yelp, Urbanspoon, YP.com) vs browser-based search (e.g., Google).  

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The Local Search Study also found that while tablets were used "throughout the [local search] process," usage was concentrated in the early and middle stages (research + consideration) of the purchase process. This might be expected because of the analogy to PC usage. However comScore found that among the three groups (PC, smartphone, tablet users) tablet owners are the most engaged and active: "most tablet users conduct local business searches at least once a week . . . more frequently than PC/Laptop users and mobile phone users." 

Another interesting finding: tablet owners had increased their usage of the devices over the past year. That wasn't equally true of smartphone owners. Part of the higher levels of tablet engagement can be attributed to the fact that tablets are more "immediate" than PCs but offer a larger display for "more complete information" -- as the graphic above reflects. 

 Screen shot 2012-02-29 at 6.59.51 AM

Consistent with this heightened engagement the study found that tablet owners were more likely to make purchases after local search activity (which in this case largely mean offline transactions) and spend more money on average.

Less than 10% of Mobile Ad Impressions Are 'Hyper-Local' with Lat-Long

Last week I moderated an evening workshop about mobile ad exchanges and mobile advertising more broadly. The event was sponsored by DataXu and intended to introduce agencies to the concept and mechanics of mobile ad exchanges. It featured a mini-ecosystem of company representatives:

  • Rob Kramer, EVP Sales, Celtra
  • Jim Payne, CEO, MoPub
  • Brent Gaskamp, President, Collider Media
  • Iryna Newman, Mobile Marketing Manager, Groupon Mobile
  • Lara Mehanna, GM Mobile, DataXu

There were lots of interesting questions and issues discussed. It was a great event.

However I was struck by a comment made by Groupon's Iryna Newman during the session. I'm paraphrasing but she essentially said that she would pay a premium for as many lat-long mobile impressions as she could get her hands on -- but there simply aren't enough of them. 

This seems a strange comment given the much-touted location targeting capabilities of mobile apps and ad networks, and the frenzy around LBS and "hyper-local" advertising.

There are still numerous barriers to delivering lat-long information to advertisers. Privacy is one, especially on iOS. But many mobile ad networks are offering location only at the country, state or DMA level, without any precision beyond that. 

Some networks and publishers represent they can offer a lat-long but may in fact be "faking" it. 

On the mobile Web you're typically only getting IP-based targeting; and that faces the same accuracy challenges in mobile that it does on the PC. There's also a perceived lack of demand from advertisers for "hyper local impressions." However, the Groupon remark contradicts that very clearly. 

I was told by someone in a position to know that only about 5% to 10% of mobile ad impressions currently carry a lat-long. If accurate, and I assume it is, it's somewhat shocking given the rhetoric of mobile advertising and its targeting capabilities. 

There are various ad forecasts now in the market that argue that a substantial minority or a majority of mobile ads will be geo-targeted in the very near future. The analyst firms that developed these forecasts may be largely unaware of these fundamental "plumbing" and infrastructure challenges (mostly on the display side). In search it's a completely different situation and the same is true for individual apps.

Google, with the advent of Chrome for mobile, is seeking to remedy this for Android-based handsets. It will follow users from PC to mobile and also have much more data about them when they're mobile. 

As a general matter, there are display workarounds involving landing pages that can generate more location precision. But the industry currently faces a gap regarding what it says it can do and what it can actually deliver at scale.

Eventually there will be alignment. But I was quite surprised to learn about all these limitations. 

Groupon in Local + Mobile EU Distribution Deal with Deutsche Telekom

This morning Groupon and Deutsche Telekom announced a "strategic partnership" that will deliver Groupon deals to Deutsche Telekom customers throughout Europe. The deal is significant for both parties. Deutsche Telekom has a presence in 10 European countries. 

According to the release: 

The partnership marks the first time Groupon will partner with a multi-national service provider to distribute its products and services across a wide international network. It is also significantly enhances Deutsche Telekom's position as a leading provider of the latest applications for its customers.

Using a wide range of marketing and sales tools, varying from promotion activities to deeply integrating Groupon services in selected fixed and mobile services, Deutsche Telekom will offer Groupon services directly to its customers. Scheduled to be available in the first half of 2012 Deutsche Telekom mobile customers will enjoy Groupon's mobile services on their devices without the need for a separate download providing easy access to the best local deals in their area.

To those who dismiss Groupon as a business without a future, this deal is a powerful reminder of the strength of the Groupon brand and its near-global footprint.

The key to success will involve two things: deal coverage and execution. How much inventory is offered and how well presented are the deals?

Groupon Now, the company's mobile offering, in the US has so far not been a success. Accordingly that experience raises questions about how this might play out in a mobile context with Deutsche Telekom's subscribers. However it will not be limited to mobile. 

By contrast UK carrier (Telefonica) O2's opt-in "O2 More" partnership with Placecast to deliver local coupons/deals has proven to be very successful. So there is a precedent that shows this could play out in a very successful way for both companies if well executed. 

Telenav Introduces Personalized, X-Platform Navigation and Search App: "Scout"

At CES today GPS provider Telenav is launching a new app (and a new brand in a way) called Scout. It's a website; there's also a smartphone app (iPhone for now) and an in-car nav capability. Accordingly, it's coming to Ford vehicles later this year according to the company.

Here's how Telenav describes Scout: "The first daily personal navigator that will be seamlessly accessible across the web, smartphones, and in-car systems – offering users an easy and consistent discovery and navigation experience no matter where they are." 

Indeed, the cross-platform feature and personalization are key differentiation themes: 

Scout opens to My Dashboard, a customizable start screen that allows users to quickly get personalized, real-time commute times to work or home – as well as instant access to local search for easy discovery of new places and saved favorites. My Dashboard was created to solve the need for an everyday navigation tool, even when driving to familiar destinations.

The website Scout.me enables users to conduct local searches (ratings are coming largely from Yelp), create favorite lists, get directions and share content with friends. That content can be later accessed on the Scout smartphone app or in-car.

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Scout is free and will provide voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. Telenav also has free and paid apps for the iPhone and Android, which provide the same capabilities and most of the same content and local search features. The Scout app and site are supported by ads from Citysearch and xAd. 

The "Scout" brand as well as its look and features are more consumer friendly than "Telenav," which came out of the enterprise navigation segment.  That was probably the impetus behind the creation of the new site/app, which relies on the same infrastructure as Telenav proper. Telenav is also the provider behind many of the carriers' paid navigation apps. 

My experience with the Telenav app for the iPhone since giving up my Android handset and Google Navigation has been very positive.

Report: Facebook Mobile Ads Coming Before IPO

I've argued in the past that Facebook would be compelled to monetize mobile once it went public. I envisioned that monetization taking the form of more-or-less straight ahead display ads that were targeted in some way. I also recently performed a very loose calculation of what Facebook's global mobile ad inventory might be worth (at a $2.50 CPM) and determined it could be up to $2.5 billion.

What Bloomberg reported yesterday, however, was that Facebook was considering launching mobile ads that were more integrated into the Facebook feed:

Facebook Inc. plans its first push into mobile advertising by the end of March, giving the company a fresh source of revenue ahead of a possible initial public offering . . . An idea being considered is putting Facebook’s Sponsored Stories ads, which feature friends’ interactions with brands, within the mobile News Feed, said the people, who declined to be identified because the plans aren’t public.

Sponsored Stories in the mobile news feed would be like "promoted Tweets" on Twitter in some respects. Sponsored stories allow advertisers to show Likes from people in your network (brands, products, stores) in the ad copy. They reportedly dramatically improve CTRs. Below is an example from Facebook online: 

Earlier this week Nielsen reported that Facebook has the greatest "active reach" of any app across the Android OS (after the Android market). Facebook's most recent official mobile-user number is 350 million globally, out of more than 800 million total users.

My guess is that Facebook will be experimenting with various mobile advertising units/types before it launches anything officially. It already has a quasi-advertising vehicle in mobile "check-in offers." However Facebook itself currently doesn't make any money off these deals. Eventually that will probably change. 

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