Local Search

Google Driving In-Store Sales with 'Offer Ads'

Fresh off its anointing as the king of mobile advertising by IDC, Google is starting to expose some interesting mobile advertising case studies. The first of these (or perhaps the latest) is one involving Adidas using mobile offers to drive in-store traffic or "footfalls," as they say in the UK.

A description of the campaign: 

In their ad, the company [Adidas] offered customers 15% off purchases made in an Adidas store of $75 or more. Interested users could store the offer either via email or SMS.

In addition to the coupon, the ad also provided a phone number and map of a local Adidas store, giving consumers all they would need to go in-store, redeem the offer and make a purchase.


With a click-through rate 28% higher than their past mobile advertising, the mobile Offers Ads campaign doubled in-store coupon redemption and increased the average in-store order value.

Google says that it's now extending offers "to desktop computers" (general PC AdWords). These offer-based ads employ the same CPC model as other AdWords types. Advertisers are charged when users click on these ads/offers. 

There are many interesting things about this. One is the business model: Google could move off it's click-based billing here. It could charge based on leads or a per-user bounty. But CPC pricing makes it simple for everyone. 

Another very interesting thing is the extension of Offer Ads to the PC. This move provides a new way to track online-offline activity within AdWords. While there's not a true "closed loop," the clicking on or capture of an offer will strongly imply (like calls) that users will be going to local stores to redeem. 

Another interesting thing is the way in which mobile ads are starting to influence PC-based ads. I would expect most national retailers and some categories of local businesses to experiment with and advantage of Offer Ads as it rolls out more broadly. 

What Is a Local Ad in Mobile?

The folks at BIA/K have updated their mobile forecast: $2.9B by 2014 in the US. I have some critiques of their assumptions, which I won't focus on now. But there's something in the press release that raises an interesting larger philosophical question around "accounting" and forecasting in the local-mobile ad space. It's an issue I've been thinking about for the past six months and this gives me an opportunity to write about it.

BIA/K says that local will represent 69% of US mobile advertising in 2014: 

BIA/Kelsey expects U.S. mobile local advertising revenues to grow from $213 million in 2009 to $2.03 billion in 2014 (57 percent CAGR). This represents 44 percent of total U.S. mobile ad revenues in 2009, growing to 69 percent in 2014.

This is a huge percentage and it begs the question: "what's a local ad?" Accordingly this is the part I want to focus on:

BIA/Kelsey defines mobile local advertising as that which is targeted based on a user’s location and/or actionable locally. Local targeting occurs to varying degrees and with different methods within each of the advertising formats examined in the forecast (search, display, SMS).

Again: "targeted based on a user’s location and/or actionable locally." Let's unpack this a bit. 

Arguably all product advertising in mobile is "actionable locally." For example a mobile display ad for a Sharp TV becomes "actionable locally" if it prompts me to head into a retail store and look at or buy the set. It may or may not have a "local call to action." And over on Screenwerk I've argued for five years that product search needs to be considered a part of local because that's where most of the transactions ultimately occur -- in stores. 

But transaction-location swallows almost all commerical activity and some people may feel that's too broad a concept. Similarly "actionable locally" is vague. I believe what they're trying to get at however is something like a coupon that needs to be redeemed in a store or a business service that must be fulfilled offlline.

But here's an interesting hypothetical that illustrates the challenge with this idea. What about a Gap ad (discount/coupon) in a mobile app that equally applies at all Gap stores across the US? How should this ad be categorized; is it a national ad or a local ad?

It may target audiences across the US equally and it doesn't necessarily contain local ad copy (in fact it probably wouldn't at this stage). Maybe it's exclusively for in-store purchases but maybe there's an e-commerce component (which is increasingly true for retailers: channel agnosticism). There may be a secondary or subordinate link on a landing page to a store locator. Absent any other local copy does this store locator make it a local ad? (More on that later.)

There are several considerations that are relevant to defining a local ad in a mobile context: targeting methodology, ad copy and ad format. Because users who see ads on mobile devices are always somewhere that can be pinpointed quite precisely, every mobile ad has the potential to become local in a way not possible on the PC. 

Millennial Media reported that in October roughly 18% of all display campaigns it saw were geotargeted. Here "geo" is defined quite broadly to include country and state. Given that marketers can target mobile users with great precision, what level of geo is required before we call an ad local?

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Does an ad need to be targeted down to the DMA or city level to be considered local? Or would we be willing to call ads that target France, for example, or all of New York local? I don't have an easy answer but I would argue we'd need to get down to at least the DMA level. We could call a state-level ad "geotargeted" (because it is) but "local" implies something more narrow.

Now to ad copy. Clearly an ad that contains city-level references would seem to qualify as "local."

The ad below, from a JiWire-run campaign (online), was a national buy that dynamically inserted local references to make it appear more relevant to users in specific markets. But it did this across the US; it was not otherwise a "local" ad. There was no local call to action, no store locator; it was a pure brand campaign that happened to include location references. Is this a "local" ad?

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Now back to the "store locator" issue. Recall my "first date with iAD." I saw an ad for Klondike Bars. There was nothing local in the content of the ad, except that it did offer a store locator of sorts ("find a bar"). Is this a "local" ad?

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My view is that most brand-oriented ads in mobile are going to contain dealer or store finder capabilities as a matter of course. It will essentially be a "checkbox." This is because the phone and its functionality (maps) permit it -- so why wouldn't you do it? It makes brand messages actionable locally. Buick? Find a dealer. Klondike? Find a bar. Marriott? Find a room.

If we consider these local ads then more and more mobile display moves over into the "local" column. That raises a related issue: ads with phone numbers in them.

As I just argued mobile ads (whether search or display) will routinely have store locators or links to maps. But they will also increasingly show phone numbers too -- again because of the way the inherent capabilities of the handset can be invoked. Does a national, brand-centric insurance ad buy (e.g., State Farm) become local if it contains an 800 number that routes calls to local offices? What if it has a dynamically inserted local tracking number but no other local element? 

While an ad for a local sushi restaurant is clearly a local ad (one town, one restaurant), some of these other scenarios (national --> local) are much more ambiguous. And as I suggested, location and local ad copy will increasingly be dynamically inserted based on a national database of locations, ad copy and images. Google is already doing this in mobile today. 

There's somewhat less ambiguity when it comes to search advertising but not much less.

The focus for small business will be less on buying mobile advertising per se than getting exposure broadly across platforms via channel enablers. There will be some mobile-specific activity by SMBs (e.g., Foursquare marketing, Facebook Deals) but most marketing will not be mobile-centric. Indeed, very few true SMBs will be buying PPCall ads on Google. Most of the action for SMBs in mobile will be about organic distribution.

For the foreseeable future most of the "local" advertising on mobile devices will be bought by enterprises that otherwise seek regional or national reach but local stores, dealers or outlets. Thus we return to the various scenarios above and the question of what do we consider a local ad in mobile?

It's a much harder question to answer than it seems.

Under the broadest definition of "local" the category swallows the lion's share of mobile advertising going forward. And we can manipulate the definition of "local" to make the category larger or smaller. But where we place ad revenues is less important than how consumers are interacting with mobile devices and what sort of marketing or advertising methods are effective in reaching them. 

Survey: Store Locations Most Important LBS Data for Consumers

JiWire, which manages advertising at more than 300,000 public WiFi locations, has issued another quarterly report with data about attitudes and behaviors of mobile users (including users on laptops). Part of the data comes from a survey of "1,200 customers randomly selected across JiWire's Wi-Fi Media Channel from July 2010 - September 2010."

Here are some of the top-level data points and charts from the report: 

  • 89% of respondents said they will use location based applications during holiday shopping
  • 61% of respondents say that store location data is the most valuable/important feature of LBS; 33% are interested in product inventory data
  • Roughly 30% are "willing to travel more than five miles to redeem a mobile coupon"
  • 29% cite deals and promotions as the most valuable part of checking in

Intended LBS usage rationale behind usage:

Screen shot 2010-11-17 at 2.26.50 PM

 Checking in and "find a store" within an ad:

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How far will you go for a deal (by offer category)?   

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WiFi usage by country and US city: 

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WiFi usage business locations: 

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  • People are more interested in store locations than actual product inventory. But the number of those interested in product inventory (33%) is relatively high vs. the actual availability of product data on the PC or mobile Web. One would think that store location is a kind of proxy for inventory but these findings suggest it's not. 
  • People would like deals and offers as incentives to check in. And they will travel distances to get access to them.
  • 62% of respondents have clicked on/used store location data within ads

Google Hotpot Could Really Shine in Mobile

Yesterday Google launched Hotpot, a local recommendations engine that leverages Web history, your ratings/reviews and those of your network to offer personalized local business suggestions as part of search results. I wrote about it briefly on Screenwerk.

The success of Hotpot in the aggregate and for any individual in particular is based on participation; you actually have to connect with friends and rate places to see the benefits. After about 10 minutes of doing that online I started to feel fatigue (I've also got jetlag). But mobile is where this really has the potential to take off in my opinion. Ratings generated via mobile devices will also show up online as well. 

Right now "rate and review" is a bit buried at the bottom of business profile pages in Google Places/Maps for mobile. But over time it will likely become more prominent, prompting people to quickly rate local business and attractions on the spot. Over time I could well imagine the majority of reviews from the system coming from mobile devices. 

Microsoft: 53% of Mobile Search Has Local Intent

I was on the phone with Microsoft and they presented a statistic in the context of our discussion about Bing and mobile: 53% of mobile searches on Bing have a local intent. I stopped and verified the number and its source. 

Google has said the number is about 33%, but this number isn't based on internal Google data. It repeats a BIA/Kelsey survey figure or estimate. I have suggested to Google that it put out a number based on what it observes in its own query logs. Google has said that 20% of PC based search queries have to do with location.

The Microsoft data, I confirmed, are drawn from internal query log analysis. This is a big deal and a real number based on search user behavior. 

Google Instant: Will It Make a Difference?

Yesterday Google released Google Instant for mobile:

With Google Instant on mobile, we’re pushing the limits of mobile browsers and wireless networks. You will probably notice a big improvement in speed when you search thanks to a new AJAX and HTML5 implementation for mobile that dynamically updates the page with new results and eliminates the need to load a new page for each query.

Google Instant for mobile works best on 3G and WiFi networks, but since the quality of any wireless connection can fluctuate, we’ve made it easy to enable or disable Google Instant without ever leaving the page. Just tap the “Turn on” or “Turn off” link.

Its biggest impact will probably be on Android devices.

The Google iPhone app had search suggestions already, which is very much like Google Instant. In addition I would bet -- though I don't know this for sure -- that the majority of searches on the iPhone are happening either through the app or through the Safari toolbar, where Instant doesn't yet exist. Fewer people on the iPhone, I would imagine, navigate to Google.com on the browser and then search -- though that pattern is probably more true of people using Opera Mini on the iPhone. 

Instant for mobile is part of Google's larger efforts to make search more user friendly (including voice, Maps and Goggles). The company is battling apps to make search a central part of the mobile user experience (as it is on the PC). 

Pew: 7% of Mobile Internet Users on LBS

Pew has released findings from a recent telephone survey (n=3,001) that asserts 4% of PC Internet users and 7% of mobile Internet users are on location-based services such as Foursquare or Gowalla. The first number is in general agreement with Forrester's survey numbers. There are other surveys that have found somewhat higher LBS usage numbers.

Pew found LBS users tend to be male and under 30: 

  • 7% the adults who go online with their mobile phone use a location-based service.
  • 8% of online adults ages 18-29 use location-based services, significantly more than online adults in any other age group.
  • 6% of online men use a location-based service such as Foursquare or Gowalla, compared with 3% of online women.

One of the "issues" here is how questions are formulated and explained over the phone. What definition of a "location-based service" is being used for example? (Pew typically posts survey questions but in this instance they're missing.) In addition, if you asked people about the importance of location on mobile devices the numbers would be far larger. And once again, frustratingly, Pew doesn't segment or break out smartphones vs. non-smartphones. 

Twitter, social networks

Pew does however segment LBS usage by users of Twitter and social networks. Twitter users tend to use LBS much more than other populations. This makes sense in many respects.

If the extrapolate these Pew figures (from the 4% figure above) and turn them into real numbers, we can say that there are about 8 million users of these services in the US.

People want to focus on scale and volume in these discussions. Yet talking about how many users there are today misses the larger point in a way. The larger point is that these services have brought together something interesting and relatively new, combining local-social-mobile, and created a model for a next-generation cityguide, among other things. 

I had been thinking about LBS chiefly in terms of coupons and direct marketing opportunities. However these services can equally be brand engagement tools or mediums. In fact, in some ways they're more effective in that context. They can equally work as new customer acquisition platforms and as loyalty vehicles. 

There's something very interesting going on with LBS and it's important to study that carefully. The market is changing and LBS is a new model for future services. Any of the individual companies may not survive but the larger phenomenon of social + local + mobile definitely will. 

DexOne Releases Upgraded Mobile Apps

Directory publisher DexOne has upgraded its smartphone apps across mutiple platforms, with an emphasis on the iPhone, Android and RIM. The company has also broadened out the app's content considerably from the previous version, integrating events, movies, gas prices and other non-standard YP content. There are also a range of new or enhanced social features.

Users may now directly write and submit reviews through the app, which will be incorporated into the DexKnows online directory as well. Consumers can also share listings information via Facebook, Twitter and email. The Facebook and Twitter sharing/notification is tantamount to a "check-in" though there's no formal check-in capability in the apps at this point. 

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 10.01.29 AM

In addition to the new and improved native clients, there's an upgraded mobile browser experience and an improved "WAP" browser experience for lower-end phones. Users can also conduct transactions (if available), such as buying movie tickets or making restaurant reservations through OpenTable. 

Deals are coming in the future. Advertisers are incorporated into listings and search results throughout but not specifically "called out" as sponsored links or ads. However they're only presented (at the top) if they're relevant from a location and category standpoint. 

The homescreen of the iPhone app is animated, which can't be turned off right now (though I would recommend that capability). It rotates through a series of widgets, giving users a tour of the app and showing relevant local listings or other content.

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 10.01.46 AM

I can certainly offer some critical remarks but, overall, there's much more visual appeal, design flair and "personality" in this app vs. the previous one. It should prove to be more engaging and drive new user behaviors among Dex's customer base. 

WHERE teams with Constant Contact, Integrates Mobile & Email Marketing

Mobile marketing platform provider WHERE.com has teamed up with small business email vendor Constant Contact to combine the benefits of mobile and email marketing. Email marketing, though "old school" compared to mobile, is highly effective and so regarded by many small businesses. Indeed, they often rate it as the most effective or one of the top three most effective marketing tools they use.

The WHERE-Constant Contact deal contemplates that WHERE daily deals and offers can be marketed to existing customers through email via Constant Contact. And the reverse is true: Constant Contact users can now reach WHERE's consumer audience and mobile ad network (a combined 50 million people) with deals and offers.

This is an oversimplification, but WHERE sees itself as the new customer acquisition platform while Constant Contact is the CRM tool: 

This integration will allow small business owners to create daily deals through WHERE and market them to their current customers through Constant Contact’s email marketing tool, as well as to WHERE’s 50 million mobile consumers. WHERE merchants can also add Constant Contact’s “join my mailing list” (JMML) button to their listings, an easy way to grow their email subscriber list. The collaboration will enable Constant Contact’s customers to utilize the WHERE platform to deliver deals to their existing customers, while reaching new customers through WHERE’s location-based mobile advertising. In addition, WHERE’s recent acquisition of LocalGinger.com , a pioneer in the local group buying category, gives merchants interested in group buying deals a massive platform to help drive foot traffic.

This collaboration aspires to be a kind of "360 degree" solution for small business to help drive people from the Web into stores. Constant Contact reported that it had 415,000 paying customers as of the end of Q3. Yesterday Constant Contact released an iPhone application. 

Constant Contact's customer base offers a massive potential audience for WHERE, which offers mobile landing pages and a wide array of promotional opportunities for SMBs. 

The Outlook for PayPal Local

TechCrunch offers a nice overview of the recently launched PayPal Local. But there's a certain amount of confusion/hype/noise in the article worth addressing and dispelling.

The article is in part a discussion of the supposed battle between Google Checkout and PayPal. However, Checkout is very far behind PayPal -- so much so that Google may be compelled to do an acquisition in the mobile payments space if it's really serious about competing. However there is a near-term way that Checkout could compete. I'll get to that later. 

The other aspect of the article is about how PayPal now features a local directory that will potentially drive consumers/customers into local eateries and stores that accept PayPay (or Bling). Here's what it looks like: 

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 11.50.09 AM

It's pretty basic -- and buried. Almost no one is going to be influenced to go into a local restaurant or store by PayPal Local in its present form. It will need to offer a much richer user experience than what currently exists and it's unlikely to be competitive with the major consumer apps such as Yelp or yellow pages or Google any time soon. Furthermore the availability of PayPal as a payment option is not likely to exercise much influence over consumer decision-making unless or until some significant changes happen. 

Sure, PayPal can start offering deals and discounts and that will help gain some consumer attention but probably only at the margins. 

To be sure, mobile payments are starting to gain momentum. And PayPal is certainly in position to own part of that market, given its huge installed base. But PayPal Local needs a massive consumer experience upgrade before merchants would see any benefit. 

On the merchant side, PayPal is pretty competitive with credit card issuers in terms of payment terms. If PayPal is able to acquire more merchants it will certainly help the entire proposition of PayPal Local. But among larger and more established businesses (e.g., restaurants) credit cards will be accepted and that consumer behavior will be hard to change. Sprint is offering a kind of "pass through" payment (PIN triggers a credit card), which represents consumer convenience (speed) and perhaps greater security than giving your plastic to yet another person to swipe. 

That is the model that will eventually take hold for the majority of mobile payments in my view. The carrier billing model, as presently constituted, will work for some types of small transactions but it's unlikely to win favor to replace routine credit card purchases. 

How can PayPal accelerate where it wants to go; and how can Google Checkout make itself more relevant and competitive? Either or both providers can do so by reducing their fees to merchants to speed adoption. Once there's very broad penetration among local merchants, stores and restaurants then all this starts to become relevant to consumers. Right now it's simply not. 

In addition, each could offer loyalty incentives to use their respective systems. But that implies merchant penetration as well; you can't get the incentive/reward if you can't use the system. Once again, these payments vendors need to:

  1. Reduce fees to further undercut credit card companies and drive merchant adoption
  2. Encourage consumers to use their systems for security, convenience and/or rewards

Facebook Mobile Deals Coming on November 3?

As is now widely known Facebook is having a "mobile event" on November 3. There have been many rumors of a "Facebook phone." That would be pretty interesting and exciting but it's fairly unlikely. So what will be announced?

My guess is that Facebook will first rattle off some impressive mobile statistics. Here's where Facebook's mobile stats stand today:

  • There are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.
  • People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users.
  • There are more than 200 mobile operators in 60 countries working to deploy and promote Facebook mobile products

I'll guess that we'll hear that there are now more than 200 million active mobile users on Facebook among other juicy tidbits. 

I've long speculated that Facebook would eventually become a mobile ad network. The amazing thing, if it were to do so, is that it would have equal or greater reach than any mobile carrier and probably any other mobile ad network today. But Facebook isn't immediately concerned with making money in mobile; there's no internal pressure to monetize mobile. Some have estimated that Facebook is on track to do $2 billion in online ad revenue. 

Another reasonable guess is that we'll see the debut of "Facebook Deals," which may be partly tied to Facebook Places. It may also have an entirely independent existence on the PC. Right now Facebook Places doesn't offer any "reason" for users to check in -- unlike other LBS services that offer badges or coupons. I've seen estimates recently that Facebook Places has "7X" the check-ins of Foursquare, which now boasts about 4 million users. 

A deals product could offer a check-in incentive and a nice advertising vehicle for brands and SMBs alike. Regardless of what gets announced next Wednesday, Facebook is a kind of "sleeping giant" in mobile and LBS. Anything it does in these realms has the potential to shake up (or accelerate) the industry. 

Survey: Price Comparisons, Coupon Searching Top Mobile Shopping Activities

Online commerce vendor ATG sponsored a survey (n=1,002) about consumer shopping behaviors online and on mobile devices. The top-level findings are written up here. Basically search engines are most widely used resource, followed by email and then "word of mouth." In this post, however, I'll focus on the survey's mobile data.

There are no startling findings or revelations. The data do show how consumers are increasingly using their handsets to get product information in stores and on the go and how they're becoming more comfortable making purchases through their phones. 

Previously InsightExpress reported that 82% of mobile phone owners in the US used mobile phones (in one way or another) in stores, which includes voice calls to friends and family. In the ATG data the numbers aren't quite as impressive though "about 41% of consumers aged 18-34 are using their mobile device to complete purchases of products and services with varying frequencies."

Unfortunately there's no handset segmentation in the report but we can assume that most of the action is happening on smartphones. According to the survey:

  • 37% of survey respondents (across alll age categories) "said they are using their mobile devices to browse or research products and services." This is reportedly 10 points greater than the previous survey, which was only four months before -- a significant gain. 
  • 27% of "shoppers surveyed had used their mobile device for broader shopping-related activities  . . . such as searching for coupons, comparing prices between stores, receiving text message notifications of sales, and getting ratings and reviews." This number jumped to 46% among 18-34 olds.

Picture 34

For which of the following activities do you use your mobile device? (Select all that apply)
Picture 32

How often do you complete a purchase transaction directly on your mobile device?

 Picture 33


  • 27% in the 18-34 age group say they are using a tablet device
  • 13% are using it on the go in place of a laptop computer.
  • 5% of those over age 45 are using a tablet.
  • 25% in the 18-34 segment said they use a tablet device for shopping-related activities. 

As I said no great or startling revelations but solid evidence of how mobile devices are gaining as shopping tools.

Millennial: Geo Top Targeting Method for Mobile Campaigns

The Millennial Media SMART report for September is out. As usual it has lots of data about advertisers and their campaigns. You can get the full report here.

I will, in my capricious way, selectively highlight data from the report. Of interest, 44% of mobile marketers on Millennial's network used some sort of targeting while 56% wanted broad reach. Among the targeting methodologies used (geographic, demographic, behavioral audience and audience takeover) 42% used geotargeting. That means roughly 18% of advertisers on Millennial's network are doing geotargeting.

Equally interesting are data published by Millennial but from InsightExpress' Q2 2010 Digital Consumer Portrait of mobile moms:

  • 32% of moms own a Smartphone in 2010 vs. 20% in 2009 (a 60% increase)
  • 32% of moms say they use the Mobile Internet once a week in 2010 vs. 20% in 2009 (a 60% increase).

General smartphone penetration in the US is 25% per Nielsen. Moms make the household buying decisions so they're one of the most critical audiences for marketers to reach. The first chart below has more of the IE mom-related data:

Moms and their mobile usage: 

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Targeting on Millennial's network:

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Campaign destinations/landing pages:

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Compared to a year ago many more advertisers are driving application downloads. 

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Milo Releases Android App for Local Product Inventory

Milo.com last night released its Android app, with an iPhone app to follow. The app is simple. As the picture at right indicates it's a search box and a location box; however it uses current location as the default.

It doesn't have all products and it doesn't have all stores; it's mostly focused on the national retailers and "big boxes." Roughly 50K stores are included, "which cover categories ranging from toys and games to apparel and electronics, and include national retailers such as Best Buy, Nordstrom, Target, and Toys “R” Us, among others." 

For the inventory it can serve it works simply and nicely. Milo aims eventually to be comprehensive: to be the Google of local products, as it were. Others in this segment include:

  • Goodzer
  • Google
  • Krillion
  • NearbyNow
  • RetaiLigence
  • Shopatron 

Mobile is a context in which local inventory is particularly interesting and relevant. At the beginning of the purchase process consumers are less interested in where they can buy something (unless they're physically comparing products) and more interested in what to buy, which product. But as they progress toward a decision local inventory becomes increasingly important, ultimately becoming the most important piece of information for a consumer.

That's why "on the go" consumers will value an app such as this -- because generally speaking they're more "ready to buy" than someone at home on a PC doing product research. As an aside the conventional wisdom that consumers use mobile devices when they're not using PCs is not entirely accurate. There is some substitution ("cannibalization") going on, especially at home with the iPad. But consumers will increasingly use mobile devices as their first choice device over time. So you will see people using mobile apps at home instead of the PC, as well as moving back and forth between the PC and mobile devices. 

One of the other things that Milo and the other companies trying to bring inventory data to the Web are doing is making more transparent the fact that products belong in the "local" bucket as well. Most pundits and analysts have treated products as exclusively within the domain of e-commerce -- e-commerce vs. bricks and mortar -- and that's simply not true. 

The vast majority of online-influenced product buying happens offline. Only about 4% of products are purchased online but the Internet influences an increasing number of the 96% of transactions that happen in the real world. The Forrester number that you sometimes see quoted or cited, about online-influenced offline transactions, is pretty speculative. But it's directionally accurate -- a kind of placeholder for an actual, empirical number. 

Dark Side of GPS: FBI Tracking without a Warrant

A piece on the radio this morning prompts me to write this. Currently it's legal in California (but not everywhere) for the FBI or other law enforcement to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle and collect data from the movements of that device without first obtaining a warrant. As indicated, there's conflicting federal law about whether a warrant is or should be required in such circumstances.

This is yet another situation in which technology is way ahead of the law. But it's an issue that will probably come before the US Supreme Court in the not-too-distant future.

Location based technology and GPS-enabled devices make it possible to monitor the movements of large numbers individuals in ways that simply weren't feasible just a few years ago. Whereas physical surveillance previously was time consuming and labor intensive, now law encouragement can place devices on/under cars -- or perhaps soon track smartphones -- and watch many people and their movements simultaneously. By correlating those movements with other location data and information they can effectively determine the businesses and people that those under surveillance are visiting and associating with. 

Is this a violation of the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment? Does it implicate the First Amendment and the right to privacy? Does it impact free association and the right to assemble? Clearly privacy advocates think so. However, a conservative US Supreme Court (assuming a case arises in the next few years) would likely affirm the legality of warrantless GPS surveillance. The US Supreme Court has been eroding the protections of the Fourth Amendment and its prohibitions against unlawful search and seizure for quite some time. 

Allowing warrantless GPS "searches" or surveillance would represent another major step in that process. Should people have a "reasonable expectation" of privacy about their movements throughout the day? That's one of the questions raised by GPS surveillance. 

We should pay attention and be concerned about such things. It's not that far from warantless GPS searches to requiring all cars to incorporate GPS chips that would allow law enforcement to routinely track people wherever they may be. In such an instance it wouldn't be hard to imagine speeding tickets  automatically mailed to people after their cars transmit speeds back to law enforcement that are in excess of posted limits. And there are many other unpleasant scenarios to contemplate. 

Location technology is a terrific thing and enabling all sorts of consumer conveniences and benefits, as well as new business models. But there's a dark side to all of it and we collectively need to be vigilant about privacy rights and make sure that complacency doesn't make possible some of the unhappy scenarios I describe above. 

What Is "Google Offers"?

On Friday Mobile Marketer published an article, based on a talk given by Google's Mike Steib in New York. The article appeared to "announce" a new Google couponing effort called "Google Offers":

“The Holy Grail for local advertising is location-targeted coupons, and we’re building Google Offers to enable that, as well as click-to-call functionality for nearby businesses,” Mr. Steib said. “If you have the ability to reach out to consumers nearby and pull them in using mobile, it’s great for consumers and advertisers.”

I had an opportunity to talk to Google on Friday (though not Steib) about this, as well as its $1 billion in mobile ad revenues and other subjects of interest. Most of the conversation was off the record. However my conclusion is that "Google Offers" is much more of an idea than a product at this point. What the talk in New York really means is that Google sees locally oriented advertising on mobile devices, driving calls and foot traffic into stores, as very powerful and desirable both for consumers and merchants.

Part of that calculus is coupons, which more than any other advertising vehicle have a direct impact on consumer purchase behavior. Currently SMBs and others with Places pages on Google can offer coupons. However Google needs to do a better job of surfacing those coupons in order to gain consumer notice and further merchant adoption. Somewhat more visible are Google "Tags," which can also be coupons.

There's also the broader question of how deeply Google wants to get into coupons. Does the company, for example, want to integrate them into Google Shopping/Product Search or limit them to service businesses exposed via Local/Maps? Would Google create a "coupon destination," as others have done, including Yahoo and Ask?

I'm sure that Google has looked carefully at the "daily deals" segment as well. But so far the company has declined to either buy a company or mimic the offering. However it did recently invest in a company called Signpost, which is in the same general space. 

It's clear that Google does want to get more deeply into local deals and coupons and is trying to figure out what's the best, most scalable way to do that. It also appears there's no new product (ad) announcement coming in the immediate future. 

Yahoo Answers Goes Mobile

It appears, without much fanfare, that Yahoo Answers has now gone mobile. It's a "Web app" so there's no download. It should accordingly work on most if not all major smartphone platforms through the browser. 

The failure (until now) to mobilize Answers has been a big "missed opportunity" for Yahoo. It has a huge Answers community and should have mobilized the product some time ago. However now that it has the question is: will it be widely used?

The company has done a nice job with the interface but I don't find it to be a particularly interesting or useful on the go. Beyond the nicely designed UI there is little recognition of the differences between PC users and mobile users, whose needs and interests are more immediate and in some cases quite different.

For example, there's no "local" angle other than browsing prior answers, which are difficult to navigate and not necessarily relevant. 

Loyal Answers users will likely appreciate and use it on the go. Otherwise it's not particularly useful for mainstream consumers who aren't already hooked into the Yahoo Answers community and who may be seeking information in near real time. However Yahoo says that the community is so large that responses come in quickly with little latency. That may well be.

In my limited usage of Answers over the past few years, I've found quality to be uneven. Sometimes it's effective and sometimes answers are weak or too general. Ask.com is preparing to launch its mobile Q&A app and we'll see how that performs. 

Otherwise there are more than a dozen "social search" or Q&A services, most of which fail to really be useful enough to replace the conventional search box or specialized apps. 

Google Voice Search 7% of Queries on iPhone, 25% on Android

Voice-initiated searches on the Google iPhone app account for about 7% of overall Google search query volume on the iPhone, according to search-based ad network Chitika. By contrast Google CEO Eric Schmidt said previously that 25% of Android-based Google searches in the US market are initiated by voice.

Below is a chart reflecting Chitika's data, based on millions of queries, that show the proportion of voice to non-voice initiated Google queries on the iPhone. While all Google voice search queries come from the Google app, the non-voice queries presumably are distributed across the app, Safari toolbar and Google.com mobile site. 

 Picture 4

The data in the chart above may not be exactly reflective of all voice search on the Google iPhone app. But let's assume that they are generally correct. That makes the two numbers cited (voice on iPhone vs. Android) very interesting -- and curious. There are other voice search apps on the iPhone (e.g., Bing, Dragon Search, Yahoo) and we don't know what those queries volumes are at the moment or how they compare to the Google breakdown of voice vs. text-based search.

The volume of voice-initiated search queries (25%) on Android is striking by comparison the 7% iPhone number. Google has more deeply integrated voice into the Android platform and may have trained people to use it more frequently accordingly. I can't explain the discrepancy otherwise. 

GroceryIQ (Finally) Launches a Website

GroceryIQ, which is owned by Coupons Inc., just launched a PC website -- I had assumed they already had one. Previously GroceryIQ was just a mobile app. But the new site allows cross-platform shopping list creation and adds considerable convenience and utility. There's also coupon-based email marketing as part of the package from Coupons.com partners/customers.

I write about it because this sort of cross-platform utility is what will win categories. Very few mobile-only sites will succeed over the long term. Or, if they do, they'll be scooped up (like GroceryIQ) and turned into something larger. By the same token sites that are PC based but don't have a mobile component will be similarly vulnerable over time to competitors. 

Screen shot 2010-10-14 at 10.43.52 AM

The GroceryIQ app has been downloaded more than a million times according to the company.

ChaCha Raises Another $20 Million

Amazingly ChaCha announced last night that the company had raised another $20 million from new investors VantagePoint Venture Partners and Rho Ventures. I believe that brings total funds raised to date to over $70 million. 

From the release:

ChaCha has answered nearly one billion questions in the past two years alone, having surpassed even Google in mobile text search, according to Nielsen. ChaCha is the industry leader in text-based advertising and has emerged as the single best place to reach the youth market in any medium. Between online Top 100 website, www.ChaCha.com, and mobile platforms, ChaCha reaches over 15 million unique users every month.

In the course of answering questions, ChaCha creates a clever dialog with its users, which ends with a marketer's call to action. Additionally, the company will soon deploy a new MMS service that will deliver movie trailers, other video, coupon images, and rich media ads to virtually all phones, not just smartphones.

I just wrote about the new ChaCha.com at Search Engine Land. Here's some of our past writing about ChaCha at I2Go: 

SMS is the single best medium to reach teens and young adults in the US (perhaps globally) and ChaCha may be the best platform for teen and youth-targeted SMS.