Friday, July 11, 2014

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Why This Matters for Search

So what if someone starts a search on mobile – why should that matter to us as search marketers? The problem is simple: while Google desktop search design is being inspired by mobile design, the reality of a small screen means that mobile SERPs can look very different. Just as Google found with ad CTRs, this can lead to very different user behavior.
So, how different are mobile SERPs? I’d like to look at a few notable examples of desktop vs. mobile SERPs, starting from most similar to least similar. For all of these examples, the desktop SERP was captured on a Windows 7 PC using Chrome, at 1280x1024, and the mobile screen was captured on an iPhone 5S using Safari.
Here’s a fairly basic SERP (a search for “plumbers”) with ads and some local features. The desktop version is on the left, and the mobile version is on the right. I apologize for the reduced size, but I felt that a side-by-side version would be the most useful:
The impact of the smaller screen here is readily apparent – even though the desktop SERP shows eightfull ads above the fold and the mobile SERP shows only two, the desktop screen still has room for threeorganic results, a map, and a couple of local pack results. Meanwhile, the one organic result that does pop up on the mobile screen has the advantage of being the only organic element on the “page”.
Unfortunately, we have very little data on relative CTR for either ads or organic results, and Google is tweaking both designs all of the time. I think the core point is that these user experiences, even for a relatively straightforward SERP, are clearly different.
Let’s look at another SERP (“army birthday”) where the major elements are similar, but the screen space creates a different experience. In this case, we get one of the new answer boxes:
An answer box is disruptive on any screen, but on the mobile screen it occupies almost the entire SERP above the fold. Of course, scrolling is easier and more natural on mobile, so I don’t want to pretend this is a true apples-to-apples comparison, but if the answer meets the user’s needs, they’re unlikely to keep looking.
Let’s look at a standard Knowledge Graph box, in this case one for a local entity (“woodfield mall”). Here, while the styles of the Knowledge Graph boxes are similar, the SERPs are radically different:
While the desktop SERP has a rich Knowledge Graph entry, we also see a substantial amount of organic real estate. On the mobile SERP, a condensed Knowledge Graph box dominates. That box also contains mobile-specific features, like click-to-call and directions, which could easily divert the searchers and keep them from scrolling down to organic results.
Finally, let’s consider a SERP where the presentation and structure are completely different between desktop and mobile. This is a search for “pizza” (from the Chicago suburbs, where I’m located), which triggers a local carousel:
Carousels – whether they’re local, Knowledge Graph, or the newer song and episode lists – are a great example of mobile-first design. While the desktop carousel seems out of place in Google’s design history and requires awkward horizontal scrolling, the mobile carousel is built for a finger-swipe interface. What’s more, the horizontal swipe may derail vertical scrolling to some degree. So, again, a single element dominates the mobile SERP in this example.

1 comment:

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