Coming to a phone near you: Mobile search

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Mobile search engine marketing has begun to attract the interest of marketers, search engines and telecommunications providers, all of which have increased their focus on the space.

Google today announced an enhanced beta version of Froogle Mobile that allows users to search the Web for online product prices using a mobile phone or other mobile device. These results can be sorted by price or “best match,” Google said.

“There have been a lot of recent announcements by search engines and other services [regarding mobile search],” said Megan Dwyer, marketing research manager at Oneupweb, a search engine marketing company. She said partnerships between the big telecom carriers such as TMobile and Sprint and search giants like Google and Yahoo! “point to the potential for advertising” in mobile search.

Oneupweb recently published a white paper, titled “Mobile Search and Its Implications for Search Engine Marketing,” that covers some of the marketing challenges and opportunities in mobile search.

It is estimated that mobile advertising and marketing spending will reach at least $115 million this year, according to eMarketer’s conservative estimates of the market made last January. EMarketer called 2005 a “breakout year for mobile marketing,” with spending spiking from “virtually nothing to millions in pilot investments.”

Those opportunities have not gone unnoticed by the major search engines and telecommunication companies.

Last week, Nokia introduced a mobile search software solution that it said “provides users with easy and fast access to leading search engines directly from their Nokia handset.”

“Introducing the search application together with the leading search engine providers brings one of the world’s most popular online activities—online search—to the fingertips of Nokia handset users,” said Harry Santamäki, VP-strategy and business development, multimedia at Nokia, in a statement. “With this extremely straightforward and easy-to-use application, users can now expand the use of online search services beyond their desktops,” he said.

Also last week, America Online announced it has increased its investment in wireless services in two ways: acquiring Wildseed Ltd., a wireless technology company, and forming an expanded AOL Wireless division. That division will speed the delivery of community and convenience to mobile users with an array of solutions, communications and content services, according to AOL.

In July, Yahoo! launched SMS Yahoo! Search, enabling mobile phone users to search Yahoo! via SMS text messaging.

Even blog tracker Technorati has gotten in on the act, launching a mobile version of its blog searching tool, Technorati Mobile.

Despite the opportunity, Dwyer said, “It is still early.” Not surprisingly, she added, early adopters of this marketing channel may struggle to find budget and resources. Challenges include the need for a parallel Web design to existing HTML sites, which are difficult to access through WAP, the global standard for mobile applications.

“The design capabilities of businesses’ Web sites are not optimal right now,” Dwyer said, adding that limited wireless band width was another issue.

But as those challenges are met and the mobile search experience gets closer to the online search experience, experts agree usage will increase. Consumer applications are at the forefront, but Dwyer said b-to-b opportunities will also grow.

“Where it applies to b-to-b is the ‘killing time searches.’ ” she said. “Businesspeople waiting in airports, for instance, spending time clicking away on PDAs, looking to learn more about potential vendors. It’s not right now, but it’s coming soon.”

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