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I was recently able to catch up with Michelle Moore, director of search engine strategies at Metric Voodoo. We’re sitting on a panel together at SES San Jose next month and had some time to discuss the areas where mobile local marketing needs improvement, or requires different ways of thinking. These will also be key areas of discussion at TKG’s Directional Media Strategies conference in September. Here are a few excerpts from the interview.

MB: What are the biggest market factors that you see driving mobile search adoption on the part of both users and content owners or advertisers (i.e., smartphone penetration, better device standards, etc.)?

MM: Technology adoption with regard to smartphones is outstripping most previous major technology adoption rates, including touch-tone phones, cassette tapes, hi-def TV and DVD video players. There’s an entire generation in high school right now who’s never known a time without cellphones. This ubiquitous adoption is already causing a measurable trend where smartphones are replacing computers, especially with regard to localized searches. People’s habits are changing — when that happens, it forces market adjustments all the way around, not only with how advertisers will get their messages in front of consumers, but also what sorts of targeting these users are willing to accept. Phone searchers love being “helped,” but they hate being “tracked.”

MB: What are some of the most common mistakes or misconceptions of companies entering the mobile space (media companies, app developers, Web publishers, advertisers, etc.)? What about misconceptions preventing companies from playing in the mobile sandbox?

MM: I think there’s still a disconnect between the left and right brain that prevents advertisers from recognizing opportunities in the mobile space, especially for small to medium-sized business. For example, local search — which is one of my main prongs of attack with any business that has a physical location … it takes me about a dozen repetitions and even demonstrations over several weeks of the immense practicality of local business search on a phone before the little lightbulb starts to glow. Ultimately, I have to sit back and wait for my clients to actually use their phone in this manner to make a decision or a purchase or answer a question, and then point out to them afterward why they ended up using the vendor they selected.

“Do you remember why you ended up calling CVS Pharmacy?” 

“Yeah, the first phone number I found for Foster’s Pharmacy wasn’t in service anymore.”

“OK, so what happens when you change your business phone number and no one bothers to update all your local business listings that are floating all over the Internet?”

It’s as if small-business owners think that because they have a Web site with their name and address and phone number, that’s all they need. They don’t think far enough down the smartphone path to realize that their site might be all in Flash, or that the average local business search through a smartphone portal may put results from Citysearch or Superpages above your business’ own domain name … and oddly, SMBs are who absolutely need to succeed in this arena or get overrun by the big chains.

MB: Is the state of the economy currently having an effect on this adoption, any more so than other media? In other words is mobile’s “experimental” nature preventing companies from utilizing it as a content and/or ad delivery platform in uncertain economic times?

MM: I think this depends on who you’re asking. I don’t know a single consumer who’s given up their mobile phone. But I read all the time about companies abandoning or “back-burnering” their mobile marketing initiatives. It makes me want to ask marketers, “Why are you doing this when that market is one of the only markets not shrinking?” Fewer and fewer people read printed newspaper, but more and more people use cellphones.

MB: Conversely, are mobile’s targeting capabilities, greater ad performance (CTRs etc.) and measurability making it resonate to a greater degree during these times when advertisers are demanding more concrete ROI?

MM: You’d think, wouldn’t you? I’m not sure about national numbers, but in the South, where most of my work is done, it seems that there’s a different barrier to entry. Much like with social media, there’s a general lack of awareness [and therefore confidence] in mobile marketing. I’m constantly preaching a reduction in faith-based advertising models like television, radio and newspaper, and a shift to trackable advertising, whether it’s plain old PPC or mobile advertising. But there seem to be a lot of marketing execs who lack experience with the medium, making it harder to convince the rest of the C-suite to support mobile marketing initiatives. It’s like the fact that you can measure ROI at all doesn’t matter — they’re not willing to dabble in mobile unless you can prove ROI to start with. It makes no sense to me.

MB: It’s my contention that mobile and local are so closely related. Online searches with explicit local intent are about 10 percent of overall searches. On mobile, it is currently about 2X-3X more than that, and growing. Do you agree?

MM: Yes, I do agree. Every statistical report I’ve seen in the last eight months indicates that at least 25 percent of all searches on phones are local business searches. This is why I start my discussions by showing folks the Sprint commercial that was released in May — “Right now, 6,000 people are researching restaurants in the back of a cab.” How many “right nows” are there in a typical day … times 6,000.

MB: Some of the money spent at the local level (online and off) is national advertisers targeting locally. About a $17 billion chunk is the SMB segment. Very fragmented and hard to wrap your arms around. How will mobile advertising be bought and sold to this SMB segment? Self serve a la AdWords? Local sales channels like newspapers and Yellow Pages?

MM: I think a handful of the major online advertising sources will be the obvious choice. SMB doesn’t have the resources for a lot of research and due diligence so they’re more likely to allow their traditional marketers or PPC management firms to take on the task of local business advertising. I think that will translate to more ad business for Google. SEO really has never lent itself well to local business presence, despite a decade of SEO “experts” telling us it works. I don’t see traditional printed ads gaining share.

MB: Any other advice for companies entering the mobile space or online publishers trying to seek out opportunities in mobile?

MM: Be proactive. Buck the old traditions and hire some new blood [says the 40-or-so-year-old]. Take steps to build an online reputation before you are forced to take steps to correct it. Be an expert in your area and make sure to let people know about it. Put yourself everywhere you can afford in order to have the best chance of being found — be that online Yellow Pages, paid ads in a search engine, paid sponsorship of a mobile portal, name on a bus stop bench, name on the back of a little league jersey, wherever you can get publicity without offending people’s sensibilities. If you can associate that with a topic consumers are passionate about, so much the better.

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