How is mobile search going to help travellers in finding local information quickly

Google has highlighted that mobile search is growing at an exponential rate, increasing five-fold worldwide in just the past two years - a rate comparable to the early days of desktop Google Search.

Published: 15 Jun 2011

Google has highlighted that mobile search is growing at an exponential rate, increasing five-fold worldwide in just the past two years - a rate comparable to the early days of desktop Google Search.

“As mobile devices have become more powerful and connected to faster networks, smartphone users are doing a surprisingly diverse set of search tasks -- from simple lookups, to tasks that involve multiple complex searches,” Scott Huffman, Director of Engineering, Google, wrote on a Google blog.

“But it’s not always easy to search from a mobile device, especially with the smaller screens and keyboards. We’ve worked relentlessly to make mobile search faster, easier, and more intuitive with features like autocomplete, Voice Search, Google Goggles, Google Instant and Instant Previews on mobile. Our work in mobile has now inspired desktop innovations like Voice Search and Search by Image, two new ways to search from your desktop,” said Huffman, as Google introduced two new mobile features designed to make mobile search even better.

Google has noticed an increase in searches for nearby places. To make it easier for people to search for what’s around them, the search engine has introduced new shortcuts to commonly searched local categories, like restaurants, coffee shops and bars, in the form of icons on the mobile google homepage.

Huffman explained: On the results page, you’ll see a map with markers for your current location and places around you. When you scroll through the results, the map remains at the top of the page and adjusts automatically to the listing you are looking at. That way, you can see the listing information while still getting location context from the map. Tapping on a result will quickly show you more about a place including reviews and other useful details. Discovering great places nearby has never been easier on your mobile phone.

Google has also come up with an easier way to build longer, more complicated searches. One can now add suggested phrases to the search box and “build” search piece by piece. This feature is already available on the Google Search app for Android and iOS devices and Google has now made this available on from mobile browsers.

These new mobile features are now available on on Android (version 2.2+) and iOS (version 4.0+) in 40 languages worldwide.

Travel industry

The travel industry believes the way bookings have migrated from offline to online over the years, one can expect to witness migration of a certain percentage of online travel bookings to move from desktop to mobile in the time to come. Also, it would not come across as a surprise if many travellers who currently use offline channels go directly to using primarily mobile devices to make their bookings.

In an interview with EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta last month, Rob Torres, Head of Travel, Google, said, for travel specifically, the usage of smartphones by leisure and business travelers is growing at an unprecedented rate.

“Google reports 300K new Android activations per day and eMarketer notes that 50% of all new internet connections worldwide are coming from mobile devices. The number of searches in the travel category via a mobile device continues to rise this year; the percentage of queries coming from mobile devices now makes up 19.5% of all hotel queries. Quite notably, people aren’t just searching with mobile; they are actually completing transactions from their devices. The number of mobile bookings in the travel space has accelerated from $20 million in 2008 to over $200 million in 2010. By 2012 we project that 8% of mobile users will be booking travel from their smart phones,” Torres said.

The differences in consumer behaviour between static desktop searches and mobile searches means that advertisers can’t simply transfer a search campaign to mobile. Advertisers are embracing the mobile web and are including it in their web strategies by developing mobile sites and apps.

Assessing the maturity level of advertisers’ approach at this juncture, Torres said, “We are still in our infancy in this area as there is still so much more that travel advertisers can be doing.”

Bidding for top position matters in mobile, where only the top few ads have real screen space.

Torres added, “Implementing strategy that uses the phone’s true purpose – calling – has proven extremely valuable to a few advertisers and I’m surprised more companies aren’t’ taking advantage of that.”

He mentioned that IHG has said that, in their European markets, click-to-call ads are generating over 40% of their mobile revenue.

“We are encouraged by the trend in travel of brands providing end-to-end mobile booking functionality for users via an app or a mobile site. Many of the OTAs including Expedia, and Priceline have added this feature to their mobile offering. We are also seeing some great new use cases of the phone’s ability to track location, such as TripAdvisor’s iPad app with Street View and SuperShuttle’s map view for customers of the pick-up vehicle’s location,” said Torres.

Search and travel

Certainly, the explosion of smartphones with full webkit browsers has had a significant effect on search, as more users can now access the Internet wherever they are, and whenever they want to. Google Mobile search volume has grown by 400% or so in 2010 and the company developed search tools like ‘Near Me Now’ that enable users to look for information about the area immediately surrounding them. For travellers, the growth of mobile is especially exciting news, as these search tools can help users find local information quickly and easily when they are visiting a new place, or when they’re researching a future trip.

The location-based nature of a mobile phone, along with GPS technology, presents results based on your real-time location. Google Goggles, a tool that can snap a picture and immediately return search results about the image, uses the mobile device’s camera functionality. All of these features of mobile search will be very handy for travellers. Just think: Google Goggles plus Android translation capability becomes a mobile translator for travellers. GPS location services plus relevant search results provides an answer to the “where do I stay tonight?” question for stranded travellers.

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