The difference between web and mobile search

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Not all search platforms are created equal. Developers often find themselves using web-based information to guide their mobile marketing decisions. This is a common but avoidable faux pas. According to Apple, 70% of all app downloads come from the search function. So wasting precious time and resources on web data for mobile success leads to a dead end in any attempt to increase visibility and findability in an app store. At first glance, web and mobile user searches have some similarities, but their respective search capabilities and platform-specific user behavior vary drastically.

Understanding user behavior on both web and mobile is essential to know how, why and what users are searching for. Still, these differences are sometimes difficult to identify, depending on a developer’s experience with web and mobile search behavior.

Mobile marketers and developers need mobile data to drive their decisions. Using web data for mobile marketing decisions is a lot like using a fork instead of a spoon to eat soup; both are useful, but for very specific situations and reasons. Let’s take a closer look at some of these differences so you can better understand the requirements of mobile-specific search to further guide your App Store Optimization (ASO) strategy.

web queries

Google Ads Keyword Planner is an invaluable tool for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google Ads Keyword Planner uses three categorical descriptions for all user searches. Web queries are by nature a place where users put in as much information and keywords as possible. And let’s face it, we’ve all put huge amounts of text into a search bar that’s the size of the dictionary before. In addition, users expect localized and hyper-specific information derived directly from their search query. How, what and why users search for what they search for depends on many factors; however, there are three different search queries that Google Ads Keyword Planner categorizes across web platforms:

The “Do” transaction query

“Do” transaction queries usually contain a verb that is executable, such as “buy a red dress,” “record live video,” or “buy a concert ticket.” Users expect to find results that will enable them to perform the desired action, and they expect the results to be relevant to their needs related to that action.

The “Know” information query

The “Know” information query search is a go-to for users looking for specific and relevant information related to their query. As the name aptly suggests, a “Know” query usually looks like “store near me,” “who sings “everyone works for the weekend,” or “Idaho nail hygiene standards.” Users conducting this type of search expect to find a plethora of information that directly answers their intended question and any additional information related to the search.

The navigation query “Go”

In the “Go” navigation search, users expect their search to help them get to their desired web destination or platform. Users can search for broad terms or more specific terms to run a “Go” query. Usually a “Go” query looks something like this: “Lady Gaga Facebook Page”, “Chicago Bulls Merchandise Store” or “Free Online Games”. While some of us may be guilty of Google occasionally searching “Google”, “Go” searches are one of the most popular searches among users who want simple and easy instant access to what they’re looking for.

Web searches in their aggregate are at the same time more specific and often use more terms and phrases. Unlike mobile searches, web searches can be longer, more specific, and more comprehensive to pinpoint exact user phrases and terminology. On mobile, searches are short, to the point and typically have to do more with a lot less.

Mobile searches

A survey shows that 80% of all app store searches range from 2-3 words – a huge difference compared to the often lengthy and lengthy web search. In fact, as you can see, mobile searches and web searches are very different. What works for the web just won’t work for mobile.

The fundamental difference lies in the user intent; this helps explain why users’ search behavior often differs between web and mobile searches. For mobile, developers and mobile marketers must strike a balance between highlighting app features and app branding to adequately capture user intent.

To illustrate, let’s look at the following example of a popular and hypothetical app called Widget King. Widget King is an app that allows users to buy and sell valuable widgets and exchange their widgets for concert tickets, gift cards and other cool experiences or things.

On paper, Widget King can assume that their user searches look like this:

Searches: “buy and sell widget”, “buy a widget”, “sell a widget” and “buy widget app”

However, it’s important to remember that mobile searches should capture the user’s intent. In reality, users may be performing searches more attributed to some specific Widget King offerings, or they may be using a different terminology:

Searches: “buy gift card”, “widget exchange”, “concert widget” and “swap my widget”

But how exactly can mobile marketers and developers target these conditions? How are they supposed to know what terms their users are using? While it can be difficult to capture user intent, ASO’s process allows users to more accurately identify which search queries, terms, and words best match their app with user intent. ASO offers more opportunities for findability, visibility and relevance in an app store – just like SEO does for web pages.

Switch to mobile

Users start a search on mobile and expect web-like results, so it’s up to mobile marketers and developers to deliver those expected results to the best of their ability. Web results often have the ability to target adjacent terms without the limitation of a limited search population.

It’s hard to break with search data on the web, but it’s one of the most important shifts a mobile developer can make to improve app performance. Mobile app developers and marketers can effectively increase their visibility and organic performance in the app stores by simply changing their search data strategy. However, making the move to mobile data requires developers to measure their audience’s search behavior at a more granular level.

To do this, developers need to capture user intent by optimizing their app metadata assets to include all relevant terms that a user may be searching for. While capturing user intent is fundamental to effective mobile search targeting, developers should still strive for audience relevance and sophistication. If a developer decides to target a wide variety of terms and keywords unrelated to their app or brand, they lose the opportunity to increase their visibility to an audience most receptive to their value and features.

Mobile search requires app metadata and keywords to do a lot more with a lot less. User intent is the fundamental difference between web search and mobile search. So mobile marketers and developers need to move beyond web data to capture their users more accurately and effectively.

Dave Bell is CEO of Gummicube.

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