Google has long been the search engine advertising king. But the company is losing some momentum on the mobile front. So says a new report from market research firm eMarketer.
First, let's be clear how eMarketer defines mobile search advertising. In its paradigm, the market researcher includes paid ads search engines serve, as well as apps and carrier portals to mobile devices. That last part -- specifically the apps -- may be what's affecting Google.
The research by eMarketer shows users are becoming more sophisticated as smartphone and tablet usage rises. They are also blurring the lines between browsers and apps in their own minds. What's more, the report concludes, mobile search behavior is becoming less and less like desktop and laptop searches. All this is leading to a fragmented mobile search advertising market that's chipping away at Google's dominance.
The Rise of App Searches
"Even though browser-based search is a common behavior among mobile owners, search engines are not necessarily the first place smartphone and tablet users turn," said Cathy Boyle, a senior analyst for mobile at eMarketer. "The explosion of mobile app development and usage means mobile users have more -- and more specialized -- alternatives for finding information."
So let's look at the numbers. According to eMarketer, Google's declining share of mobile search dollars is noteworthy against the market fragmentation backdrop. Google owned 82.8 percent of the $2.24 billion mobile search market in 2012. Despite rising mobile search revenue, other players are pushing harder to become the entry portal for mobile information.
Although Google still reigns supreme with browser-based searches on mobile devices, eMarketer said niche search apps are becoming more common in terms of usage and taking incremental market share away from the tech titan. The result: Google's share has dropped to 68.5 percent in 2013 while the long tail of "other" companies increased share from 5.4 percent to 22.9 percent. In 2014, eMarketer expects Google's share to fall again, to 65.7 percent, while the "other" category reaches 27.3 percent.
eMarketer points to players in the "other" category, which include Yahoo and Bing, apps like Kayak, Shazam and Yelp. In fact, Yelp's mobile search revenue will grow 136 percent to reach $119.4 million in 2014, accounting for just over 40 percent of the company's overall search intake, according to eMarketer.
"App-based searching is a new phenomenon that pales in comparison with the longstanding practice of querying a search engine, and the degree to which mobile users rely on both methods for finding information is unclear," Boyle said. "Still, in light of the growing popularity and time spent with apps, search marketers that recognize this behavior and focus on increasing visibility within apps aligned to their industry and business objectives will be best positioned to connect with the largest number of mobile users."
Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said the eMarketer report is somewhat deceptive because Google's mobile ad revenues continue to grow. Although the report says as much, it gets buried in the bigger story line of market-share decline.
"What's effectively happened is that more money is now flowing into mobile advertising and being spread around to others," Sterling told us. "The overall market has grown and other companies are now gaining some of the benefits."
In addition, he continued, the definition of "search revenues" has arguably been expanded to encompass more players and more types of ad spending.
"The takeaway here is that the market is getting bigger and Google is no longer the only place that marketers are putting their 'search' dollars," Sterling said. "But in terms of real dollars, Google remains by far the dominant company."