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Mobile Searches for ‘Best X’ Jump 80% — What’s Behind It?

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Google released some new data on mobile search and user behavior — painting a picture of impatient users with a need for immediate gratification. Among the stats in the blog post were the following:

  • Mobile searches for “best” have grown 80% in the past two years (for both high and low consideration items).
  • Compared to just a year ago, smartphone users are significantly more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.
  • Smartphone users are 50% more likely to expect to purchase something immediately while using their smartphone compared to a year ago.

It’s this first stat that’s most interesting to me right now, though the second one is very relevant and powerful. But beyond the fact that people use “best” in their queries and SEOs can optimize against it, it reflects something fundamentally different (or changing) about user behavior.

First a momentary but relevant digression.

According to a new survey of nearly 2,500 US adults (Fetch/Dentsu and YouGov), 41% of respondents said they were more impatient and less willing to tolerate delays than they were five years ago. It was most extreme in the 18 – 24 age group. There were a number of specific scenarios that elicited differing responses about wait times. But all conveyed the same general message: people are more easily frustrated and less willing to wait for things now.

Smartphones and “on-demand” services have partly caused this. I’ve described it in the past as rising consumer expectations. Across the board smartphone users have rising expectations for speed, relevance (including local relevance), personalization and convenience. Most large and small businesses are doing a poor job of meeting those expectations, however.

In this context the 80% growth in mobile searches for “best X” is about getting to “answers” quickly or, at a minimum, a short list of choices. Mobile searchers have never been interested in sorting through lots of links and Google has obliged with more and more structured answers, cards and snippets that minimize the need to click back and forth on search results. (This has caused problems for Google in Europe in particular, where many seek to preserve a “SERP paradigm”.)

One could also argue that virtual assistants have further increased this demand for answers rather than a list of competing choices in most cases. In a survey conducted by Stone Temple Consulting earlier this year, more than 60% of respondents wanted virtual assistants to provide direct “answers” rather than a list of search results (this was before the introduction of the Echo Show).

The totality of this evidence argues that searcher expectations are changing dramatically and people want a very short list or the single “best answer” to their question — the “zero position” (this has lots of review implications too). Best is request in itself but also a surrogate for impatience.

Just give me the answer damnit!

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