by Bill Snyder

Mobile ads take center stage as smartphone becomes leading search tool

May 06, 2015 3 mins
Consumer Electronics Mobile Small and Medium Business

More Americans now use smartphones for Web searches than PCs, according to Google, and advertisers are dreaming up new types of ads that fit the mobile experience.

For the first time since Google started tracking the ways that people look for information online, more searches are performed on mobile devices than on traditional PCs. More specifically, Google says that searches in 10 countries, including the U.S. and Japan, are now more likely to be conducted on mobile devices than on PCs. (For some reason, the company didn’t identify the other eight countries. Google also grouped tablets with PCs, so we’re only talking smartphones here.)

This fact, announced on Tuesday by Google, has advertisers and Google’s own salespeople thinking about new ways to entice you to make purchasing decisions — and actual purchases — on your smartphone.

Mobile searches already generate plenty of ads, but Google’s announcement will likely motivate advertisers to speed up spending on ads designed for smartphones, which means you’ll soon see many more of them. If the idea annoys you, you can always install an ad blocker on your iOS or Android devices. However, if you search for something on your smartphone, such as a nearby hotel or restaurant, a well-designed ad can actually be quite helpful.

[Related: How voice search and ‘direct answers’ are changing Google]

Even the latest generation of larger smartphones, or “phablets,” including Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, have a lot less screen space than laptops and external monitors, and clicking through multiple pages can be very annoying, so Google started rolling out new mobile-friendly ad formats.

When users search for something on their phones, Google increasingly shows a panel, or carousel, of listings from advertisers at or near the top of mobile search results. Users can swipe across to see more listings, and when they click them advertisers pay Google for the traffic.

Most U.S. consumers have access to speedy, 4G LTE data networks today, so the new ads contain lots of pictures and other graphical elements that might not display quickly or correctly over slower networks. For now, Google’s mobile-ad push is focused on three areas — hospitality, automotive, and mortgage — but more are sure to follow.

Here’s a description of the auto ads, from Google:

“That’s why we introduced Automobile Ads — a new search ad format that takes you directly from to a beautiful carousel of car images that shows you how a car looks inside and out — like how the sleek metallic finish looks with the black leather and wood trim. Tapping on an image brings up more information about the car, like horsepower and estimated MPG while tapping on the ‘Dealers’ link takes you to a page with nearby dealer listings.”

News about the new ad formats comes shortly after Google rolled out a mobile-friendly search algorithm, the so-called “Mobilegeddon,” as part of which it gives mobile-friendly sites priority in search results on smartphones or tablets. 

Google made it crystal clear that this shift in page rankings affects only search rankings on smartphones (not tablets or computers) and applies to individual pages, not entire sites. The standards spelled out by Google aren’t particularly stringent, and if a website doesn’t meet them, visitors would probably avoid it anyway.

In case you forgot, Google is in business of selling ads, after all — and business is good.