Paid Search Makes Its Way To Mobile
By Carlo Longino, Mon Feb 28 23:45:00 GMT 2005

A UK operator has launched paid search listings for its WAP portal. Is this a decent step towards making mobile search useful, or another misguided application of a wired Web success?

New Media Age reports that O2 is selling keywords for paid listings on its O2 Active WAP portal. Of course, the company behind the technology thinks it's wonderful: "With mobile there's limited room on the display so it's even more important than online for content providers to be in a high position," says the managing director of mobile search provider Motionbridge. Never mind that users want the best results in that small space, not the most expensive.

It's hard to see this as a positive step for mobile users, who when searching want answers, not links to pages that might have answers. It's also hard to see just how this benefits users, particularly ones that are paying for the pages to be served over GPRS. Advertising is typically used to offset the cost of content, but if a user is paying for the mobile data, paying for content, and then the carrier's selling keywords, reducing the usability and utility of its search page, and just pocketing the money, how will they not feel burned?

Mobile advertising is still looking to strike a balance between intrusiveness and profitability, and it's much more difficult than on the wired Web, not least because users are typically paying for the ads to be delivered to them. The key is to make advertising that benefits the user in some way. It's increasingly obvious in today's world and media landscape that so-called interruption marketing doesn't work. It's not any different on mobile, in fact, it's even more true. All interrupting a mobile user's experience with a useless, meaningless ad does is destroy the user experience -- doubly so if they're paying for it.

Paid mobile search is no different. Getting in users' way to generate some short-term revenues will hurt long-term relationships.