A month ago, I bought a multi-mountain ski pass that cost $429, which was an unusually large online purchase for me. More unusual was that my purchase journey started 7,200 feet above sea level, on a ski lift at Squaw Valley Resort in Lake Tahoe. A friend told me about the pass while on the lift, and I immediately pulled out my phone to research what mountains the pass would allow me to access. Three weeks later, I bought the pass on my laptop at home.

While most analytics platforms would categorize that transaction as a desktop purchase, it was actually several mobile searches and multiple sessions on the company’s mobile site that ultimately drove the purchase. This discrepancy is becoming more and more common as mobile web traffic continues to grow; while many online purchasers ultimately complete their purchases on desktop computers, they often begin their initial research on mobile devices. With mobile such an important component of the purchase funnel, how should you create a strategy to fully capitalize on mobile traffic?

Picture of friends on a ski lift in Lake Tahoe

Hat tip to Lake Tahoe, with surprisingly strong cell service on a ski lift.

What is a Mobile Strategy?

Consumers approach mobile searches and browsing with a totally different mindset than they bring to the same activities on desktop devices, and marketers should do the same. You’re going to fall behind among mobile searchers if your “mobile strategy” consists entirely of applying bid modifiers to mobile spend and comparing KPIs across different devices. Mobile phones aren’t just more portable versions of laptops, and marketing on them requires a separate strategy.

Think about the times you’ve used your phone to research prices in a store, brainstorm presents for friends and family, or research flight information. Because your phone perpetually connects you to the rest of the world, you expect to receive information and content that matches what you’re looking for at a specific point in time. In those moments, you demand the speed and ability to take quick action.

Good marketing has always been contingent on showing high quality content to your customers where they are — and today, consumers are on mobile phones.

Any company that claims that new customer acquisition or growth is a priority cannot also say that they choose to invest less on mobile because it performs poorly. Those statements are increasingly incompatible. For most verticals, nearly all of the growth opportunities are through mobile traffic.

Consumers are also less brand loyal on mobile. What they care about most are responsiveness, relevance, and quality content, not necessarily brand names. By the time people reach their computers, they have often already made their decisions on what to buy.

So where do you even start developing a mobile advertising strategy? Here are some places to start.

Mobile Site Recommendations

Start with speed. Patience wanes quickly on mobile devices. According to Google, bounce rates more than double, and conversions drop 38%, when a one second load time increases to five seconds. In a Google poll, 46% of people cited ‘waiting for slow pages to load’ as the item they disliked the most when browsing mobile websites (no other categories cracked 20%). You should test your site with tools like PageSpeed Insights to see how you match up to your competitors and make sure your site loads quickly on mobile devices.

Next, focus on removing barriers to conversion. Can you remove fields from a form? Next, can you shift more text fill fields to drop down menus? Typing is difficult on a phone, and consumers will lose patience if they need to fill out a dozen fields. Better to remove the fields you don’t need and make it as easy as possible to fill out the remaining fields.

The process of optimizing your conversion process should stem from an understanding of what your prospective customers use your mobile site for. Virgin America, for example, realized that customers use their app and desktop site for a variety of reasons, from adding upgrades to checking mileage balances. However, on the mobile site, consumers primarily cared about booking flights, so they wanted to easily access flight information and prices. Virgin America responded by removing clutter on its website to focus on the pieces consumers cared most about.

Screenshot of Virgin Mobile's mobile booking site.

Finally, make sure you’re providing valuable content. Mobile is inherently earlier in the path to conversion for many purchase events. You’ll need to accept that you can’t force a sale down consumers’ throats. What are they looking for? Are you bidding on ‘how-to’ searches? Review searches? Do you have content that speaks to that? Your company doesn’t need to be like Red Bull or GoPro, with a library of HD videos of jaw-dropping extreme sports, to feature relevant high-funnel content. Unilever, for instance, realized that many customers were using their phones in bathrooms to look up hair styles and deal with bad hair days. Based on this information, Unilever created an award-winning All Things Hair YouTube channel that provides hair tips (and recommends Unilever products) to help consumers in their time of need.

AdWords Attribution Modeling

Compared to desktop, mobile is more frequently a high-funnel click in AdWords, which means that your AdWords last click data is likely undervaluing mobile performance.

To gain a better understanding of your true mobile performance, compare attribution models with the AdWords attribution modeling tool to figure out if mobile is driving more revenue and conversions than you previously observed. In many cases, just shifting the data with this tool will make you much more bullish on mobile investment.

Google's New Attribution Modeling

Mobile-Only Campaigns

To start, Metric Theory does not believe that you should have a mobile-specific campaign for every campaign in your account. With mobile-only campaigns, you will see additional clutter and less data aggregation, especially for smaller campaigns.

However, for larger campaigns or advertisers that see extremely different performance by device, this can be a worthwhile approach. Separate campaigns give you the ability to more easily control budgets by device, create mobile-specific ad copy, and direct that copy to different landing pages, with different sitelinks. In some cases, you will also see that a keyword’s relative performance to other keywords varies by device (i.e. a keyword on desktop underperforms the average desktop ROAS, but the keyword on mobile does the opposite). In those scenarios, having separate keywords provides additional bid flexibility that bid modifiers cannot provide.

Micro-Conversion Tracking

For advertisers where mobile purchase events are rare, micro-conversions help identify actions that are predictive of future purchases, giving you a conversion event to optimize toward. Think about a very large purchase, like a car. I don’t know anyone who would purchase a car directly through their mobile phone. But I do expect that most auto sites find that web sessions that include visits to a price tool, comparison tool, or individual car model pages are more valuable than sessions that do not. Those vehicle retailers could use visits to these down-funnel pages to gauge the quality of incoming traffic and optimize towards more down-funnel visitors.

If downloading a file, following a social media account, visiting a store locator page, or just visiting a certain number of site pages is predictive of higher purchase rates, you should measure and optimize toward those events. If gaining a new email subscription carries a certain value, work backward to determine a cost per email signup goal and use this for account optimizations.

You don’t use the same advertising strategy for TV ads and PPC marketing because you understand that someone watching a Thursday Night Football game is in a different mindset than someone searching directly for your product. Browsers on mobile and desktop devices are in similarly different mindsets, albeit to a lesser degree. The mobile mindset includes an expectation to be able to consume information quickly, and at all times. Your mobile advertising strategy needs to reflect that reality. Rather than just bidding down mobile investment based on face value ROAS and CPA, account for user behavior, empathize with the user experience, and make adjustments that recognize mobile’s place higher up in the marketing funnel.