Australian Mobile Search: Topics and Themes

Australian Mobile Search: Topics and Themes

Consumer Insights Report: Showcasing how brands can leverage Mobile Search more efficiently and why it should be treated differently to Desktop

For many years, it’s been predicted that this was the year of mobile. Whilst this year has been proven to be the official ‘Year of the Mobile’ for Australian consumers, many brands are still hesitating. What this means is a very active, barely tapped consumer base.

We all know that mobile has been, and continues to be, one of the fastest growing mediums of all times and this hasn’t just impacted the way consumers interact with media. It’s also had a huge impact on the day to day lives of Australians. Fixed-line phones are on the decline, we are more contactable than ever before, you can order, book and pay for just about anything with your mobile, it’s a camera, an entertainment system, your diary, and most importantly – it gives you the ability to search for anything at any time. Basically, there’s not much that your mobile phone can’t do. Now is the time for brands to be embracing mobile. Now is the time to include mobile search in your marketing strategy. Because if you don’t, you’re rejecting active consumers every single day.

This report will provide marketers with a guide to understanding the world of mobile search through a series of custom analyses conducted by Hitwise, a division of Connexity, that examine overall trends of mobile search in Australia. We’ll reveal the types of searches that are more likely to be conducted on mobile devices in comparison to desktop across three major industries: Retail, Travel and Banking.

Marketers who think there is time to prepare before the mobile tipping point occurs should take note that mobile devices already account for a majority of online searches and the time for action is now.

The report highlights differing behaviours between desktop and mobile search, what is the preferred language by device, how mobile search is being used by consumers and also provides insight into a counterintuitive finding that shows how searches conducted from mobile devices are longer in length than those initiated on a desktop.

When putting together a marketing strategy for search, it’s becoming more and more important to understand mobile search usage, and most importantly, mobile search language. Not knowing the language could be the difference of reaching 30% of your audience or 70%.

We have taken all of the findings from this report and compiled a mobile search strategy suggestion. We hope you find the findings and suggestions useful.


2016 will go down as the year where more online searches occurred on a mobile device than desktop, (52% and 48% respectively). Almost every industry has seen a drastic increase in mobile search traffic, just in the past 12 months.

Drawing on a sample of 1 million users in the country, Hitwise examined the browsing and searching behaviour of users across multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets which represent more than half of their weighted visits. The analysis, which leveraged the new AudienceViewTM platform, focused on a four-week period beginning 3rd July and ending 30th July, 2016 and included searches performed on all search engines. The analysis found that Smartphones and tablets now account for 65% of all online searches that result in a visit to a Food & Beverage site, the greatest of any of the analysed sectors. Not surprisingly, News and Media sees a similarly high share of searches being initiated on a mobile device with 59% of searches resulting in a click to this industry coming from mobile. Breaking news is the leading instigator for this increase. Whilst some of these results may seem low, this report delves into search themes within each industry and showcases how some themes can be 95% mobile and 5% desktop.

Australia Mobile Search: Share by Industry

Whilst most industries have seen a strong shift to majority of searches done on mobile, there are a few which are yet to hit the 50% share mark. The Entertainment sector only gets 39% of searches from mobile, the lowest of any analysed industry, however with usage of entertainment apps being so high, this isn’t a surprise.

Mobile tends to serve a larger role in answering consumers’ questions early on in the purchase journey.

Given search within an industry is so broad, we decided to delve deeper into the data and analyse specific topics and themes of online searches to better understand those that are most likely to be initiated on a mobile device and those that are still predominantly desktop-centric.

There were 3 key findings that showcased the difference between mobile and desktop search.

1. A large portion of search on a mobile device is to seek immediate answers, and very precise answers at that. We found that searches containing “how to”, “where is” “what is” and “can I” were predominantly done a mobile and contained very specific details such as “where is the closest supermarket to me”.

2. Across most industries, mobile search was also used as a last minute research tool to make sure the consumer was getting the best price and value around. This is also where we saw “ratings and reviews” hold its strength.

3. The mobile device is used for those very private searches that you want to remain hidden. Whether it’s a self-diagnosis or seeking out financial help, personal issues were searched far more on a mobile device than a desktop. Understanding these search behaviours gave incredible insight into the consumer and how brands can actively help.

The research also found that searches done on desktop required more browsing time such as researching a holiday destination, seeking out product reviews or reading through terms and conditions of a loan or credit card.

We also discovered that when it comes to planning trips or big purchases, mobile tends to serve a larger role in answering consumers’ questions early on in the purchase journey, but then declines somewhat as consumers move on to more in-depth researching or conduct transactions. However, we did see mobile search bounce back at the end of the purchase cycle as a final price check, review read or even last minute additions (in particular with travel).

The following sections of this report examine search trends in more detail, focusing on three key industries: Retail, Travel, and Banking.

Marketers can use the insights within this report to develop smarter and more effective search campaigns as well as align their marketing strategy to the appropriate device, at the most impactful time. Search data can be incredibly insightful and tell more about a consumer than any other online behaviour.


When it comes to search, Retail is one of the most searched for industries. Knowing the exact products and brands that consumers are searching for is gold, but what is more powerful is understanding the device these searches originate from. Knowing this can mean the difference between closing a sale or losing a customer to your competitor.

Australian consumers are purchasing more online than ever before and the smartphone has become an indispensable ‘shopping tool’. Not only does it assist with consumers finding what they want, but once they find it, they can review the product or compare the prices all within a metre of the till!

According to our analysis, 54% of all retail searches that resulted in a click, came from a smartphone or tablet. However, when you break down that 54%, and compare mobile vs desktop share by search term, you find that particular themes are heavily searched for more on mobile.

Location-based retail searches, like every other industry, are among those most heavily skewed towards mobile. These include searches that incorporate the phrases “near me” as well as “opening hours” and those that are looking for “where to find…” or “buy” a product.

Australia Mobile Search: Retail Themes

Understanding the device from which different types of searches typically originate and then formulating a strategy for engaging the consumers behind those searches is crucial. As more and more consumers rely on mobile search prior to purchase, it’s vital that brands have a strong search strategy in place. Without one, they risk losing sales and, more worryingly, consumers.

Australian consumers want to know that they are getting the best deal, and with 70% of “price comparison” search share being off mobiles, it doesn’t give retailers much time to match prices. It takes just one brand to drop their price slightly and the consumer will shift stores/sites immediately. Within that 70% of sale-seeking searches, brands who are seeing the biggest demand for sales is Big W, in particular Big W toy sale, Harvey Norman, Myer and Target. The products consumers are seeking at a discounted price are toys, baby bunting, gift cards, and Huggies nappies. This search behaviour strongly suggest parents of a newborn seeking out cost effective purchases. This behaviour highlights that Australian consumers are becoming less loyal – best price is trumping a brands name.

We found that searches for larger items, both in cost and size, are more likely to be searched for on desktop. Whitegoods such as washing machines and fridges had a desktop search share of 83%.

However, brand specific whitegoods searches such as “Harvey Norman fridge sale” achieved a much lower desktop share of 40% – this could be put down to consumers price comparing prior to sale.

Another category which skews strongly towards mobile search (in fact, all have a mobile search share of 75%+) are searches for items that you might not want others to see. Whether it’s engagement rings, adult toys or medical products – all are heavily searched for on mobiles phones. With most mobiles carrying some form of locked access, these uncomfortable (or private) searches can remain hidden.

Another standout mobile search behaviour was those seeking out last minute payment options on products (“Layby or AfterPay”) in particular the introduction of AfterPay in the Australian market. The ability to have what they want, when they want (and in some cases, spends outside what they can actually afford!) is on the increase thanks to multiple different payment options. We predict the likes of Afterpay will see a further strong 6 months, especially over the next 6 months.

With so much shopping activity occurring both online and in physical stores, online search may be one of the best ways to influence shoppers to visit your store or purchase your product. Understanding the device from which different types of searches typically originate and then formulating a strategy for engaging the consumers behind those searches, is critical. As more and more consumers rely on mobile search prior to purchase, it’s vital that brands have a strong search strategy in place. Without one, they risk losing sales and more worryingly, customers.

Banking and Finance

Given the sensitive nature and importance of online banking, this industry is one of the few where the majority of searches still originate on desktop devices. In fact, according to our analysis, only 40% of online searches driving a visit to a banking or finance site originate on a smartphone or tablet. However, there are still plenty of topics within that category where mobile is now the go- to device when seeking specific information. Understanding what they
are not only offers insight into that particular audience, but it also opens up incredibly valuable targeting opportunities.

For instance, given its privacy, searches mentioning “debt” are searched a significant amount more on a mobile device (87%), the highest mobile search topic within the finance category. “Quick loan” was also strongly searched for online which suggests an urgency for immediate funds. This also suggests that those Australian’s who are struggling financially are turning to mobile search to seek help. Financial Assistance brands can use this insight to tailor campaigns to this niche, but very valuable audience.

When it comes to Credit Cards, 60% of searches are done on a mobile phone. Breaking this topic out by device provides guidance to marketers on when and where they should be targeting potential credit card clients. Searches on a mobile are more likely to be for reviews, best credit card rewards and best low interest cards. Given most ‘everyday’ mobile banking behaviour is done via a banks app, you can make the assumption that those using mobile search are new customers.

Given the sensitive nature and importance of online banking, this industry is one of the few where the majority of searches still originate on desktop devices. In fact, according to our analysis, only 39% of online searches driving a visit to a banking or finance site originate on a smartphone or tablet. However, there are still plenty of financial topics where mobile is now the go-to device when seeking specific information.

Australia Mobile Search: Finance Themes

Interestingly we saw a strong search share on mobile for traditional financial institution credit cards, where desktop spiked for non-financial institution credit cards such as Virgin, Coles and Woolworths cards. This can be put down to limited consumer knowledge and trust of non-financial institution credit cards. Banks give out credit cards, it’s what they do, but corporations outside the banking industry offering credit cards is still relatively new in the eyes of consumers. They are seeking out more information on the company, the specific terms and conditions and fees involved and how their credit cards differ, in particular the rewards and benefits.

Given the sensitive nature and importance of online banking, this industry is one of the few were the majority of searches still originate on desktop devices. However, certain topics within this are only searched for on mobile, so it’s important to know which ones.

Another trend we saw was location based searches such as “near me” or “nearest”. When it came to searching for the closest ATM, generic searches such as “atm” or “atm near me” only had a mobile search share of 36%, however specific bank ATM searches such as “anz atm” or “commbank atm” were heavily searched for on a mobile device, 90% and 86% respectively. This suggests that Australian’s are trying to avoid other banks ATM fee, which in some cases can be as high as $3.

Although searches for finance and banking are done mainly on desktop, by understanding the search terms on mobile provides valuable insights into how Australian’s are accessing sites, what products they are seeking out and what their financial situation is. It also highlights what Australians are in the market for and showcases the market size of potential new clients. Brands can tap into this active consumer base purely by understanding search behaviours within this industry.


Like other industries, mobile search isn’t just used for one particular stage in the purchase cycle. In fact, not only is it used in the early stages of planning a trip, but it’s also used right up until the holiday is over. Smartphones are a key tool for travellers, whether it’s to search for and read up on destinations, find the best flights, or even plan things to do once they’re there. Desktops on the other hand, become more important as consumers begin researching specific destinations and booking travel, which a larger screen makes this much easier.

Today, 47% of all searches that result in a visit to a non-map Travel site originate on a mobile device. The search term “Flight Status” is the most researched term on mobile, having a search share of 82%. Other search terms heavily initiated on a mobile device suggest that travellers are seeking out initial information in order to make a decision on if and when they will travel, where they will go, and what they can do there.

When comparing searches to the industry average (47%), you start seeing a picture of where each device fits into the purchase cycle.

Australia Mobile Search: Travel Themes

For example, when it came to travel searches, we found that they required more accurate and exact results and were more likely to be done on desktop than mobile. Searches on mobiles were seen as more ‘browsing’ style. For example, the top mobile search term for New Zealand was “campervan New Zealand’, whereas on desktop is “top campervan road trips New Zealand”. Therefore, we see mobile search as a leading contributor to plating the travel seed, and getting Australian’s on the road (or in the air).

Smartphones are a key tool for travelers, especially during the early planning stages of a trip and once travelers have left home.

Once travelers had decided they were going to travel, we saw a shift towards desktop search for more in-depth searches (as in above example.). The destination has been chosen, perhaps even the time of year to travel and activities to do once there, and now they needed to lock it all in. Once a traveler had decided – this is where concrete plans were made.

Once the major bookings have been done (flights, accommodation and rental car), we saw the shift move back to mobile search. “Places to eat”, “near me”, and “things to do” peaked on mobile. When it comes to specific travel locations, it’s no surprise that destinations searches within Australia are more likely to be done on mobile. With no worries of being slugged with data roaming charges, we see a heavy amount of mobile search activity at some of Australia’s best travel spots. Within Australia, the most searched for Australian cities on mobiles are:

1. Melbourne & Perth – 65%
2. Sydney & Brisbane – 64%
3. Adelaide, Canberra and Darwin –63%

What is interesting when looking at Australian destinations is the differing result depending on what is used within the search term. For example, there were no searches for “New South Wales” in the period of this research, whereas “NSW” had over 160 different search variations. However, Tasmania was barely searched for as “TAS”, in fact there were only 2 search variations, in comparison to “Tasmania” which saw 69 different terms used. Each state within Australia either skewed to one or the other, which makes it vitally important to know if you are buying the correct term.

Mobile Search Shows Character

Common sense tells us that online searches initiated on mobile devices would tend to be shorter and more concise than those initiated on desktops. However, in this case, common sense is dead wrong. In fact, our analysis found the exact opposite. In case after case, across industries and across countries, searches conducted on mobile devices were longer, on average, than those conducted on desktops. For example, the analysis revealed that the average desktop-initiated search that resulted in a visit to a Food & Beverage site is 2.2 words or 13.8 characters in length. Compare that to the average mobile initiated Food & Beverage search that measured 2.5 words or 15.5 characters in length, a relative increase of 16% and 13%, respectively, in search length.

Mobile Search Trends: Character Count
Source: Hitwise, a division of Connexity

Reasons behind this are still not 100 percent clear as little research has been conducted in this space. A forthcoming Hitwise report on this topic will explore this pattern in greater depth providing some data-driven suggestions for what is causing this counter-intuitive trend.

Action this Report

Be discoverable.
Brands need to make sure that they are there when consumers need them and that means being aware of the device they’re using. If mobile search isn’t already an integral part of your SEO strategy, it should be.

Deliver value.
Once consumers find your brand, you need to ensure that your content is optimized to deliver value in a mobile-dominant era. Outdated content designed when desktops reigned supreme needs to be updated to engage consumers on mobile devices.

Marketers need to be more strategic about prioritising their mobile optimisation and content strategies. Understanding patterns observed in online search across mobile and desktop devices—starting with those revealed in this report—can go a long way in informing these plans.

For marketers to more effectively engage their audience, they need to consider the device through which consumers are using when seeking specific information and then create content that is tailored for that device. This will ensure that the brand is both discoverable and deliver value in a way that is optimised to the device being used.

Marketers should be sure they understand mobile-dominant themes in order to connect and engage with consumers in a device-specific way.

For example, earlier in the report we revealed that “quick loans” was the 2nd most searched for theme on mobile within the finance category (85%). Given this information, step one for financial institutions should be to include this in their search campaigns to ensure that their brand is discoverable to those looking for a loan.

Search insights can not only assist brands with the SEO strategy, but can also provide valuable feedback on what content to deliver to its customer. By seeing what terms are trending by month, brands will be able to tailor the content to the relevant concerns and needs of their customer-base and most importantly prevent their customers seeking out this content and stumbling on a competitors site through search.

To deliver this value, financial institution need to develop content that’s easy to consume on a mobile device, such as a short video on quick loans or an infographic on how to save to prevent last minute loan searches.

The information in this report is a great start for understanding mobile search trends overall as well as those for certain industries. But marketers should also be sure that they understand the specific mobile-centric, dominant themes among their target audience so that they can successfully connect and engage with them in a device-specific way. It may seem like a complex task, but Hitwise can help make sense and assist in the design of your SEO strategy.

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