Mobile-First Advertising: How to Thrive in the Digital Game

September 26, 2018 | Wendy Trem


Life revolves around smartphones. And since our world is increasingly defined in terms of handheld device capability, it follows naturally that advertising has also bowed to the power of the almighty mobile.


We’re in the middle of an extremely specific digital transformation—exponential growth of consumer activity on mobile devices, plus a corresponding whopping increase in mobile advertising. The ripple effect, however, is kicking companies who moved to online business sometime in the last twenty years, but are now rapidly finding themselves obsolete—simply because their site isn’t optimized for mobile devices or because they’ve been slow to shift to mobile advertising.

The reality is that mobile business is priority. It must be or a company risks serious levels of stagnation or even complete failure. And trend watchers predict mobile usage is here to stay.


Initially, mobile-first meant eliminating old tech—the slow-loading, popup-filled sites, dragging with burdensome, lengthy, boring content and blurry images. But, newsflash: If you haven’t heard, website ranking—where your site shows up in a Google search—will now be based on that mobile performance.

Google’s ranking used to apply equally to all sites. Now, mobile sites will be indexed all on their own. Mobile-first ranking means Google’s algorithms pay attention to mobile sites before they analyze desktop-only sites.


And this is where the marketing department’s ears should perk up: Google’s attention to mobile-first sites is relevant because users are mobile-first—in many cases, mobile-only. The logic carrying all this mobile language into advertising is simple: If most of the world experiences life via smartphone, businesses can’t invest all their advertising dollars in billboards, print materials, or even email ads—and omit the big one—the mobile ad.

Just how big are we talking here? eMarketer projects that mobile ad spend will top $70 billion this year. Asian-Pacific growth is particularly enormous: China, Japan, India, and the Philippines are contributing nearly 40% of the region’s advance to become number one in global mobile ad spending. The upshot is, businesses need to follow the user and advertise where it counts.


Not all advertising is created equal. If there is a uniqueness to successful mobile ads, what is it? And how is it achieved?

Mobile search, and mobile use more generally, has a different flavor from computer-based usage: it is more immediate, more personal, more proximal, more location-based. Tomorrow’s technologies will further intensify many of these characteristics and expectations.”—Stephen Kraus, Chief of Insights, MTA


Explore the mobile advertising territory in your business’s particular niche. Knowledge is power in the advertising world, so research your audience—how they shop, where they buy, when they search, what they want.

Up your data intelligence game. User statistics are for everyone in the mobile-first ad world. And Google Analytics—or other search marketing info tools—can tell you ideal channels, peak traffic times, and target audiences. Then, based on user behavior analysis—from initial contact all the way to app review or mobile-based purchase—you can create a strategy for ad content that reaches those people, at those times, in those places.


Speaking of places . . . Mobile-first advertising pays particular attention to location. Geolocation tracks users via GPS data and allows ads to deliver hyper-local content matched with user activity relevant to that locale. Marketers can create geofences—borders for a particular target radius—or build mobile ads based on real-time user geography, circumstances, and timing. If proximity is a major player in mobile search, consider—how do “near me” and “today” connect to your business?


Maximize your social media options. Companies who fail to expand their mobile marketing presence to Facebook, Instagram, and other social sites are consigning themselves to a very small ad box. Mobile-first advertising considers social media engagement and shared content a priority and develop appropriate strategies for each of these as a mobile ad platform.


If online video king YouTube has taught us anything, it’s the thinking—now prevailing in the mobile-first ad world—of, “Upload a video and they will come.”

“It’s not a secret that video remains the most engaging format but more importantly, it helps developers to employ advertising in the most non-intrusive way possible.”—Golubev, CEO,  Appodeal

Video ads are the fastest growing mobile marketing category—visible on mobile apps, social sites, emails, before-show pre-rolls, and more. Mobile marketers can capitalize on audiences’ short attention span—letting them watch and enjoy without feeling the high pressure of sales. Video advertising combines the power of sight, sound and motion to evoke the desired emotions and create a connection between the buyer and the brand.

Streaming services—Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Spotify, and Apple—are the perfect opportunity for reaching mobile users with video advertising. These over-the-top (OTT) services—web streaming without the distributor or cable provider—are now mainstream. Because smartphone capability limits users’ focus to only one app at a time, mobile viewers tend to finish the ad before continuing to watch or listen.

Mobile users are watching more in general, so logically, they’ll see more ads embedded in video content. It’s a “do” (as in do develop a video strategy now) or “die” mobile ad world out there.


Next best to video is the moving text-and-image ad, letting the reader scroll, flip, explore, and experience the content in an immersive environment. If the ad expands to full screen and involves the user in the content, it’s a winner. Create something they can open, watch, and participate in.


Experts tell us that users know exactly what catches their attention in a mobile ad: Images. No tiny words. No lengthy paragraphs. Just pictures, graphics, and get done already.

Ad placement does matter. But banners are old school (as in, they cause accidental clicks, frustrating users). And the trend today is minimalistic, unobtrusive, but catchy experiences that fit the social context.

Short and sweet wins in the arena of mobile ad campaigns. The significance of grabbing a user’s attention in the first few seconds has never been as significant as it is now. Mobile ads are over almost before they start, so get the message out immediately, and keep the whole thing brief. Those who wait might visit, shop, or buy—we’re talking about conversions here. If delays translate into lost revenue, get that ad speed up to par.

The goal is to appeal to a mobile-first audience, converting mobile users into mobile buyers. Strategic, targeted advertising is essential for any business working to achieve success in our mobile world.

Topics: Digital Advertising Customer Experience Modern Marketing

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