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Google's Mobile Search Strategy: Bake In and Take Out

This week Google edged further into other industries, launching new mobile search features for cars, hotels and food delivery.


On Tuesday, Google confirmed what many had long suspected: Mobile searches now outnumber those on desktop.

That must have been worrying news in the Googleplex because, while the company does not share the figures, evidence suggests mobile search is much less lucrative. That’s why executives spent most of the last earnings call assuring investors that, indeed, they do have a plan for mobile.

It’s important. On desktop, Google built a superior search engine and watched the dollars roll in. But, on mobile, it may have to fight harder. Rivals like Amazon and Pinterest* are beginning to lay the groundwork for search revenue products, which would give advertisers more than one option.

“It’s not going to be the Google show,” one media buyer said about mobile spending.

Last week, a few pieces of Google’s plan to address investor concerns emerged. Each comports with its broad, incremental push into different industries, all while keeping users inside its own site. The first piece was a pair of new ad formats for cars and hotels, bringing flashier photo spreads and easier booking within search, expanding on its entrance into hospitality booking last month. With those, Google also teased the launch of a new category, mortgages, for its comparative offering baked into search. (It will be Google’s second go-around for housing finance rates.)

Google announced them publicly, with a lengthy address from AdWords VP Jerry Dischler.

But its other unveiling from the week slipped out with the peep of a Google+ post. That might be because the update — a feature that enables online ordering from local restaurants directly in mobile search — abuts other businesses. Most notably Yelp — which, it just so happens, could be talking with bankers about a potential sale after a bruising quarter, according to the Wall Street Journal.

With Google’s latest feature, a tiny truck will appear in restaurant queries, allowing searchers to jump to an ordering site or app. At the onset, Google is working with six partners: Seamless, Grubhub,, BeyondMenu, and Yelp’s Eat24.

A Google spokeswoman said Google plans to add more partners beyond the inaugural six. And she stressed that partners, some who are regular buyers of search ads, aren’t paying for the service and may enjoy the traffic boost.

In general here, Google is trying to look like it is playing nice. Notice that, in its announcement, it featured Eat24, the platform owned by Yelp, with whom Google has a very nasty and very public history.

Still, Google’s expansion onto their turf should give all of them pause. They need only look a month back, when the search giant decided to square off against its hotel booking advertisers.

But Jed Kleckner, CEO of, one of the service’s launch partners, insisted that he is not concerned with Google cannibalizing sales from his online marketplace. Instead, he sees the search engine’s move as validation for the industry — and a logical step. “It’s natural that companies like Google are able to close the last mile,” he said. “It wasn’t a question of if. It was a question of when.”

For some watching Google’s bigger commerce plans, the if still remains. The Internet behemoth moved into local reviews with its purchase of Zagat in 2011, but its strategy for the offering has been inconsistent. It has flirted with on-demand services, but has yet to fully jump in. In November, Tom Fallows, the head of Google Express, its same-day delivery service experiment, departed for Uber. Victoria Ransom, a Google product director who joined via the acquisition of social startup Wildfire, now leads the effort.

For Google, the new food-ordering feature could provide a foot in the door of the burgeoning on-demand economy. Its fresh mobile ads for hotels and cars are meant to recruit more marketing dollars that can be tied to sales, or so-called direct response ads. Those have been moving in droves to Facebook. What ties both announcements together is how to point to Google’s current emphasis on mobile.

At times, it seems Google is still sorting out its game plan. At some point the week before last, it shuttered an earlier attempt at local-based search, the Local page within Google+. The standalone page was closed with the results moving to Google+ search, a spokeswoman said. In its stead is Collections, its new Google+ feature that closely resembles Pinterest.

* Pinterest executive Joanne Bradford is an independent board member of Re/code’s parent company Revere Digital, but has no involvement in our editorial process.

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