How, when, and why do mobile users engage with search?

So far, 2023 has been a big year for the smartphone market. For Apple iPhone users, the new iPhone 15 sports sleek, curved edges and thin bezels; the iOS features fast multitasking. Like Apple devices, Samsung’s new Galaxy S23 for Android users will have a smooth look, plus a powerful mobile operating system and better battery life (Plus and Ultra models).

As Android phones and iPhones go, these mobile devices and their new features aren’t just beautiful; they’re state-of-the-art mini computing machines, with more power, lower latency, and impressive functionality, including modern user interfaces. And as these Android smartphone and Apple iOS device models keep moving up in this ecosystem and claiming global market share, they’re becoming our primary computer devices.

In the second quarter of 2022, mobile devices generated just less than 59% of global website traffic, outrunning desktop (and tablet, such as iPad) traffic.

This is key data for business leaders who are concerned about meeting their users’ needs by creating online search that brings customers to their companies’ doorsteps. With so many mobile phone users opting to web search on their devices, it’s important that online-business execs understand how, when, and why consumers are using their phones to search.   

What is mobile search? 

When someone does a mobile search, they’re querying an online search engine using a mobile device that’s connected to the Internet. That’s distinctly different from doing a search on a desktop computer in terms of both the type of device and the typical parameters (how, when, and why users are looking for content). 

Where mobile is headed 

  • Since 2017 (Statista), mobile has been the predominant way people search for online content. This was reflected in Google’s 2019 Mobile-first indexing update, which dubbed mobile as the primary search method
  • Last year (2022), the percentage of retail sales produced on mobile nearly doubled, from 3.5% in 2018 to 6.9%
  • By 2025, that figure is projected to go above 10% 
  • By the end of 2023, location-based mobile ad campaigns should exceed $32 billion 
  • The mobile marketing industry has a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22% 
  • Among the global online population, 27% use voice search (speaking queries) on mobile 


In what specific ways are searchers using their mobile phones? Here are a few key trends: 

Through paid search

Paid traffic predominantly comes from mobile users. For instance, a majority of ad clicks come from Google search on mobile devices — people searching for a brand or topic and clicking an ad to go to an ecommerce store. So for online businesses that advertise (for instance, on social media), as well as those that want to rank well organically on Google, it’s important to optimize for mobile, whether you want to attract new users or just retain current customers. 

While on the go 

The beauty of mobile phones is that they travel with you, courtesy of convenient GPS tracking and location services for quick connectivity. That means you have the bandwidth to conduct searches for what’s near you — local restaurants, shopping, entertainment. And people love that: about 82% of mobile shoppers type “near me” in their search bars to find geographically relevant results. 

What does this mean for online businesses, especially those that also have brick-and-mortar stores? Their mobile apps (and websites) must be optimized for location-based searches. You can do this by inputting clear addresses and using geographically specific keywords (the name of your product matched with your location, for instance), so that when someone searches for “pancakes in Burlington”, they find you.

By picking up the phone

Think telephone directories are a thing of the past, or that people no longer bother with phone calls? It’s true that phone directories no longer exist as books of digits that get strewn on your doorstep. However, people still like to pick up their phone and make contact with a human at the end of the line. And fortunately for those folks, the Internet has essentially become a digital version of the phone book.

When it comes to smartphone users, 60% have directly contacted a business using search results appearing on their mobile phone. For online businesses and ecommerce sites, that means it’s particularly smart to include a “Call business” option right up front.  


In comparison to when they’re using a desktop machine, when do people search for content on a mobile phone? Some key findings: 

When the mood strikes 

Mobile search isn’t just first in terms of popularity, it’s also typically the initial search method people use in the purchasing cycle. Mobile users tend to research on mobile first to discover what’s available — for instance, they do a quick initial search for an item on Amazon while commuting or waiting in line for coffee — and then follow up with a desktop-computer search closer to the time when they make the purchase.

So for online businesses, creating a mobile search experience that lends itself to people’s being on the go is a must. You can create a winning mobile experience in various ways, such as by taking into account the fact that mobile search strings — at least those for foods and beverages — are often longer (in terms of characters) and tend to consist of questions.

Throughout the day

How many hours a day do people spend immersed in their mobile phones? According to App Annie, it’s an average of 4.8 hours — roughly a third of the time they’re awake.

For online businesses, that means optimization for mobile platforms is key. Your potential customers are used to a mobile-friendly user experience, and if they don’t get one, they may very well go try out a competitor that already has the mobile experience nailed.

When work’s a bore 

Fun fact: more than half (52%) of the phone checking people do occurs during work hours. Yes, people use their phones more on weekdays, compared with weekends. As managers are well aware, phones are an easy gateway to distraction. Discovery of things to read, buy, or explore on mobile phones is a way to counter boredom not just at work but whenever a situation seems too mundane to simply live through.

For online businesses, that again highlights the importance of app developers creating a mobile search experience that’s slick, dynamic, and engaging. 


The smartphone is king: it’s more popular than other devices, it generates more online traffic than other devices, and its functionality is advancing faster than that of a computer. There are several reasons for this phenomenon:  

It’s here, there, and everywhere 

The obvious reason for the smartphone’s dominance is its portability. Compared with other types of devices, we have easy, continual access to our take-everywhere phones, so we naturally reach for them, whether to pose a search query by verbally asking a philosophical question or simply entering a query about a good place to eat lunch.

It’s a personal assistant

The smartphone has become many things besides a phone, including a personal assistant. Mobile users are asking Siri, Alexa, and other digital assistants more questions and getting help from mobile applications more than ever. They’re also conducting more-personal data searches (e.g., those related to mental health) on their smartphones.

When people are engaging with digital personal assistants, they expect the experience to be, well, personalized. That means mobile app designers and ecommerce store managers should do their best to provide search — including voice search — that is attuned to natural language and “w” searches (when, what, why, where?). Companies can also optimize their mobile apps and websites for improved personalization.

Young people love it 

Younger folk (the 18–25 age group) are more likely to use mobile devices to search than the 25+ crowd, which portends wider adoption of mobile in the future. If your online business serves a younger demographic, mobile optimization should be on your short list.  

It’s compact 

Compared with desktop computers, smartphones’ small screen sizes aren’t great for serious high-density reading or research. However, their pocket size and take-everywhere usability more than make up for that drawback. Plus, people can always go read in-depth material on their spacious-screen Mac or PC when they get home.

An upwardly mobile world 

The online landscape is undoubtedly changing. Mobile has taken the lead over desktop in the (metaphorical) boxing ring, but the match isn’t over. In fact, there could be more rounds, as some desktop platforms are starting to integrate popular mobile-app-like functionality on web pages.

Still, the mobile user experience is clearly off and running. With that in mind, ecommerce businesses intent on success must expertly meet the needs of an increasingly mobile-focused world. 

One way to do it: implement search that works well on mobile devices. Algolia’s search API can help your mobile users: 

  • Find what they need fast while they’re on the go 
  • Quickly track down relevant local content 
  • Voice search with native browser speech-to-text support  

Motivated to create a fantastic mobile-first search experience for your users and give your conversion rate a reason to jump? Discover impressive mobile search by getting in touch with us today!

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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