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The Risks and Rewards of Advertising on Cell Phones and Mobile Devices

May 1, 2010

By Marc Purtell
Why Advertise on Mobile Devices
A recent Pew Internet report found that 53% of adults access the Internet on mobile devices. With the constantly increasing usage of mobile phones and other mobile devices to access the Internet, mobile advertising becomes increasingly important in order to reach a large audience. Running advertisements on mobile devices such as smart phones, PDAs, and iPads is fairly simple to do, but you need to be careful when choosing the mobile devices you wish to advertise on. There are rewards to mobile advertising, such as targeting a specific market, but there are also risks, such as accidental clicks.
How to Advertise on Mobile Devices
The simplest way to advertise on mobile phones, iPads, and other devices is to launch a pay per click advertising campaign. Pay per click advertising vendors give you a great deal of control over who sees your ads, how much you spend, and even how much return you can expect. Google Adwords (, is great for mobile advertising because you determine if your ads are displayed on mobile devices and you can even determine which specific mobile devices on which your ads will be displayed.
In order to set your ads to be displayed on mobile devices, you need to first set up a pay per click campaign. You can then go into the settings of your campaign and locate the “Networks and devices” section seen below.
This is where you are given the power to not only determine which mobile devices you want your ads to display on, but even which service carriers.
The Rewards
The great thing about mobile advertising is that you can be very granular with your device targeting by choosing only specific mobile operating systems (iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, Palm Web OS, iPad) to advertise on or only specific service carriers (Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, etc.). This is especially useful if you are advertising a product that is specific to a certain mobile phone or service. For example, if you are selling iPhone chargers, you can be sure that only people with iPhones see your ads by advertising only on iPhones. In cases like this, you can laser focus your advertising to your target audience.
The Risks
Since your ads will run on all devices by default, you need to manually change the device targeting settings in each of your pay per click campaigns if you do not want your ads running on all devices. The problem with this default targeting is that unless you are promoting a product or service specifically for mobile devices, running ads on mobile devices can decrease your conversion rates.
The main reason for the lowered conversion rate on mobile devices is accidental clicks. As most people with a touch screen mobile browser can tell you, it takes a lot of precision to click on the right place on the screen. There are many free applications for smart phones that display pay per click ads within the app. The problem is that the ad is often very close to a function of the application, leading many people to click on the ad when they do not mean to. This results in a wasted click.
Another reason for a lower conversion rate on mobile phones is the added difficulty it takes to fill out a form or make a purchase. If you have a lead form on your landing page, it takes much longer for someone to fill it out on a mobile phone than with a computer keyboard. This will cause many mobile users to abandon the form. On larger devices, such as the iPad, this is not an issue as long as you set your mobile targeting on iPads exclusively.
With this in mind, many of you will still want to run your ads only on computers. If you are selling a device-specific product like an iPhone case, then it is probably worthwhile to test your ads on iPhones. If not, you will reduce wasted clicks by removing mobile devices from your campaign targeting.
Recommendation: Test a mobile device advertising campaign with a small budget to see how well it performs for your business.