mInfo Inc., the leading Chinese mobile search provider, is releasing some key search statistics that shed light on real user behavior and the state of the sector in the world's largest wireless phone market. With the popularization of wireless search in the last couple of years, China's wireless search market has developed rapidly starting from 2006. Many consumers have begun to touch on and enjoy the benefits of wireless search services. The industry value chain and roles of the mobile search providers, mobile carriers, handset manufacturers, ad agencies and mobile advertisers have all become much clearer.
Although some new players entered the market in 2007, there was also a shake out of the less competitive firms who focused solely on WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) for delivering their services. The delays in 3G license issuance and network deployment combined with new carrier data pricing/access policies have caused considerable strain on these firms as active WAP users actually decreased from 2006 levels. Fortunately, users found alternative means of accessing the information they needed. According to iResearch, the number of mobile search users grew to 61 million by the end of 2007, and is forecasted to reach 117 million by 2008 and to over 200 million by 2010.
As the only mobile search provider in China offering cross-platform services via SMS, WAP, instant messenger (IM) and on-phone applets, mInfo was certainly a beneficiary of this shift in the market. Even in the US market where 3G has already been deployed for several years and SMS adoption is much lower than in China, last month Nielson released a report stating that the US SMS search user base is almost twice the size of the US WAP search user base. In a market like China where SMS and Mobile IM adoption are both significantly higher than WAP adoption, the need for multi-transport mobile search services is clear.
"With the amount of user behavioral information we see each day, mInfo has a unique view into the habits and cultural trends of the Chinese people," said Alvin Wang Graylin, CEO. "This level of insight allows us to provide more relevance to our users in their search results and continue delivering new informational services they really want. In this market where 85% of the population hasn't used a computer, mInfo's mobile search is bringing the benefits of on-demand information to the masses."
The top five search topic categories for 2007 were:
3. Ring tones/Pictures
4. Weather/Travel information
5. Leisure/Recreational Content
Compared with 2006, Dining/Entertainment is still the most popular search topic, but Stock/Financial searches have jumped from fourth place into second, with a traffic increase almost eight times greater. This is certainly not surprising given the mass interest in the financial markets after another year of over 100% growth.
The data showed some interesting trends, like that SMS and IM users had a greater tendency to do Local and Informational searches, whereas WAP and applet users tended to do more rich content searches. SMS and IM users were also more geographically diverse having a greater spread of users across a broader set of cities compared to WAP users, which were overrepresented in the Guangdong province. Since mInfo also operates the leading English language mobile search service in China (Guanxi), it has some unique views on the behavior of English-speaking foreigners in China. Foreign mobile search users were on average twice as active as Chinese users and tended to focus more on Local Search instead of other categories of services. They also tended to be on average older and had a larger proportion of professionals and executives than the Chinese user base.
mInfo also found that the query model for mobile search is quite different from web search. Mobile searchers tended to use query phrases (5-6 words/query) compared with web searchers who on average used about one to two keywords per query. We find that mobile searchers tend to input phrases with qualifiers to improve specificity in an effort to increase relevance and get more precise answers in a shorter amount of time. mInfo's unique natural language search capabilities are perfectly suited to this type of user behavior. mInfo's able to decipher the intent of semi-complex user queries and provide highly relevant answers and not just a long list of potentially relevant links. This allows users to find what they are looking for in just 1- 2 steps as opposed to the iterative search refinements and numerous clicks needed to complete a traditional Web or WAP search session.
mInfo's registered users increased by over 100% compared with 2006, a significant portion of which were coming from the younger part of the population. Users under the age of 25 comprised about 50% of total users with students accounting for over 28% of users. This is fairly consistent with the early technology adopter profile of this user segment. Data also shows a healthy mix of white-collar workers/professionals who comprised over 32% of total users. This statistic is higher than what most wireless sites/services see, but hardly surprising for mInfo since it targets many services specifically to this market segment. The three key coastal markets of Shanghai, Beijing and the Pearl River Delta region, accounted for almost half of mInfo's users. The mix between male and female are fairly even at 53% and 47% respectively.
"Based on user growth and increased interest from advertisers, mobile search and mobile advertising are definitely trends for 2008 and beyond," said Alvin Wang Graylin, CEO. "mInfo is proud to be in the forefront of this exciting space and playing a critical role in setting its direction at such an important time in the life cycle of this new media in China."