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Google tops mobile search but Yahoo close behind: Study

Google?s mobile search site, with its minimalist interface, format-specific device detection and location-awareness capabilities, was ranked No. 1 for mobile search in a Yankee Group study.

The search giant earned an 81 and Yahoo earned a 76, with points taken off for factors such as extraneous content and HTML validation errors. The new report, ?Best of the Anywhere Web 2009,? shows that mobile sites are learning to improve their user experience, but many still earned a failing grade.

?Google?s search environment looks simple, but its workings are anything but,? said Carl Howe, director at the Yankee Group, Boston, in the report. ?The site not only does mobile device detection, but also uses location information from users? phones and/or IP addresses to tailor search results.

?Further, the site generates pick-lists in real time for the most popular search items, minimizing typing on mobile phone keyboards,? he said.

?Finally, the fact that Google will reformat search results for the mobile phone detected just makes the experience that much better.?

Yahoo doesn?t have a dedicated search page. Instead, it makes search a component of its home page, which brought its grade lower than Google?s.

According to the report, like Google, Yahoo pulls location information from the phone if it is available and uses that information for local searches.

Mr. Howe said Microsoft?s Bing search engine is just getting started both on the mobile Web and PC Internet. Microsoft?s new search engine?s score reflects that newcomer status.

Bing?s mobile search offers five functions: search, directions, traffic, weather and movies.

Low marks came from users having to type in their location rather than having the site autodetect it.

?Bing is quite usable on mobile devices, but its lack of maturity puts it a peg below its more experienced competitors,? Mr. Howe said.

According to the report, Taptu combines social networking with search, but tries too hard.

The search site allows consumers to search music, videos, images and the Web while returning only mobile content. However, its homepage is cluttered with extraneous information such as top charts and shares, which is often irrelevant to the consumer.

The ability to share mobile search results via Twitter or e-mail is interesting, but the mobile focus just is not enough to make up for the extra bandwidth consumed nor its interface shortcomings, per Mr. Howe?s report.

?Nonetheless, if the site focuses more on delivering only what the consumer is looking for and a few related items, it could become a real mobile competitor in the future,? Mr. Howe said.

The best (mostly worst) of the rest
For news, Google and Yahoo trump major news organizations like Reuters, the Associated Press and CNN.

According to the report, the Wall Street Journal provides great business data, but the paper?s mobile Web site doesn?t offer SMS alerts. Mr. Howe said news organizations fall short at adapting their content for mobile users.

The New York Times and MSN both bombard users with too much information on the front page, the study found.

Major League Baseball?s mobile offerings knock it out of the park compared to its competitors like ESPN, CBS Sports and NBC Sports. detects each visitor?s phone-type and adapts the amount of content it displays based on the screen size and power of the phone detected.

?The vast majority of sites are still struggling to deliver a good mobile experience to a wide audience,? Mr. Howe said. ?Despite the successes noted above, the average score this year is only 52, two points lower than last year.?