Quick-‘n-Dirty methods to determine which competing label is better: “Cell Phone” or “Mobile Phone”?

On the SIGIA-L mailing list, Stephanie Berger recently asked: “My cohorts are not sure whether to use “cell phone” or “mobile phone”. Any evidence that one is better than the other, or one is used more often than the other?”

This is a good example of the kind of labeling questions information architects face all the time. The answer to these labeling questions will depend on the target audience (a better label for whom?), on business requirements (maybe the business want to promote one term over the other) and on the context in which the label will be used.

I’ll discuss the conversation that followed here and afterwards point to some useful tools for if you have a labeling question yourself.

Andres Sulleiro: “Without any empirical data I will go with my own opinion. […] A quick survey of the phone carriers seems to suggest that “wireless” (as in “wireless phone”, “wireless customer”) is most common among US carriers, though you see some references to “mobile” as well. T-mobile, a European company, uses “mobile” which is more common in Europe as well as being the name of the carrier.”

Method: check what other websites call it.

Jason Cho: “I think “cell” is more widespread in the US as Andr�s noted. “Call my mobile” can sound pretentious to Yankee ears. But I would think everyone understands the term “mobile” on a business card.”

Method: personal experience.

Peter Van Dijck (and others): “Google for “cell phone” (including quotes): 6,230,000, Google for “mobile phone”: 6,360,000. Looks like a tie, assuming your audience is similar. Just pick one and make sure your search engine knows both terms.”
Christina Wodtke: “Yahoo for cell phone : 16,800,000, yahoo for mobile phone: 21,200,000. What does this really tell you? you’d have to know who each engine indexes, how much of the web, etc.. better to use a magic 8 ball. ;-)”

Method: check popularity of the terms on the web.

Peter Van Dijck: “My next step would be to find out what people search for on your site,
or if not available, on the web (assuming that’s more or less your audience). Google adwords can help.”

Method: Find out what people (preferably your target audience) search for.

Dave: “I like “mobile” for the reason that Christina stated (forward compatibility); USers and non-USers will equally understand it. Also, it is more interoperable w/ most of the vCard based addressbook programs out there. I don’t know any that are using “cell” or “cellphone” … I also like the clear and easy two word approach of “mobile phone” … I’m always wanting to say “cellphone” where “cell phone” is really the more correct version. “cell” though just doesn’t feel like a real word b/c the “cell” doesn’t fit a meaning to me. I know what it means if I am forced to think about it, but it really doesn’t mean anything to me at all.”

Method: personal experience, check what software programs use.

Christina Wodtke: “> As can Overture’s keyword tool (couldn’t find URL straight away).

You also might consider some adaptation of the freelisting technique on a subset of your target. E.G., a write in survey: what portable electronics do you own, then analyze for use of “cell phone” and mobile phone”.

Method: freelisting technique.

Eric Reiss: “Having worked closely with several telecommunications companies, including Tellabs (US), Nortel (Canada), ADVA (Germany), and NetTest (Denmark), this discussion is one I’ve heard before. Europeans generally don’t recognize the term “cell phone.” North Americans seem to accept both “cell” and “mobile.” ATT insists on promoting the term “wireless.” In most instances, we’ve agreed on the word “mobile” since it is understood by the widest audience. Nortel, for instance, used “cell” almost exclusively until the late 90s, but now leans toward “mobile.” I think there is a trend here.”

Method: ask the subject matter experts.

Pabini Gabriel-Petit: “There’s also Wordtracker.
[…]
In this vein, you might try just walking up to people, holding up your cell/mobile phone, and asking them what they call it.”

Method: Analyze what people search for.

Method: Find out what labels your users use.

Quick-‘n-Dirty methods to determine which competing label is better.

So, as a review, here are some of the methods used to determine which label is better.

1. What do you think?
Method: personal experience/insights.

2. What do your users think?
Method: freelisting technique.
Method: Find out what labels your users use: show them the item you’re trying to label and ask them what it is. (You could build an online tool for this).
Method: Find out what people (preferably your target audience) search for / check popularity of the terms on the web. Overture’s keyword tool. Google adwords. Wordtracker. Google and Yahoo both list how often a term is used on the web (use quotes around your terms!).

3. What do the experts think?
Method: ask the subject matter experts.
Method: check what other websites/software call it.

Gotcha’s: be careful when using these techniques. You are looking for a label that works for your audience and your business requirements. Most of these techniques use audiences that may be very different from yours, and most are indicative only (ie: they’re not hard science). Use your judgement.

5 thoughts on “Quick-‘n-Dirty methods to determine which competing label is better: “Cell Phone” or “Mobile Phone”?

  1. Additional methods:

    * look at your referrer logs to see what keywords were used at google et al to arrive at your site (assumes both terms present?)

    * look at your own search logs to see what terms your users use (see AccidentalThesaurus at the IAwiki)

  2. Additional methods:

    * look at your referrer logs to see what keywords were used at google et al to arrive at your site (assumes both terms present?)

    * look at your own search logs to see what terms your users use (see AccidentalThesaurus at the IAwiki)

  3. My perspective comes from having been the principal information architect for the largest consumer electronics retailer for more than four years.

    The business units wanted one thing: “wireless” is so hip and cutting edge. Online customers searched for many variations of “cell phones” and virtually nada for “wireless phones” or “mobile phones.” The content for this product line was created in-house, so there was no technical barrier to the label itself. When customers were using the term “wireless” in their search queries it was almost exclusively coupled with computing or audio terms; wireless mouse, wireless routers, wireless headphones, wireless speakers, wireless networking.

    In this context, cell phone is more appropriate than wireless phones. This data comes from many millions of search engine queries.

  4. My perspective comes from having been the principal information architect for the largest consumer electronics retailer for more than four years.

    The business units wanted one thing: “wireless” is so hip and cutting edge. Online customers searched for many variations of “cell phones” and virtually nada for “wireless phones” or “mobile phones.” The content for this product line was created in-house, so there was no technical barrier to the label itself. When customers were using the term “wireless” in their search queries it was almost exclusively coupled with computing or audio terms; wireless mouse, wireless routers, wireless headphones, wireless speakers, wireless networking.

    In this context, cell phone is more appropriate than wireless phones. This data comes from many millions of search engine queries.

  5. My perspective comes from having been the principal information architect for the largest consumer electronics retailer for more than four years.

    The business units wanted one thing: “wireless” is so hip and cutting edge. Online customers searched for many variations of “cell phones” and virtually nada for “wireless phones” or “mobile phones.” The content for this product line was created in-house, so there was no technical barrier to the label itself. When customers were using the term “wireless” in their search queries it was almost exclusively coupled with computing or audio terms; wireless mouse, wireless routers, wireless headphones, wireless speakers, wireless networking.

    In this context, cell phone is more appropriate than wireless phones. This data comes from many millions of search engine queries.

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