Just Behave, A Look at Searcher Behavior

February 11, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

I’m sorry. I have no witty banter to share with you. My tummy has been attacked my gremlins and is now causing me a great amount of pain. But have no fear, we shall overcome in the spirit of liveblogging goodness. [raises fist]

Here we have Gord Hotchkiss pulling double duty moderating speakers Larry Cornett, Ramez Naam, Jenni Tafoya, and speaking himself. Showoff.

Jenni is up first. Everyone say hello to Jenni.

Search had a strong growth last year.

Heavy searchers are contributing most to the growth with their overall and obsessive contributions to the category.  Why is it up? There are more people online than last year. 7 million more, to be exact.  And they’re searching more. Yey, search!

Consumers have become more reliant on search. They’re conducting more searchers per day and searching for an additional two days a week.

Where are searchers coming from? 67 percent are coming from the search engines, with the rest coming from nonsearch engine traffic.

Key Takeaways

  • The search marketing industry is strong
  • Marketers may want to consider moving some of their budget outside of the traditional engines, but engines still reign at driving traffic and quality leads.
  • Retail and other industries with lower paid search clickthrough need to measure paid search effectiveness on view-through.

Opportunities to expand search marketing campaigns outside of traditional search engines

Video search explodes driven by YouTube

Local, image, social neworking also showing strong growth.

Looking at the clicks:

Strong click growth, driven by organic clicks.   Within paid search, monetization is down and the click-through rate is flat. When we look at just those searches that had a paid click, we find that people are clicking on fewer paid links (finding what they want the first time?).

What are consumers searching for? The top categories are directories and resources, retail and entertainment. Retailers putting dollars into paid search, but paid click through has room for improvement, underscoring the need to measure view-through.

Gord is up. I hope he doesn’t have to moderate himself too harshly. This could get awkard.

Searching is an interesting indicator into what’s happening in people’s minds. If you follow search trends, you’re following what’s interesting people at any one time. Searching helps identify who we are and what we’re interested in.  Humans are driven by pretty easy parameters. We want gain or we want to defend what we have. That human behavior is being played out in a search.

Gord says he threw in a golden triangle slide to appease their marketing guy. That’s their branding. Hehe.

He talks about a UCLA study that was done where there were four different stimuli shown to participants.  The baseline was a white bar that shouldn’t indicate brain activity. They showed the participants reading text like it would look on a book, text on a search engine and on a Web site and measured brain activity. Basically, the people who are Internet savvy had their brains light up when they were searching. It’s just a little bit scary. They were having a much more engaged reaction with search. The non-search savvy people didn’t have their brain light up. I am holding back SO many jokes.

Gord starts explaining the anatomy of the brain and I start looking at the wall. There are pictures of the brain  up now. The wall is still there. Something about hippos. More staring at the wall. Okay, we’re moving on.

He thinks search has come to the point where we do a lot of it by habit.  We do it because it’s a more efficient way of processing.

Cognitive Switch: We start on autopilot and we’ve got a conditioned scanning behavior. We start at the top, we scan down, we scan across. He shows how in the first 1.5 seconds, users focus on the top triangle of a page. We’re conditioned to look at the upper left for relevance. There’s that branding again. At some point, that cognitive switch has to happen so we go back to engagement.   There’s something called the popout factor. We’re looking for something that breaks up the pattern to show us relevancy.

Things to think about

  • Much of our search behavior is done on auto pilot.
  • We search by habit
  • As we learn to do this, we free up our brain to more fully interact with the results we see.
  • We become fluent in search
  • We may pattern match to determine relevancy

That was entirely over my head. Gord is a smart man.

Larry is next.

Talking to users

  • Explore issues users are having with current search experiences.
  • Get their responses to products we have launched
  • Get their feedback on work in progress

What did they hear? Information overload. Text overload. Impersonal experiences.

Information Overload

  • They are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information returned. They think it’s daunting and they’re not happy about it. It scares them. They don’t know where to start.

Text Overload

  • Text-heavy search result pages provide meager decision-making information.  People will augment the experience by printing things out, using Post-Its. They’re doing our work. We need to help them.

Impersonal Experiences

  • Repeatedly needs to “reintroduce” themselves to their search engine. Have to keep telling the engines where you live, what you care about, etc. If I search for [haircut], the average user isn’t trying to get the history of the haircut.

The Internet supports life activity and Search needs to keep pace. Understand their true intent and provide a richer, more personally relevant experiences.

Provide a richer experience. Give them something that will cause them to remember their interaction with you. Trigger the popout effect.  If they don’t have that, it’s a whole lot of text for them to wade through to find the information they’re after.  Give them a personally relevant experience.

Ramez is going to help us finish things up.

Knowledge is power. If you understand a phenomen, you can use it to your advantage. If you don’t, you can’t.

The Microsoft guy is searching on Google. That’s cute. In Image Search, half of queries view the second page of results.  He goes to Image Search on Live and shows how they don’t force people to hit next page. There’s a scroll bar. Oh. I get it now. Well played, Microsoft Guy.

Understand your users. Understand what they’re doing. That will give you the ability to improve your business. Searchers don’t really behave in individual searchers. They behave in tasks.  The traditional model of search is query, click, convert.

What we’re seeing:

  • Most customer time is not on single query
  • Definitely not on easy queries
  • Customers engage in whole tasks
  • Tasks involve trigger, research and action
  • This has implications

Most search sessions are less than three minutes. But if you weight the sessions by time spent, almost half is spent in these long researchy-type sessions.

Possible Lessons

  • Assume people will hunt around before they act
  • Help them hunt with good content and good hunting tools
  • Draw them back with that same good content and the stickiness of your project
  • Look at conversion in a new light
  • Think long term relationship and brand
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