One of the most important elements to building an online marketing strategy around SEO and search rankings is feeling empathy for your audience. Once you grasp how the average searcher, and more specifically, your target market, uses search, you can more effectively reach and keep those users.
Search engine usage has evolved over the years but the primary principles of conducting a search remain largely unchanged. Listed here are the steps that comprise most search processes:
Experience the need for an answer, solution or piece of information.
Formulate that need in a string of words and phrases, also known as “the query.”
Execute the query at a search engine.
Browse through the results for a match.
Click on a result.
Scan for a solution, or a link to that solution.
If unsatisfied, return to the search results and browse for another link or…
Perform a new search with refinements to the query.
When this process results in the satisfactory completion of a task, a positive experience is created, both with the search engine and the site providing the information or result. Since the inception of web search, the activity has grown to heights of great popularity, such that in December of 2005, the Pew Internet & American Life Project (PDF Study in Conjunction with ComScore) found that 90% of online men and 91% of online women used search engines. Of these, 42% of the men and 39% of the women reported using search engines every day and more than 85% of both groups say they “found the information they were looking for.”
A Broad Picture with Fascinating Data
When looking at the broad picture of search engine usage, fascinating data is available from a multitude of sources. I’ve extracted those that are recent, relevant, and valuable, not only for understanding how users search, but in presenting a compelling argument about the power of search (which I suspect many readers of this guide may need to do for their managers):
An April 2010 study by comScore found:
- Google Sites led the U.S. core search market in April with 64.4 percent of the searches conducted, followed by Yahoo! Sites (up 0.8 percentage points to 17.7 percent), and Microsoft Sites (up 0.1 percentage points to 11.8 percent).
- Americans conducted 15.5 billion searches in April, up slightly from March. Google Sites accounted for 10 billion searches, followed by Yahoo! Sites (2.8 billion), Microsoft Sites (1.8 billion), Ask Network (574 million) and AOL LLC (371 million).
- In the April analysis of the top properties where search activity is observed, Google Sites led the search market with 14.0 billion search queries, followed by Yahoo! Sites with 2.8 billion queries and Microsoft Sites with 1.9 billion. Amazon Sites experienced sizeable growth during the month with an 8-percent increase to 245 million searches, rounding off the top 10 ranking.
An August 2008 PEW Internet Study revealed:
- The percentage of Internet users who use search engines on a typical day has been steadily rising from about one-third of all users in 2002, to a new high of just under one-half (49 percent).
- With this increase, the number of those using a search engine on a typical day is pulling ever closer to the 60 percent of Internet users who use e-mail, arguably the Internet’s all-time killer app, on a typical day.
A EightFoldLogic (formally Enquisite) report from 2009 on click-through traffic in the US showed:
- Google sends 78.43% of traffic.
- Yahoo! sends 9.73% of traffic.
- Bing sends 7.86% of traffic.
A July 2009 Forrester report remarked:
- Interactive marketing will near $55 billion in 2014.
- This spend will represent 21% of all marketing budgets.
A Yahoo! study from 2007 showed:
- Online advertising drives in-store sales at a 6:1 ratio to online sales.
- Consumers in the study spent $16 offline (in stores) to every $1 spent online.
Webvisible & Nielsen produced a 2007 report on local search that noted:
- 74% of respondents used search engines to find local business information vs. 65% who turned to print yellow pages, 50% who used Internet yellow pages, and 44% who used traditional newspapers.
- 86% surveyed said they have used the Internet to find a local business, a rise from the 70% figure reported last year (2006.)
- 80% reported researching a product or service online, then making that purchase offline from a local business.
A study on data leaked from AOL’s search query logs reveals:
- The first ranking position in the search results receives 42.25% of all click-through traffic
- The second position receives 11.94%, the third 8.47%, the fourth 6.05%, and all others are under 5%
- The first ten results received 89.71% of all click-through traffic, the next 10 results (normally listed on the second page of results) received 4.37%, the third page – 2.42%, and the fifth – 1.07%. All other pages of results received less than 1% of total search traffic clicks.
All of this impressive research data leads us to some important conclusions about web search and marketing through search engines. In particular, we’re able to make the following assumptions with relative surety:
- Search is very, very popular. It reaches nearly every online American, and billions of people around the world.
- Being listed in the first few results is critical to visibility.
- Being listed at the top of the results not only provides the greatest amount of traffic, but instills trust in consumers as to the worthiness and relative importance of the company/website.
- An incredible amount of offline economic activity is driven by searches on the web