Audience Segmentation and Targeting Using Search Behaviour

  |  April 27, 2011   |  Comments   |  

A step-by-step approach to segment and target your audience using search data.

My previous columns covered a few oft-talked about topics such as the importance of having brand search exposure, promotional impact on user search behaviour, and a quick peek at the site visitor journey and its importance. In this column, I will attempt to draw a picture of how to 'segment and target' your audience using their 'search – research' related data and how this can be a very pertinent exercise that has valuable connotations for your other media strategies as well.

The Unconscious Search

Most of the time when we search, we are unconscious of the 'road that we travel' to reach our ultimate objective; dearth of time owing to the maddening pace of our lives being the culprit. But if we were to take a hard look at the way we tend to search, it almost always follows a behaviour that can be broadly mapped from 'very generic' to 'very specific' direction, whatever the item searched may be. A 'feline' example is seen below which I believe the reader can effortlessly relate with:

Pet food --> cat food --> best food for cats --> best food for Siamese cats --> Singapore cat food online

The above journey represents just one of the thousands of journeys that are used to 'open and close' the very same requirement (in this case, cat food) when they hit a search engine. And there are multitudes of search term phrases combinations deployed by the searchers as they unconsciously refine and re-refine their searches as they advance along their journey to the final discovery. But in real life, if one attempts to delve deeper into the journey depicted above, it may not turn out to be a very cognitive experience given the amount of back and forth involved, the number of sites (including reviews, forums, and other user-generated content) involved, the time period involved and finally, the sheer number of keywords used – all of which depends on the 'item' itself searched for (read: the requirement of the person who searches)

Arriving at the Anatomy of Search Behaviour

As a marketer who is very sensitive to the achievement of online media objectives, the above behaviour assumes a critical dimension simply because when one looks in to the search query data, homogenous clusters begin to emerge and from those clusters, audience segments begin to emerge, and from those audience segments, strategies and decision-making starts to emerge.

How does one go about arriving at the above scenario? The answer is quite simple. If you are a marketer with a 'serious' search marketing program (by serious, I mean a long-term, high investment program) then you can start with engaging your agency to lay down the existent keyword pool (and search queries matched against your ads) and discover patterns based on the search keywords/phrases.

If you do not have a large scale program ongoing or if you do not practice search marketing as a channel itself, I urge you to try the Google Keyword Tool to churn out a list of actual search terms for your product and category before you can begin to find patterns. There are a few other good tools like Wordtracker and Microsoft Adcenter Labs that can aid in generating a very robust set of keywords for audience behaviour discovery.

Arriving at the User Segments

Once a robust keyword search query pool has been collated, it is just a matter of identifying what are those 'root searches' that audiences are engaging (the 'head' terms with highest search volumes) and then identifying the 'variation searches' that form the 'long tail' (which individually have low volumes but put together, have significant volumes; and hence the name). Although this varies considerably depending on the category/product, the above can be used as invariably as an overall guideline. The output of this exercise may be represented in multiple ways depending on the choice and comfort of the person in question. However, a few helpful ways of identifying the audience segments based on the search query analysis have been represented below:

For those of you who are 'conversion freaks', little surprise it should be to note that the brand-product related keyword searches invariably tend to be classified as the 'hot' or 'loyalists' or 'purchase' types given that they contribute the maximum from a revenue and conversion standpoint.

Targeting the User Segments

Once segmentation of the search queries has been executed, multiple 'messaging and communication' approaches can be created for each segment depending on what your priorities are. For example, some marketers may decide to just run search marketing targeting the product and brand phases (or loyalists/affine-types) only as those are the highest conversion clusters while others may choose not to target product and brand phases with the argument that they have very good natural search exposure (an almost clichéd argument these days).

Smarter marketers (with a more long-term vision) may also choose to target the earlier phases (awareness-education, marginal/fence-sitters, category type clusters) via display- and social media-led campaigns and SEM messages, as well in order to drive in-site engagement early and therefore build the future 'demand funnels'. In the 'feline' example given earlier, we can envisage a savvy marketer being present in pet forums with 'embedded content', in online pet sites with 'display led' messaging, in shopping sites with 'product sell-up' messaging via multiple tools, and finally sealing the gap through high paid search exposure for last mile conversion-led search queries.

In Conclusion

Search behaviour adds huge value to the way effective online strategies are crafted and also provide deep insights in to the online audience behaviour itself. Little do we realise that search engines hold the highest 'audience reach' figures across any given market and that gives more than good reason to make search behaviour as a basis of overall digital media planning.

I have rarely come across any marketer who uses search query/search behaviour data to create clearly defined audience segments that can be finely targeted via multiple digital channels/tactics. And I still see digital media and search marketing professionals existing in their own planets and I believe it is high time that someone (client marketers are you listening?) made this osmosis or reverse-osmosis a reality!

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Hari Shankar

Hari is the Asia Pacific director of Performics; the Publicis-Vivaki arm specialised in search marketing and digital campaign analytics based out of Singapore. <a href="">Performics</a> handles search marketing strategies for global brands such as Delta Airlines and Malaysia Airlines amongst others. Hari is a seasoned digital marketing professional with over 13 years experience in the AP region spanning integrated digital media strategy/planning, performance/ROI based marketing, digital media analytics, and measurement. His track record includes successfully building and deploying digital strategies for a repertoire of brands in Asia Pacific such as Singapore Airlines, Starwood Hotels &amp; Resorts, J&amp;J, Nike, Intel, Nokia, and Samsung to name a few. He was the global media director of BLUE Interactive SG (2008), having set up the digital media discipline there; served as the national director- Starcom IP India (2007); served as integrated media director for Dell South Asia (2006); set up Mediacom Interaction Singapore (2005); and was also director- Mindshare Interaction (2004). His interests include metaphysics, music, motorcycles, and life in the wild.

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