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Searching for Balance

  |  April 30, 2004   |  Comments

Not all search campaigns are created equal, as Internet users reveal which engines provide the most relevant organic and paid results.

Internet users are more likely to click on an organic search link on Google, and a paid search result on MSN, a report from iProspect finds. The online survey of 1,649 individuals, conducted by the search engine marketing firm, in conjunction with Survey Sampling International, WebSurveyor, and Stratagem Research, revealed how Internet users rely on search results -- information helpful to marketers hoping to better focus their campaign efforts.

Fredrick Marckini, CEO of iProspect, suggests that marketers examine how search resources are allocated. "In our experience, many large organizations have search marketing campaigns that are terribly lopsided," he said. "They're either all paid, or all natural. If they include both tactics, they are managed by different internal owners, and often different agencies. Often these owners do not communicate or even share conversion or traffic data – intelligence that would inform and improve both campaigns."

Nearly evenly split along gender, the iProspect survey participants represented a sample of highly functioning Internet users. Roughly 90 percent surf the Internet at least once per day; 71 percent spend at least 10 hours per week online; more than three-quarters surf at home; 83 percent have at least four years of online experience; and 56 percent connect at high speed.

The survey revealed that across the four major search properties – Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL – just over 60 percent of respondents found an organic search result to be most relevant to the sample query. However, respondents preferred one type of search over another, depending on the property.

Most Relevant Search Result
(Determined by % of Search Engine Users)
Property Organic Paid
Google 72.3% 27.7%
Yahoo 60.8% 39.2%
MSN 28.8% 71.2%
AOL 50% 50%
Source: iProspect, Survey Sampling International, WebSurveyor, and Stratagem Research

The report speculates that Google and Yahoo give their organic listings more prominence, or they may identify paid listings more clearly, therefore eliminating clicks from searchers who are mistrustful of ads.

Search engine campaigns should be analyzed frequently, so the proper balance can be established. "With MSN clicks so heavily skewed toward paid advertisements, if you review your log files and determine you are not receiving sufficient traffic from MSN, it would make sense to notch up your Overture spend – which powers paid the search results on MSN – to correct that deficiency," suggested Marckini.

Earlier installments of the iProspect survey identified search engine loyalty among 57 percent of the respondents, with Google leading the pack among 66 percent of faithful search engine users. Yahoo was next highly ranked by search engine loyalists with 55 percent; followed by MSN with 54 percent; and AOL with 49 percent. March 2004 traffic measurements from Nielsen//NetRatings mirror the findings of the search engine popularity contest, while also adding Ask Jeeves into the mix.

"Given Google's traffic dominance in general, the survey definitely suggests that companies who are not engaged in natural SEO [search engine optimization] are missing a tremendous opportunity. If 70 percent of the clicks are occurring in the natural results, many advertisers are losing clicks to their competitors who have invested in natural SEO."

Marckini continued, "Then again, attaining top-10 rankings in Google is hard work, and being found when someone searches is better than not being found. Again, even in light of the 70/30 split in Google, we advise clients to execute both a paid and organic strategy in Google. Some people who click on ads may not click on natural and vice-versa. Search marketing today requires that companies address the entire search result page, not just the left or the right side."

Top Online Search Destinations, March 2004
(U.S., Home and Work)
Property Unique Audience Active Reach Time per Person
Google 65,080,000 42.27% 0:30:06
Yahoo 48,153,000 31.28% 0:12:05
MSN 44,919,000 29.18% 0:07:41
AOL 21,739,000 14.12% 0:14:58
Ask Jeeves 14,444,000 9.38% 0:07:40
Note: AutoSearch error pages have been removed from the rankings
for MSN and Yahoo. The sites in the above table that do not exclude
AutoSearch error pages consequently reflect higher audience traffic.
Source: Nielsen//NetRatings, March 2004

"The iProspect Search Engine User Attitudes Survey makes it very clear that any strategy that does not integrate paid search advertising and natural search optimization is inadequate and leaves money on the table. The paid and natural search marketing campaigns must be executed simultaneously, hand-in-hand, and in a perfect world, have the same owner," concluded Marckini.

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