Generic Search Terms Drive Most Buying

  |  December 14, 2004   |  Comments

New comScore/Overture study challenges preeminence of trademark-based searches.

Challenging the notion that online retailers and marketers should employ trademark-specific keywords, a new study by comScore and Overture finds the majority of consumers make purchases after searching only on general terms.

Conventional search marketing wisdom holds that searchers are more likely to use brand- or product-specific keywords as they grow closer to making a purchase, but the study finds that 83 percent of consumers start their search process with a generic term and only a relatively small percentage later refine their searches with a product-specific query.

The findings offer insight into the buying cycle of consumers that may prompt keyword advertisers to recalibrate their ROI assessments, according to Overture’s director of strategic alliances, Diane Rinaldo.

The report was based on the buying activity of Internet users who conducted a consumer electronics or computing search on one of the top 25 search engines in the first quarter of 2004. It found that the average online buying cycle is long, often over one month, with 85 percent of conversions categorized as "latent," or not resulting from a direct search session. Among conversions, 38 percent took place in weeks 5 to 12 of the buying cycle.

"What’s interesting about this data is that is reveals what most search analytics can not tell you," Rinaldo said. "Today’s keyword analytics measure the keyword the user came in on, not the keyword searched on just before entering. From a retail or marketing perspective on ROI, that leaves a large portion of the search market that they can’t measure."

When conducting a search for computing or consumer electronic products, the average search consumer conducts about 4 searches over a 12-week buying cycle. Those who purchase online execute approximately 12 searches.

The report also revealed that broad search terms that do not include a manufacturer name account for 70 percent of total search volume, and 60 percent of all conversions. Of those consumers who converted on a trademark keyword, 91 percent did so after starting with a different term type. A full 80 percent started with a generic search term. Trademark searches, meanwhile, accounted for 20 percent of all online searches.

As for conversions, an estimated 92 percent of all computing and consumer electronics purchases occur offline. Meanwhile, 7 percent of conversions occur in the form of latent conversions. Only 1 percent of conversions occur in the same session online.

Lastly, the study found that computing purchases, such as laptops, desktops, and printers, are more likely to convert online than consumer electronics like DVD players, televisions and cameras.

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