Search Study Offers Marketers Tidbits

Men and women search differently, searchers are not very loyal, and most searchers don’t know — or care — about the difference between natural and paid search results. Those are some results of a study, “How America Searches,” published Tuesday by search marketing agency icrossing and Harris Interactive.

Though the results aren’t especially surprising, they do give marketers more data to consider when planning a search buy. They also set the direction icrossing will follow with its research efforts in the future.

“If you add everything up to get the big picture, it could ultimately lead to a shift in what types of campaigns you run and where you run them,” said David Berkowitz, icrossing director of marketing. “What we have here are a lot of the seeds of what you can do with search.”

Berkowitz hopes to gather and analyze the data needed to bring search marketers closer to TV and print marketers when it comes to how they think about things such as targeting a campaign and reaching certain demographics.

“The more our clients think this way, the more they can see what search can do,” he said.

Some areas Berkowitz expects to research further include the relationships of immediate and latent conversions, the effects of running paid and natural search campaigns simultaneously, conversion tracking from a number of angles, and search behavior broken out by gender and age.

Based on an online survey of 2,139 U.S. adults, the study finds researching specific topics is the top search activity, undertaken by 88 percent of users. Seventy-five percent get directions or maps, and 64 percent look for news.

Users researching specific topics most often look for information on their hobbies, especially men. The study finds 64 percent of men and 55 percent of women with a specific topic in mind look for hobby-related information. Women are more likely to seek health or medical information as a specific topic: 61 percent of women compared to 35 percent of men.

The topic varies by search engine as well. Ask Jeeves and MSN are popular for health-related searches, and Google is tops for news searches, as well as business and professional research.

This kind of information will not necessarily help marketers target paid search campaigns, Berkowitz said, but it could help them gain insight into who might be responding to the keywords they’ve targeted and how to best respond to them.

“When you have a sense of what people are looking for, you can start to think strategically,” he said. “As soon as a person enters a keyword, you can start having a sense of who it is they are and what it is they want.”

The study also finds only 13 percent of respondents use Google 100 percent of the time. That corresponds with 11 percent use AOL, 10 percent use MSN, and 7 percent use Yahoo The rest use a combination of two or more search engines.

“There’s a sense that people like to have a backup plan,” Berkowitz said. “Just like everything else on the Internet, the barriers of switching are so low. There’s an awareness that if one’s not working, they can go somewhere else.”

The finding that 56 percent of users say they know the difference between organic search results and paid search ads reflects the findings of recent studies from Consumer Reports WebWatch and Penn State.

Although that news has some user advocates up in arms, a surprising finding of the study shows only about half of users who know the difference between paid and natural results prefer natural over paid. In fact, 26 percent said they have no preference, 19 percent prefer both equally, and 4 percent said they prefer paid results.

“People are saying, ‘Just give me relevant results, and I’ll decide what I want to click on,'” Berkowitz said.

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