Funnel-Based Search Strategies

Content for these columns often comes from interesting conversations among Organic employees. In this case, David Rogal, our director of analytics, noticed some interesting differences in consumers’ search behavior, depending on whether the consumers were researching or purchasing a product.

Consumers engaged in upper-funnel activities (i.e., doing broad, general research about a product or service) tend to use Google. Alternately, consumers using search terms more often associated with lower-funnel activity (i.e., very specific search terms that signal an imminent purchase decision) tend to use Yahoo This is particularly true for highly considered consumer purchase decisions. But the opposite is true for short-term, inexpensive consumer products and services, such as movies or books.

Disclaimer: We’re not sure if this is a real trend or simply a collection of interesting hypotheses. Only time, and further testing, will tell.

Here are some highlights from my dialogue with David.

Mark Kingdon: Give us some background, David.

David Rogal: I consider those in the upper funnel to be researchers, browsers, and those who are querying on generic terms. Users in the lower funnel are adding items to the cart, looking for stores, or completing an online transaction and searching for brands, such as “XYZ brand,” or general terms around a brand, such as “XYZ brand cell phones.”

Regarding the upper funnel, Google is more researcher-/browser-focused. Its simplicity makes it a wonderful tool for general research. Yahoo Search, on the other hand, is more transactional in nature. There are probably a couple of reasons for this. First, Yahoo has more product and comparison shopping features than Google, and we’re able to display rich media advertising on Yahoo that showcases clients’ product more directly than Google’s advertising options.

Kingdon: I tend to use Google as my de facto search engine. I think that most people do, don’t you?

Rogal: I agree. The brand Google is synonymous with search, and it’s the most widely used search engine. After all, “google” is now a common verb. I think through reputation, Google tends to attract people who are in the research and search mindset. If a consumer is embarking on a new high-considered purchase, such as a car, their first online instinct is to just google it. From a search engine strategy perspective, marketers should push more generic queries to Google to capture those upper funnel consumers and move them into the decision path that leads to your product or service.

Kingdon: That makes sense. But what about purchases that aren’t highly considered, like what movie I’m going to see this weekend?

Rogal: Good point. The movie funnel is extremely short — usually only a few weeks, even days. And here’s a wrench to throw into the theory; we find the opposite trend to be true. Google users searching for entertainment tend to know exactly what they want and search specific movie titles, names, actors, and characters in a search for reviews or information about showings in their area. I consider this behavior to be lower-funnel behavior, while Yahoo users tend to be more general in terms of their searches. They’re more likely to type in a simple term: “movies.”

Kingdon: The search engines must have caught on to this, don’t you think?

Rogal: Yes, they have. In fact, Yahoo is beta testing a new search functionality that actually allows users to have results returned based on being in the “research” mode or “shop” mode. There’s a button at the top of the page a user can slide to the left or right depending on intent. As the button moves, the search terms change to fit user mindset.

I encourage you to investigate these hypotheses, if you haven’t already, and marry your assumptions about where your customers are in the purchase funnel with your search engine strategies. Test and see what your metrics tell you. Once you understand where your customers are and how they really use each search engine, you can tailor messages and search engine keyword buys, and maximize results.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

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