Is Your Search Marketing Campaign Lopsided?

A recent ClickZ column reported results from a survey we conducted with WebSurveyor, Strategem, and Survey Sampling. The research revealed search engine users choose natural search results more often than paid search ads when asked to select the result most relevant to a sample query. This effect varies by search engine. The conclusion is self-evident: SEM campaigns must target both the natural and paid components of the search results page to reach the entire search engine user audience.

It turns out this effect also varies by the searcher, as we found out when we parsed the data by Internet user demographics. We discovered certain user demographic groups click on the search results page differently than others. This could cause some marketers to rethink their SEM campaigns. Now, to some the reading to follow might seem as exciting as watching grass grow, but bear with me for a few paragraphs; the ultimate payoff is worth it.

Depending on the demographics of your target online audience, your SEM campaign may require more emphasis on paid over natural SEM strategies, or the reverse. Marketers whose SEM campaigns are weighted more heavily toward paid search ads or natural SEM strategies inconsistent with the demographic data may need to adjust the mix.

It’s important to point out the results were gathered not through survey question responses, but through observing actual click-through behavior on screen captures of actual search engine result pages. What did we learn?

Women Versus Men

Demographic Clicked Natural
Results
Clicked Paid
Search Ads
Women 56.9% 43.1%
Men 65.4% 34.6%

Women find paid search advertisements more relevant than men. Of female respondents, 43.1 percent choose a paid search advertisement, where just 34.6 percent of men click on a search ad when asked to choose the most relevant search result to a sample query.

If your products or services target a female demographic and the majority of your traffic and conversions come from “natural” search results, you may miss a significant opportunity by failing to buy search ads. According to Jupiter Research, site categories most visited by women include personal care, cosmetics, home fashion and toys.

Marketers competing in these online markets would be wise to begin testing a paid search advertising program and devoting more resources to Overture and Google AdWords campaigns to attract some of that missed audience.

College Degrees Versus Non-Degreed

Demographic Clicked Natural
Results
Clicked Paid
Search Ads
Degree 64.8% 35.2%
No Degree 56.2% 43.8%

Sixty-four point eight percent of searchers with college degrees select natural search results as being more relevant to a sample query, as compared to 56.2 percent of their non-degreed counterparts.

Companies selling to audiences with more higher education may want to review their SEM strategies to ensure a leaning toward natural search.

Under-Employed Versus Fully-Employed

Demographic Clicked Natural
Results
Clicked Paid
Search Ads
Unemployed Or
Partially Employed:
57.1% 42.9%
Employed 64.5% 35.5%

Unemployed searchers choose a natural search result as more relevant over half of the time. If your product or service targets unemployed job seekers or underemployed workers seeking to change jobs, you’d be wise to verify your search engine marketing campaigns are appropriately weighted toward natural search results and don’t favor paid search advertising too heavily. Sites such as Monster.com, Manpower.com and Administaff.com would be well-served to review the distribution of their campaigns.

Frequent Versus Occasional Internet Use

Demographic Clicked Natural
Results
Clicked Paid
Search Ads
Frequent users 65.2% 34.8%
Infrequent users 56.3% 43.7%

If your products or services target heavy Internet users, being found in natural search results is critical. Of users who indicate they use the Web four or more times per day, 65.2 percent click on the natural search listings. In this one demographic, failing to be found in the natural search results means you’d miss a significant majority of your audience. Even with this weighting to natural, if your campaign is tilted toward natural and doesn’t include PPC search advertising spend, you’re missing 35 percent of your likely audience, a figure unacceptable to most marketers.

Experienced Versus New Users

Demographic Clicked Natural
Results
Clicked Paid
Search Ads
Experienced 61.9% 38.1%
Inexperienced 53.5% 46.5%

As might be expected, individuals who have been online longer find natural search results to be more relevant. Of Internet users who have been online more than three years, 61.9 percent select a paid search result; 53.5 percent of users who have been online three or fewer years click a natural search result.

Demographically Targeted SEM Campaigns?

Depending on your target audience, you may find it necessary to adjust or balance your SEM campaign depending.

Some of these demographics overlap. In order to study the interactions between different demographics, we must collect much more data. Until then, by making an assumption of independence between various demographics, it could be inferred from the data that if your audience is male, has been online over three years, has a college degree and is fully employed, being found in the natural search results takes on more importance.

Conversely, if your audience is female, new to the Internet, and non-degreed, you may need to skew your campaign more toward paid search ads.

While some demographics may need to favor paid or natural strategies, the guidance remains the same, if not stronger. An SEM campaign too heavily (or entirely) weighted to either the paid or natural side of the search results must be adjusted and brought into balance.

The data, even when parsed along demographic lines, re-enforces the previous finding. Search marketers cannot survive on one strategy. An integrated SEM campaign, combining both paid and natural search marketing strategies, produces maximum impact.

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