Searcher Behavior Research Update

Feb 27, 2006 - 4:12 pm 0 by


I have been looking forward to this session today. I covered the first session on this research last year here at New York SES which was met with great enthusiasm. It will be interesting is see how things have changed and what new information they have to share with us. The room is rather packed and it’s as cold enough in here for penguins to start a colony. Gord Hotchkiss opens up serving as both speaker and moderator. He describes the history of the session and that we are interested in how users interact with a search engine.

Greg Sterling from The Kelsey Group is up first. He says that he thinks, writes, and conduct research about how consumers and users interest with search engines. It is critcal in maximizing the value and effectiveness of SEO/SEM and of broader parts. There has been rise of internet use in daily life. The rise of users that consider the internet as crucial and important has risen. As of last year, the internet produced 51% of all new hires in 2005, while print newspaper classifieds were the source o only 5% of the new hires. Online influences purchase decisions of 79% of world be car buyers are internet users. So the internet is not paired with search. Though email still the number 1 daily online activity, search closing in (77%email, 63% search). Broadband is the single factor for the rise of the internet. Its is allowing people to spend more time online. He says there is data available that AOL had the best conversion rate at B2C e-commerce sites of the four major portals/search engines. The vexing topix of search engine loyalty is interesting and there is some conflicting data. Forrester says only 40% of online users say they are loyal to one of the four major search engines, 49% say they use more than one.

He goes on to say internet now has an 84% local reach among online users. 43% of search engine users are seeking a local merchant to buy something offline. 20% of search traffic has local intent. However there are many searches that do not have geographic modifier and a search engines does not know this. Some of the “non-trivial” challenges for SEM included understanding consumer intent, integrating search into broader marketing mix that includes traditional media, and tracking performance of search when used as a branding vehicle.

Alan Rimm-Kaufman is up next and is going to go over click-streams. He explains of how we start from generic ideas to specific things in a click-stream. He next goes over click values and costs and what the market values. Often times marketers describe things by looking at a funnel: awareness, interest, desire, and action. A more generic search phrases indicate a searcher is higher up in the conversion funnel. Generic phrases lay the groundwork for more specific searches. Thus even if the economics of more general phrases don’t meet an advertisers ROI target, general phrases play an essential role in a search portfolio.

Gord Hotchkiss was up last and my laptop battery ran out before I could get the full coverage of his session. So here is the information I remembered and notes I scribed.

Gord gave a good presentation covering how they redid the research they did last year except included MSN and Yahoo this time in the eye tracking study. What they found was that eye movements in the MSN and Yahoo search pages scanned further down the page. They had a harder time of focusing on one central area and had to read further. He said they concluded that Google was the more relevant search engine. It was the search engine, not the user that was influencing the differing scanning behavior. The most interesting conclusion he made was that the results of both MSN and Yahoo are perceived as less relevant than Google. The perception of both search results had an impact on the behavior and eye movements of the participant. Interestingly if you compare Google and MSN for example the results are both relatively relevant so for a search for “Chicago hotels”. Additionally, Gord also pointed out that Google used bolding and highlighting of text of the search phrase on the search result page. He said that doing this effectively made it easier for the user to scan the page. When they pointed out to MSN that they were not doing this, they quickly made the change.

He went on to talk about 3 theories they have been working on.

  • Semantic Mapping
  • Thin Slicing
  • Information Scent
Semantic mapping is an interesting way that users create list of keywords in order to filter the large of amount of date they are presented with. Basically if you are searching for digital cameras you have some ideas in your head about what you are looking for. You can not ultimately scan and consider all the words out there. So you must make it easier and define a set amount. Gord mentioned that you will use the words you have stored up in your head and filter those through other documents and identify the ones that contains the most keywords.



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