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What Else Are Searchers Thinking?

At Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, Chris Sherman of Search Engine Watch moderated this forum on what searchers think and do while they are searching. Gord Hotchkiss made a similar presentation to what he showed at AD:TECH last week in San Francisco. Remember, the more search marketers learn about searcher behavior, the more efficiently you can target searchers with effective keyword planning and copy.


First up on the panel was Gord Hotchkiss, CEO of Enquiro, a search research firm. Enquiro’s research into searcher behavior (performed in conjunction with Did-it.com and Eyetools), had 50 participants but tested only with the Google search engines. The study recorded eye movements and clicks and created graphs that corresponded to where they looked on the screen and what they “fixated” on. As we discussed in a recent Biznology blog entry, Enquiro developed “heat maps” to show where most searchers look at the screen, revealing that searchers start with the title of the first result. If it is interesting, their eyes scan to the end of the title. If not, they move down the page to the next title. They may look at the right-side ads, but are far more likely to see the top-left ads and the organic results. The heat map depicting this pattern is dubbed the “golden triangle.”
Gord explained that almost 100% of all searchers scanned the top three organic results, but that dropped to 85% for organic results four and five, and to about 50-60% for the results #6 through #8. The #1 organic result received nearly 30% of the clicks, with 20% for the #2 result and 12% for #3, but less than 5% by the bottom of the page. The top-of-page paid results were seen by nearly 100% of visitors, dropped to 50% visibility for the #1 paid result on the right side of the screen, and fell off further from there to 40% for #2 and 30% for #3. When searchers returned to the results page, the scan activity was much more spread out (there is no golden triangle), even though the researchers expected to see more visibility for sponsored ads on the second viewing. (According to Gord, about 50% of search sessions include a viewing of a second page of results, with some of those searchers returning to view the first results page again.)
Gord explained that the study revealed no distinct patterns broken down by age—searchers tend to exhibit the same patterns no matter how old they are. When the full study is released on May 23, it will show the patterns broken down by other demographics that were significant.
Gord described a particular searcher behavior called “semantic mapping” whereby searchers associate many possible search terms with a concept but enter only one or two words into the search box. For example, a searcher looking for a digital camera thinks about many words (such as reviews, megapixel, Nikon, Canon, Kodak, easy to use, reviews, testimonials, 5 megapixel) but ends up typing in “digital camera.” But those other words are not forgotten. The searcher scans for those words in the search results, not just the words that were typed. In this way, a #2 result that contains more occurrences of the words in a searcher’s semantic map could attract more clicks than the #1 result.
The second panelist was Debra Jaffe, Product Marketing Manager from Google, who amplified Gord’s contention that more searchers click on organic Google results than paid, because they consider organic results more “objective.” She said that searchers click on the OneBox (news, product, book, and so on) at the top of the organic results at about the same rate as paid results. Debra suspects that searchers believe that the OneBox results are paid, even though they are not. Perhaps Google is considering changing the appearance of the OneBox to try to get higher clickthrough.
Chris Sherman pointed out that savvy search marketers are spending more and more time understanding searcher behavior. The popularity of this session at Search Engine Strategies on top of the similar one at last week’s AD:TECH conference is living proof.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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