Getting from Point A to B with Search

First published April 14, 2005 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

In preparing for a presentation I’m going to do in a month or so to a group of catalogue publishers, I decided to do some research to see how search worked to bring traffic to some well known online catalogs. What searches translated into traffic for Lands End, L.L. Bean, or Victoria’s Secret?

The more I dug, with the help of Hitwise, the more surprised I got. In each of these cases, variations of the site’s name accounted for one half of all search traffic. With Lands End, these variations totaled a little over 48 percent of all its search referrals. Just over 3 percent of all search referrals were for “www.landsend.com”, the exact URL users could have just typed in their address bar.

With L.L. Bean, the total was about 42 percent and Victoria’s Secret was about 63.5 percent. So, about one out of every two searches that ended up delivering traffic to these sites appears to be someone who was unsure of the actual URL and thought it would be quicker just to search for it.

And that got the mental wheels in motion.

Search as a Navigation Shortcut We’ve always known that this behavior takes place. It’s one of the reasons why “google.com” and “google” perennially shows up as an often searched for term on Google. I think I heard a fellow columnist refer to it as the “people are stupid” factor. But I don’t think that’s it at all. I think it’s the “people are in a hurry” and “people are lazy” factor, and I put myself squarely in both camps.

Yes, we could go up to the address bar and type in the URL. But toolbars put search just a little closer to our cursor. And, if we type the address slightly wrong, the search engine will helpfully ask us “Did you mean…?” It’s just quicker and easier to let a search engine eliminate the frustration of getting the right URL typed into that little box.

The timesavings get even more significant when we’re interested in a short cut to a specific section beyond the home page. For example, a significant percentage of Lands End traffic searched for “Lands End Overstocks.” Yes, you could type in http://www.LandsEnd.com and then navigate through the site to find the overstock section, but you could also just launch a split-second search (Google’s average response time is less than a quarter second) and click right to it. Increasingly, we’re using search engines to take us exactly where we want to go.

Implications for Marketing If we’re using search for a short cut, there are a few obvious implications for the search marketer. First of all, the better known the site and its corresponding brand, the more likely this will occur. Again turning to Hitwise, we find the top 10 referring terms for the appliance and electronics industry contained only one non brand name search (cell phones). The rest of the search terms were for the vendors you’d expect to dominate this industry.

So, well known brands better have their prime real estate secured in the search results. If you’re not No. 1 for the major variations of your brand in the organic listings, you’re potentially losing a lot of traffic to the competition. Even worse, if an attack site has somehow gained top spot for your brand name, you’re exceptionally vulnerable. I’ll give you all a minute to go check this right now on your favorite search engine.

What if you’re No. 4 or 5 for your brand? Our eye tracking research shows that visibility and click-throughs drop dramatically as you move from No. 1 to No. 2, 3 or even worse, 7 or 9. Not holding the No. 1 organic spot in this instance is like letting your competitor put their sign over yours in front of your store.

Secondly, it’s important to make sure search engines are indexing your entire site. If your customers are using search as a short cut to land deep in your site and your site isn’t fully indexed, you’re stranding them high and dry.

A Continuing Trend Let’s face it, trying to remember the right URL, with the right extension, and spell it correctly is a lot of effort when we can launch a search and see the results in a second or two. The easier search will be to use and the more tightly integrated it is, the more we’ll use it as our primary source of navigating the Web. It’s like our own online transporter, picking us up and delivering us to exactly the online destination we wanted, without the messy navigation in between. No longer is online search just a way to find what we didn’t know existed. Now it’s the fastest way to get to even our most familiar online destinations, making a comprehensive search strategy even more important for every online business.

 

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